The Truth About Leash Corrections
I can tell this is going to be one of those controversial articles or posts that will probably pose heated debate.
Whenever you have the “purely positive trainers” engage the “purely negative trainers” you have a breeding ground for hostility and anger.
I try not to shy away from a little debate every now and again and as you can imagine I get a lot of grief from dog trainers who employ lots of negative training techniques and training collars.
I am not a big fan of training collars and force.
I have worked for years with people with disabilities who could not employ a “leash correction” or even hit the button on a shock collar if they had to do it to save their lives.
And, by working with these invaluable members of our society I gained a much greater respect for dog training.
When I used to do dog training demonstrations all of the time I would enter the demo in a wheel chair. People inevitably thought I was permanently in the wheel chair and treated me as such until I stood up about half way through my demonstration. It really helps to teach people not to judge a book by its cover.
Then, I would take people from my audience and strap them in a wheel chair and ask them to command my dog.
I would strap them down first like they were in a wheel chair as a paraplegic (meaning they still had full use of their shoulders and hands and some bending).
Then I would strap them around the chest (which meant no bending) and tell them they only had limited use of their hands sometimes vet wrapping a few fingers, and their hands certainly would not function as fast as those of us who were not quadriplegic.
If the dog did not want to comply, what would the person do?
He couldn’t use leash pops or corrections or training collars or ear pinches to force the dog, the dog had to WANT to behave and listen.
Yelling at the dog would only make the dog want to listen even less to the commands.
So as we progress through this article I want you to think about this scenario and this person and if you truly NEED as many corrections and physical force as you think you do…
My intention is not to create controversy, but to create rational thinking about dog training and some misconceptions we have always been taught… like you have to WIN every altercation with your dog (for more on that click here)
Most people have never taken their hands, legs and body out of the dog training equation! So could you train a dog with limited to no mobility?
Could you train a chicken to do something on cue?
The Truth About Leash Corrections
They Can Be Effective
The truth about leash corrections is that they can be effective and they can help to solidify a behavior.
They are not meant to TEACH a behavior.
In order to TEACH a behavior I believe that a dog must be willing and able to try new behaviors and not be worried about being physically corrected.
This is why I use and encourage clicker training, it helps me to teach my dogs and it inspires them to learn by trying numerous behaviors that I can either ignore or reward.
Forcing a behavior requires ME to do the forcing and it is not as easy for a dog to learn why you are forcing the behavior, rather than waiting for it to happen.
For example: if I push on my dog’s butt to force him to sit he will not understand the behavior as well as if he sits and then you reward him. If he shows the behavior it is a stronger behavior and he learns faster. He is also showing you multiple behaviors that can be rewarded. I don’t want a dog that is scared to learn.
However once he learns “sit” and I know he knows the command because he is 95% reliable in all situations (at home, in the car, at the park, at class, at the neighbors etc.)and he chooses not to listen I can use my leash to help him or make him do what I asked.
Do I use leash corrections?
But my leash corrections probably aren’t what you are used to seeing or thinking about when I say leash corrections.
I’m not talking about prong collars, choke chains, or shock collars to use with my leash to force the behavior, I’m just using the leash.
AND, for I’m not doing “leash pops” to make my dogs comply.
I am simply utilizing the leash to the best of my ability to make him obey.
In the above scenario, I would not just crack his collar and leash; I would shorten his leash until he didn’t have much space to make another decision, and then I would utilize my body to take away space from him until he submits and sits.
Not exactly the leash “correction” you were expecting?
I think when people hear positive reinforcement they think permissive dog training.
Being permissive is allowing for excessive freedom of behavior or “optional” behaviors and training.
The fact is I am just as hard on my dogs for being obedient as your average force trainer, the difference is that I don’t use my body to cause them pain.
If your dog seems to need lots of physical force and corrections from a training collar (prong, choke, check, or shock) then it is my opinion that you have not sincerely taught him the behaviors he needs! First you need to teach him so he can choose correct behavior.
The Problem is Leash Corrections are Easily Abused
The problem is that they are easily abused and people get frustrated and irrational when their dogs don’t understand and so they take it out on the dog physically, with a stronger and harder leash pop.
I see so many people run through classes or out in the “real world” who think the harder and nastier the correction the more “TEACHING” they are doing or the less apt the dog is to make the same mistake. So their dogs are popped with a prong collar as hard as the person can muster (I’ve seen people run backwards to pop their dog), or shocked until they scream.
Back in the olden days when I was being taught this mentality I was told, to make an impression on the dog immediately with pain, to ensure the dog wouldn’t make that mistake again.
This is not always the case, because some leash corrections and force is painful and confusing and it is hard to learn when you are in pain.
If you are in doubt of that, I can strap a shock collar somewhere on your body (my choice) and then I will try and teach you a complex behavior shocking you along the way… It is hard to learn this way and can even cause ulcers in dogs too!
You would probably learn, eventually, but it wouldn’t be fast and you certainly wouldn’t be having a good time learning… and as soon as the collar was off you would probably be hostile to me and want to punch me in the face.
Chances are you wouldn’t jump on the “learning” band wagon with me or want to play this game again anytime soon after that.
Some People Think the More the Better
I have seen people who pop their dog (often very hard) at least 5 times after their dog has made a mistake.
So it is not one quick correction and done, it is a painful minute full of pain, conflict and hostility and it usually comes AFTER the behavior. A dog stands a chance of learning if you pair the behavior with the correction (so it must happen simultaneously) he has a hard time learning when the correction comes AFTER the behavior and while he is doing something else.
For example, I tell my dog to “sit” and he ignores me and begins sniffing the ground. If I were to correct the moment he ignores me then he might learn. If I correct him as he meanders around and is doing something else, chances are he won’t understand that the correction is for not sitting he will think it is for wandering or sniffing.
This, in my opinion is why people need to be so careful with pain and leash corrections, because if you aren’t careful or have a hard dog you can make problems worse and cause aggression. Aggression often incites aggression. And, quite frankly most people can’t successfully handle an aggressive dog.
It makes me wonder… what does a hundred corrections in a row do to your dog, his psyche, and his ability to learn and function? I’m not sure I have the answer, but I would think it would cause serious repercussions in various aspects of his life and training and how he sees your relationship.
Balance is the Key
The key to all dog training and life in general is finding balance.
If you are going to use them, the key is balance.
Your training must be balanced.
Let’s face it, all dogs make mistakes and make poor decisions just like us humans make bad decisions so does your dog!
They choose to ignore us when we give them commands and there should be some kind of repercussions, but it doesn’t have to be purely physical.
Simply removing yourself or his ability to get his reward is often correction enough.
And, like anything the leash is a tool, but it is also a tool that can be easily abused to force our dogs to do things or to administer pain.
In my opinion, if you want a good relationship with your dog, you must avoid pain, bad feelings, and frustration as much as you can in your dog training.
Everyone likes something that is fun, so center your dog training around fun and games and you will find that you rarely need to use your leash at all!
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.