Nancy Freedman-Smith CPDT & What saying NO to your dog really means

Golden Retriever puppy Talulah

This gorgeous photo comes from Nancy Freedman-Smith CPDT, a professional dog trainer and owner of Gooddogz Training in Portland, Maine. She is Mom to three kids and lives with her 2 dogs, a foster dog, a hamster, and a clicker savvy rat. And, she is now Auntie Nancy to her sister’s new Golden puppy, Talulah.

doglifeNancy is simply fabulous and has the most interesting background. I am so glad she also writes for all of us at her A Dog’s Life Blog. It is a great place for dog owners to find positive training tips, canine-activities and places to visit along with the latest information on keeping your dog healthy and active. Staying current, keeping fresh, and always learning new things is a must for Nancy and her profession because one thing that animals surely teach you is “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”

As if Nancy wasn’t busy enough, she is also a trainer for Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland’s Paws in Stripes program (click here for some super photos). In this program, prisoners play a major role in the socialization of select puppies from the shelter.

And, in March 2009 Nancy started publishing at That now brings me back to Golden puppy Talulah. You see, Nancy recently went to meet her new Golden family member and then wrote the following must-read and do article:

SAY NO NO NO by Nancy Freedman-Smith CPDT

I finally met my sister’s new Golden Retriever puppy Talulah, and she is sugar and spice and everything nice, just like I have been hearing for the last month from my entire family. We are all in love with her, and she is delightful. At just 12 weeks, Talulah is housetrained, and learned sit, down, paw, to walk politely on a leash, and she has very nice manners. My parents are so very proud of the new grand dog and all the cudos I have been hearing for the last month are all true. She is wonderful.

My entire family is quite dog savvy and they had not solicited any advice for this puppy, until yesterday. Over lunch my niece, who is in grad school mentioned that the only problem she is having is that the pup not only picks things up , she ingests them. I joked that there is a saying among dog trainers that “puppies are only vehicles for their mouths.” Rachael didn’t laugh and told me it was quite serious and she had discussed it with the vet.

“What have you taught her?”, I asked her.

“She’s good, I tell her no and she will leave it alone.” Rachael replied.

“But what did you teach her”, I asked again.

“No she is fine, she drops it if I tell her no, she is good about it really, but I am afraid she will swallow something if I am not there. Our other dogs were not like this.”

“Have you taught her “leave it?” I insisted.

I then went on a spiel about the word “No”, and showed my niece how to teach Talulah to teach leave it and to trade up for toys, two must knows for puppies. I teach leave it by rewarding the dog for looking up at the handler.

The thing is “No,” does not really teach dogs anything. It will (hopefully) interrupt behavior, but to be really effective, you need to replace an unwanted behaviors instead of always suppressing them.

Much in the same way that you can’t always tell your kids what they can’t do, but instead need to guide and teach what it is that they can do.

By teaching a puppy “leave it” and the release word “OK”, you start to teach the dog self control and to check in with us. It is a form of the game Mother May I, and dogs love games. Dogs are very “what’s in it for me” creatures and if all they ever get is loss of their prize, just using the word “no!” can lead to unwanted consequences.

If you only use the word “No!”, and every time your dog picks some thing up you take it from them, you could inadvertently teach them to bolt or swallow before you steal their prize. I can not count the number of dogs who have come to me for behavior counseling, AFTER they have had dangerous and expensive surgery to remove rocks and socks and other non edibles. They all have one thing in common. They were not taught leave it properly.

The next time you tell your dog “No”, please stop for a moment and think about what it was you actually just taught them.

For all you lucky Mainers in Nancy’s area, I would check out her Gooddogz Training Club. She provides puppy parties and teaches individuals and groups. Her classes include: Puppy Kindergarten, Manners, Tricks & Games, AKC Canine Good Citizen, Tricks Clinic, Rocket Recall Clinic, Safe Dogs/Safe Kids, and Canine Musical Freestyle.