When and What Corrections, If Any, Are Acceptable in Dog Training
Whisper the simple word “correction” in a crowded room full of dog trainers and you might just get flogged. The word brings up visions of hitting, kicking and strangling dogs in the name of obedience. What does correction mean? Is it synonymous with change or punishment? What does correction mean to you and your dog?
So, first I think we need to define “correction”. I went to thefreedictionary.com to find more answers, and I came up with a couple of definitions which, indeed may have made things even more confusing or proved why there is so much drama surrounding this word.
- Correction: something offered or substituted for a mistake or fault
- Correction: punishment intended to rehabilitate or improve
When I then did a search for “dog training/corrections” thousands of sites 804,000 to be exact popped up, and most (although I didn’t have time to search them all 😉 seemed to follow the “Punishment” mentality or definition whether they were pro or anti correction in dog training.
So it seems that this potential flogging at the mere mention of “corrections” in dog training is quite heated and spurned by the fact that in dog training, at least, corrections = punishment.
I may try to spawn a change in the definition and theory when it comes to our furry friends, as I agree with the positive reinforcement trainers that there is no real place in dog training for punishment but, dare I say it…there is room for correction.
Correction being defined as a change or substituting something for a mistake or a fault.
It’s funny, if I mentioned correcting a friend you wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that I back handed her when she made a mistake! Why then do we have to view “corrections” in dog training in such a negative and harmful way?
Everyone makes mistakes; I don’t have enough time in my day to compile a list of the mistakes that I make. By no means am I anywhere near perfect! And sometimes I like someone to help me correct my problem behaviors.
The problem, or beauty of change, is sometimes we don’t know the steps that it will take to make effective change and therefore we need some help on making a correction to our own behavior. This type of correction brings welcomed change.
Our dogs also make mistakes and to not acknowledge them or to help them make a change means by all accounts that we are accepting subpar behavior.
This type of behavior comes in all forms, sometimes it is a blatant behavior that a dog does not want to change (jumping on you) and sometimes it is an obscure
behavior like a “perfect sit” and your dog just doesn’t understand what you want!
So WHEN is it Okay to use a “correction” in Dog Training?
Anytime your dog makes a mistake or does something wrong, you can make a correction to the behavior to get the behavior that you want as long as you reward the dog for the behavior you want!
For example, that jumping dog; I want to change the behavior of jumping so I correct the jump (by ignoring the dog, or giving him a time out, or denying him treats, or even plucking him off with a leash) and reward the dog for staying down on all fours! This way he knows what I want!
I am working with my dogs and getting them ready to compete, so I am working toward infallible dog obedience training. Each aspect of what we do and how fast we do it will be critiqued! Did you know that points can be taken off for what the judge considers a slow sit?
And, I am not talking about a slllooow sit where you could tell the dog to sit a few more times before he actually does sit. I am talking about taking points of for a few milliseconds as your dog processes the command and before his butt actually hits the ground!
During the beginning of training, the learning stage, obedience and the new behavior is not quick. It takes time for your dog to understand what you want, and then execute the behavior which slows down the performance.
However, later in training and once my dog knows what I want and when I want it I need to “correct” the slowness of his sit or down once the command is issued if I expect to score high when we compete.
So WHAT “correction” Should I Use?
Well, this totally depends on whatever dog I am working with at the time. What is effective for one dog may be totally ineffective, excessive or even cruel for another dog in the same family! You must know your dog accurately before you can use corrections to effectively change his behavior, whatever that behavior may be!
All of my dogs are totally different! My oldest dog only needs to be ignored when he has made a mistake. When he was young and if, say, he had shredded a toy or had gotten in the trash all I had to do was ignore him and not interact with him. This detachment drove him crazy and he would struggle for my affections. However, I recognize that most dogs are not this attached to the interaction of their human.
My year and a half old dog is “ball crazy” I could ignore her until “the cows came home” and not only would she not care…she probably wouldn’t even notice! I could also yell, curse or chastise her (which I don’t) and she would also make no notice of me. So when she makes a mistake or a poor choice all I have to do is deny her access to her ball which makes her want to work harder. This also works for access to her treats. So if she doesn’t sit fast enough, she doesn’t get her ball… the faster the sit the faster she has access to what she wants!
My 7 month old is very, very sensitive and therefore just the look of disappointment that crosses my face is enough to get him to stop any behavior he is showing. The “stank eye” as I like to call it, could bring him to his knees. Now this is good, because he wants to be good and doesn’t want to make a mistake, but it is also difficult to totally hide my emotions if I do something wrong and am disappointed in myself for my own mistake. Yelling, cursing, or even raising my voice would be cruel and totally destroy his confidence!
BTW I don’t EVER yell, scream or curse at my dogs or anyone else for that matter, because I know that it is an ineffective way of training anything, and it destroys my credibility as a trainer and I think as a “human”. I only use it as an example, because I have seen people do it in the past. A dog should respond to a whispered command or verbal “correction” if you are using it.
So all of my dogs are different and I have to gage how I train them by their personality. I also gauge the “correction” on the behavior and how offensive I find it.
For instance, if any of my dogs puts his teeth on me (even by mistake) while we are training that would be the end of the session. I would tell him NO at the moment it happened so that he knows which behavior it was that I found offensive. And, I would very dramatically put his toys and treats away so that he knows this is NEVER acceptable!
Using the word “correction” in dog training doesn’t have to be disconcerting and it doesn’t have to mean that barbaric or negative methods were used. To correct a behavior should just mean to change it. And, a person should use the smallest modification possible to get the wanted behavior.
There is no need to use loud voices or unnecessary punishment to get your dog to correct a problem behavior. Simply denying him access to what he wants and TEACHING him what you desire is the most effective way to get your dog to do what you want him to do!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.