What can I do instead of saying No! or Eh-Eh!?: The Positive Interrupter
I can empathize with pet parents who may be thinking "I am all for positive reinforcement, but what am I supposed to do when my dog is doing something I don’t want her to do?!" A simple effective solution is to choose a positive, friendly noise that you can use to get your dog’s attention, called a positive interrupter. Teach your dog that whenever you make that noise, she should stop what she’s doing and redirect her attention to you.
Why shouldn’t I say something negative, like “No!” or “Stop that!” when I see my dog doing something I don’t want her to do?
This suppresses the bad behavior instead of giving your dog an alternative good behavior. You want to tell your dog what you DO want her to do, instead of what you DON’T want her to do.
Your dog will associate you with punishment.
Your dog will learn that punishment won’t happen when you’re not around, and she will only do the bad behavior when you’re gone.
What are some situations I might need to use the positive interrupter?
To stop your dog from chewing on something that isn’t theirs.
To interrupt rough play.
To interrupt any undesirable behavior
Why can’t I use my dog’s name as the interrupter?
We use our dogs’ names all the time in many contexts and oftentimes don’t reward them enough after saying it.
Choose a positive, friendly noise like a whistle or kissy noise.
Make the noise, then immediately feed your dog a treat. Repeat several times.
Make the noise, wait for your dog to make eye contact, then click and feed a treat. If your dog doesn’t look up immediately, try making other interesting noises to get her attention.
Once your dog is looking up at you immediately whenever you make the noise, try adding distractions. Go for a walk (or into another slightly distracting environment), make the noise, click, treat.
“Proof” the behavior with different distractions. For example, have your dog on leash and put something just out of reach, a toy, a treat, another person holding a treat, or a dog. Make the noise and if your dog turns to you, click, treat. If your dog doesn’t turn to you, simply take steps away from what they want. Then try again at a further distance. If they are still unsuccessful, make the distraction less interesting or the treat of higher value.
After you interrupt your dog, remember to change something in the environment or situation for your dog so that the behavior does not just keep repeating over and over again. For example, bring him into a different room, add distance from the stimuli he are trying to get to, or provide more physical or mental enrichment in the future before you put him in that same situation.
Many dogs consider punishment to be just another form of attention. If the only time you give your dog attention is when he is being punished for doing something bad, he will do the bad behavior more often in order to get attention from you.
Try to notice whenever your dog is doing things you want! These are great moments to reward your dog with plenty of positive attention.
* To see it in action, click on or search for kikopup's video on YouTube: How To Stop Unwanted Behavior
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Special thanks to Rachel Yukimura for contributing to this article and providing the awesome picture of Ivy looking away from a shoe!