The word "yes" and the word "no" are kind of funny. They both have very clear messages but with very different associations. "Yes" usually has a positive association and carries good feelings like allowance, indulgence and permission. "No" usually has negative associations and leaves a lot of people struggling with feelings like guilt or unpopularity.

In my opinion, both words are perfectly great, as long as (and here's the kicker) they are used in balance and carry a high value.

Think about it. When we say "yes" to a request, it usually makes us feel good. The recipient is experiencing good feelings, the mojo is positive, (even if it's short-lived) and we feel like we are responsible for the smiles that now exist. So it is not unreasonable for us to feel like the word "no" would have the exact opposite effect. Even though we can all logically realize the value of saying "no" when something is life threatening.


  • Child: Mom, can I stay up late to finish my show?
  • Mom: Yes (feels good)
  • Child: Dad, can I run across the street and dodge cars?
  • Dad: No!  (feels good)

But what if you say "no" to something that's not all that important or life threatening and you're not committed to holding to it?

  • Child: Mom, can I have 3 cookies for dessert instead of my usual 2?
  • Mom: No  (feels ok)
  • Child: Oh, come on Mom, please, it's Friday…
  • Mom: Well…  (feeling pensive)
  • Child: Pleeeeeeease!
  • Mom: (thoughts of "what's the harm" start to kick in)…Well, ok!
  • Child: Yay, you're the best!
  • Mom: (feels good)

Was there any real harm in the above scenario? Well, yes and no. (There I go again.) There's no big harm in having the extra cookie, the harm is in the devaluation of the word "no". I'm not an expert in children, but I suspect the child in the above example may be learning that in any situation, with enough effort they can change mom's mind. Grind her down! This child also may be training for a potential career in sales. No means try again, right?

Now, with a child (or human) they have the vocabulary and rationale to understand that a normal rule may be broken on a special occasion (it's Friday, it's my birthday, I aced the test, etc.), so you have some leniency with people. But with dogs, they can't understand sentences or what day of the week it is. They only understand if you are consistent with your expectations and communications.


  • Dog: (I'd like to get up on the couch…here I go)
  • Human: "Off"
  • Dog: (Hmmm, I wonder if he means it. Let's try again. Here I go again)
  • Human: "No. Off"
  • Dog: (He did that yesterday and gave in. Let's try one more time. Here I go again)
  • Human: Honey, your dog is on the couch again. When's dinner?"
  • Dog: (Good, I'm glad he's gone, now I get the whole couch to myself)

What this human has trained this dog to do is persist until he gets his way and that "no" doesn't really mean "no".  In this example, the couch is no more harmful than the child getting the extra cookie. But once again, the damage comes in because the word "no" has lost its value. Keeping in mind that dogs don't understand complete sentences or special occasions, chances are, if "no" doesn't mean "no" regarding the couch, it probably won't mean "no" when they are running towards the street in pursuit of a squirrel.

So, in a nutshell, for "no" to mean "no", you've got to make it so. "No", just like any other obedience command, is a commitment, you have to follow through with it. For the safety and well being of your dog, make sure "no" means "no" in your household.

-Chad Culp, Certified Dog Trainer and Canine Nutrition Consultant

© Thriving Canine 2013