Yes. Si. Oui. Ja. We need to say yes to our pets more and redirect them to behavior that we want them to exhibit. Even with the language barrier, this is something that most of us can accomplish with practice.

It’s pretty strange when you think about it: we share our homes and our lives with members of other species. Although we have some common interests (food, sleep, sunshine, play, affection), we don’t speak the same language and communication is not always easy. So how do you convey your expectations for good behavior to your dog or cat?

KV-POP recently got a phone call from a woman who was in search of training advice. Her question was simple: how do I get my puppy to stop jumping on my child?

We called back with a promise to notify this family when training classes have been scheduled. (Classes may be starting as soon as January; stay tuned for more information.) Weekly classes are a great way to make sure that there is consistency in training. You are more likely to work with your dog on a regular basis if you are motivated to save yourself from embarrassment at the next class meeting; an untutored dog won’t let you fake it through show-and-tell. But there is another reason for classes: a good teacher will provide not only instruction but also feedback. She can watch the way you interact with your dog and give you tips on how to use your body and voice for clear communication.

So classes will be great, but this caller needed advice now. So I passed along the best training advice ever, in two simple steps. And now, dear reader, I will share this advice with you.  

If your dog is exhibiting behavior that you don’t like (such as jumping on children or visitors), do the following:

Say no and mean it. Be firm. No smiling. No laughter. No squealing. Nothing that could be misinterpreted by the animal as encouragement or joy. Turn your back on the dog so that she learns that she doesn’t get your attention when she behaves like that. Walk away. Do this every time the bad behavior happens. Be consistent. Make sure that all members of the household do the same thing.

Say yes to something else. After a short interval, redirect the dog’s attention to something appropriate (maybe a favorite toy) to tackle, chew, or tug. Or command the dog to sit and reward that behavior; practice other “tricks” for a few minutes to allow her to practice good, disciplined behavior. Engage with the animal in a positive way so that this activity becomes the new fun thing to do.

Which brings me to goose poop. My family was recently out for a cold morning walk. We were in a field where our two girls are allowed to run off-leash. Kaldi, our brown lab mix, kept finding piles of goose excreta – an exquisite treat to her palate – and we found ourselves scolding her (i.e. saying no) a lot. But she wasn’t learning anything, except that we personally didn’t like goose poop. Meanwhile we were getting cross; it’s no fun to spend an entire walk saying no.

So then I thought about the best training advice ever. Was there a way that we could say yes? Alex commanded Kaldi to sit and stay, and then walked about twenty feet away. Kaldi is very good with her stay, but she holds the position with great anticipation, watching Alex all the while. At the “come” command, she was off like a shot, running to her dad who, it turns out, is more fun than goose poop. He rewarded her with exuberant praise and a favorite treat. After that, the walk turned into a romp, Kaldi paid more attention to us than to the delicacies around her, and we stopped scowling.

The best training advice ever isn’t only for dogs. The same advice works for cats. A friend recently explained to me how she trained her cat not to scratch the furniture. (The cat, by the way, was nine months old at the time of his adoption; he has not been declawed.) She said no by putting special double-sided sticky tape on the sides of furniture, wherever he seemed likely to scratch. She said yes by setting out several catnip scented scratching posts around the house.

Yes and no. We humans tend to be good at the first part, but too often we skip the second part.

Yes. Si. Oui. Ja. We need to say yes to our pets more -- redirect them to behavior that we want them to exhibit. Even with the language barrier, this is something that most of us can accomplish with practice.