Imagine this. You’re going about your daily routines and someone keeps getting in the way and saying “No!” to you. You want to watch your TV show? No! You want to walk over there? No! You want to have a snack? No! You need to pee? No!
Well, all these things you want to do, you’re not allowed to do, so what CAN you do? What does this person want from you? You don’t know. Why can’t you do these things? You don’t know.
You’re going to get frustrated, aren’t you? So will your terriers.
The independent streak in the brains of terriers means they are often fully capable of making their own cost-benefit analyses, decisions and logical reasonings. Where you may well get away with saying “No!” to stop an action in a more placid breed, this simply isn’t enough for our terriers.
Think of your terrier like a young child who is always asking ‘Why?’. Annoying, isn’t it. But you do give basic explanation and offer an alternative. ‘No, you can’t have a cookie right now, because it’s nearly lunchtime, but if you sit quietly right now and wait, you can have a cookie after.’
There are 3 parts to the above sentence:
- Your immediate response “No”
- Your reasoning why “because it’s nearly lunchtime”
- Your counter-offer “sit quietly right now and wait, you can have a cookie after”
If you want a well-behaved terrier, you need to focus on part 3. Parts 1 and 2 are for your brain only. You don’t want your terrier to be doing whatever it is they’re doing and you have a reason why. Your terrier doesn’t care about that. They’ve chosen to do something because they want to do it.
Part 3 is the key. Instead of saying “no”, offer a command to do something else for a reward. It’s that simple. Words are triggers and terriers are clever. The word “no” is over-used and offers no release for an alternative behaviour. They know very well that “No” will mean to stop doing whatever it is they’re up to, but they’re also clever enough to ask “Why?” and you need to have the answer “Because this activity is better.”
Remember, “No” is your opening position – you need to be ready with your counter-offer and it better be worth it. Simply saying “No!” will probably guarantee that your terrier will learn to ignore you and lose that carefully built attention bond I spoke about in previous posts.