Can dogs learn yes and no? We use these words a lot during dog training, so it’s a good question! Teaching yes and no to a dog is one of the more popular trick sets out there. People love to see a dog “answer” his owner with a nod or a shake of the head. It’s adorable. But do they understand the meaning of “yes” and “no”? I recently came across a question in the forums asking if teaching yes and no could be expanded to the dog actually understand the “yes” of yes and the “no” of no. So today, we’ll be taking a little walk down training lane and discuss this particular question.
Can Dogs Learn Yes and No?
So the short answer to the question is no. You can’t teach your dog to understand “yes” and “no.” You can teach him to respond with yes and no movements to your covert hand gesture, but he’ll never understand the concept behind the words. Their minds just aren’t built that way. They don’t have a high enough brain function to understand the concept of “yes, I want that” and “no, I don’t want that.”
Dogs have brains that work off of cause and effect. When you teach a dog a trick, you’re teaching him the cause – your command – and the effect – his treat reward. Beyond that, you’re not going to make any progress. Think of a dog’s brain in terms of a stop light and driving. When we see a green light, we go. When we see a yellow light, we slow down in preparation for the red. When we see the red light, we stop. A dog’s brain is more of a green light/red light situation. They have no yellow. That’s the essence of cause and effect.
Teaching Yes and No is Still Fun
Although your dog will never understand the why of “yes” and “no”, you can still teach him the commands for a fun trick. Although YOU’LL know that your dog doesn’t understand the underlying concept, no one else will. They’ll be too busy watching your dog “answer” you to notice your small hand gesture at your side.
Teaching yes and no is actually teaching a set of two separate commands. For “yes”, sit your dog in front of you and place his absolute favorite treat in your closed fist in front of him. Move your fist up and down in a very slow motion so he moves his head up and down. After he completes the motion give him the treat. Do this until he reliable nods “yes” for his treat.
From there, do the same thing, but with the treat in your other hand. This teaches him that your fist is the signal for “yes”. Do this often until he understands that the command is the fist and not necessarily the reward. Once he understands, move your hand to your hip. Ask your dog a question, moving your fist up and down very slightly. If your dog has it, he’ll nod yes and get his treat. And there you go. You’ve taught your dog “yes”.
Teaching “no” is the exact same process as teaching “yes”. The only difference is that the command for “no” is a fist with one finger raised and moved from side to side. It’s just like when you tell a small child no. Repeat the steps above, and your dog will be saying “no” in no time.
Teaching Yes and No – A Fun Command Even if They Don’t Understand
Teaching yes and no is just like teaching any other command. Your dog will not understand the why of it, and that’s okay. It’s still a fun trick that’s both mentally stimulating for your dog and adorable to see. So don’t let the fact that your dog won’t understand the concept behind “yes” and “no” deter you from teaching yes and no. Have fun with it and with your dog.