What is a "correction" in dog training?
Updated: Feb 4
What is a “correction” in dog behavior?
This term is carelessly tossed around and used interchangeably to mean punishment. This makes it confusing for dog owners to understand what exactly we (dog trainers) are trying to communicate by explaining what a correction is. It’s important to consider the way we frame these types of interactions with dogs. In my opinion, dogs should not be punished, only corrected. Let me explain why. Dictionary.com’s definition for correction is, “To set or make true, accurate, or right.” I consider this interpretation when I am correcting a dog; synonymous with rectifying.
Based on my experiences, and my study of dog psychology, behavior, rehabilitation and training, dogs are incapable of rationalizing. They can only react to what we have conditioned them to do. Punishment implies a dog knowingly disregards a command or ignores what they know they should do. It is extremely rare for a dog to willfully disregard a known/condition command or behavior. Dogs do what they think they should do. Based off this concept, how we can punish them? We can only teach, correct, and adjust. When we frame training a dog with “punishment” it creates a perspective that dogs have negative intentions and may do certain behaviors in spite of us. This creates an unhealthy mindset for an owner to rehabilitate and train their dog.
For example, if a dog jumps on people when he first meets them, I’ve heard trainers call the dog “pushy” or an “asshole” and that behavior should be punished accordingly. I think we should first consider WHY the dog was jumping in the first place so we can correct the behavior and prevent it from occurring again. Dogs jump because they’re excited, to claim space, because they’re nervous etc but a dog jumping on guests is likely due to excitement. Most of the time, owners let their dogs as puppies receive affection from anyone and everyone while the dog was in an excited state. On top of the that, the owner likely greets the dog right when they get home and the dog jumps on them in excitement with the owner rewarding the behavior with affection and baby talk.
Am I going to correct the dog for jumping? Absolutely. But more importantly, I am going to educate the owner on the interactions they should be doing to prevent jumping in the first place and how their behavior conditioned the dog to jump on people. This whole idea of punishment without regard to why the behavior happened initially is barbaric and only puts a band -aid on the problem. Owners need to be educated on the WHY so they can make sure to not make the same mistakes over and over with every dog they own or interact with.
By “punishing”, we shift the responsibility from us to the dog. Instead, we should reflect, and understand from the dog’s point of view, they are exhibiting the behavior because:
1) We’ve allowed it (whatever you allow you are in agreement with) 2) We’ve conditioned the dog inadvertently to do it 3) We did not fulfill the dog and therefore the dog feels the need to do that behavior 4) We ignored the signs building up to the behavior
We feel justified in punishment because we feel the dog “should know better” when, in reality, we did not teach them the right thing to do.
When we correct a dog, we address their behavior with a different state of mind; a fairer one in my opinion. Dogs already know how to be balanced. It is in their DNA to be respectful to their leader, to follow the rules and to practice calmness. Dogs are not born with the type of behavioral issues we tend to see as trainers. Most dogs are born perfect and we are the ones who create the bad behavior. In correcting a dog, we are setting right what we’ve made wrong. We are addressing our own interactions with the dog, correcting ourselves and then teaching the dog the healthy way of behaving. If a dog is dealing with a behavioral issue, it not only our responsibility to address it fairly, but it was usually caused by us in the first place. This goes for rescues dogs as well. Just because you may have inherited a dog with behavioral issues doesn’t give you a pass to allow them to unbalanced for the rest of their lives. It’s your responsibility to help them. You adopted them.
How can we punish when we didn’t teach? (Hint: we shouldn’t). Corrections are a form of teaching. This is how dogs learn among each other and other animals. Even though a correction and a punishment might look the same in some contexts, the intention is completely different. Intention in dog training is critical. Someone might argue that intent shouldn’t matter, the dog should be punished either way. I would argue that touching your dog out of love and wanting to teach them versus touching them to punish are two completely different concepts. One yields lasting and healthy results, another suppresses a dog. It’s like saying someone who purposely shoots you should receive the same punishment as someone who accidentally shot you. The intention is completely different. Even the law takes this into account. Felony murder considers intent, and therefore the jail time is longer than it is for someone who is charged and convicted of manslaughter. The point; intent matters.
The way that I view corrections in dog training may be very different than other behaviorists and trainers. Below is a non-exhaustive list of what I consider to be a type of ‘correction”
· Leash pressure
· Physical pressure
· Spatial Pressure
· A verbal “No”
· Stern eye contact
· Turning around quickly in the opposite direction while walking on leash
· Redoing and exercise over and over until the dog understands it (i.e putting them back on place)
· Waiting for calmness before exiting a crate, or redoing an exercise of getting the dog out of the crate while they’re calm
· Removing food
· Not moving forward
I urge dog owners and the dog training community to consider what is best for the dog, not for themselves.
Brianna Dick, Dog Trainer