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Corrections in Dog Training

I mention corrections in many of the articles that are written on The Matson Pack, some of these articles give a brief description of what a correction is while others are very vague, so hopefully this article can provide clarity to what a correction in dog training is.

Corrections are useful in a variety of ways; they are especially useful in communicating our intentions to our dogs and letting them know what behavior is unacceptable.

So, what exactly is a correction? if you look in a dictionary you will find something along the lines of, a change that makes something right or an action that restores something to its proper place. Simply put, in dog training a correction is anything that stops an unwanted behavior.

Corrections can come in many forms, a correction could be as simple as a clap of the hands and a firm “no” to get a dog off a countertop, or it could be using something along the lines of a leash pop, or the stimulation of an E-collar.

“The first factor when determining if a correction is ethical is what tools are being utilized for the correction if any are used at all.”

An important thing to note is that corrections must be done in an ethical manner, there are three factors that help tell if a correction is ethical, the lasting effects of the correction, the timing of the correction, and the dogs understanding of the correction.

The fist factor when determining if a correction is ethical is what tools are being utilized for the correction if any are used at all.

Appropriate training tools for corrections are those tools that do not cause long lasting harm to the dog. Training tools such as E-collars and Prong collars are effective and ethical training tools for corrections as they are designed to release all pressure or stimulation without any residual harm lasting on the dog.

Certain training tools such as citronella collars on the other hand are unethical as the scent that irritates the dog’s nose can linger in the air for half an hour after the dog has stopped the inappropriate behavior.

Other tools such as gentle leaders and front clip harnesses will do an ample job of correcting a dog for pulling on a walk, but these tools can cause long term neck and shoulder damage with continued use, thus making the ethical use of them questionable. 

The second factor that is important to the ethical use of corrections is that of timing.

“Any corrections made after a dog has stopped the bad behavior will send the wrong message to the dog and would be unethical.”

Timing is an all important aspect in dog training and it applies to giving a dog a correction as well as rewarding a dog for good behavior, however when giving corrections it is of the utmost importance that it is given with correct timing so as not to send the wrong message to the dog.

Corrections should be given when the dog is displaying an inappropriate behavior or is displaying loading behavior. Any corrections made after a dog has stopped the bad behavior will send the wrong message to the dog and would be unethical.

An example of this would be an owner who comes home and finds that their dog had an accident in the house, the owner then proceeds to yell at the dog.

This correction is unethical as the timing is inappropriate and the dog is unable to draw the connection between the accident and the owners yelling. The other problem that arises is that the dog gets a different message, instead of associating the correction with the accident the dog associates the correction with the owners return home.

This inappropriate timing of a correction often leads to far greater issues such as separation anxiety or aggresion.

Another factor when considering whether a correction is ethical is the communication with the dog. The timing of a correction plays a large role in this so that the dog can understand what they did to warrant the correction in the first place.

In order to help communicate what the correction means to the dog, the owner should utilize a marker when giving a correcting. This helps the dog understand exactly what it is they are doing wrong. Additionally, a correction should stop the bad behavior and the owner should then redirect the dog with a known command and reward the dog for obeying the command that follows.

“As dog trainers and dog owners we must hold ourselves accountable and ensure we correct our dogs in an ethical and productive manner.”

Otherwise the dog runs the risk of continuing the bad behavior as the owner is not communicating what they want the dog to do. Owners and trainers should never get angry or mad at the dog while giving a correction.

This does not clearly communicate to the dog what they did wrong and instead creates fear and anxiety. An example of an ethical correction playing out is as follows.

A dog is jumping up on a counter, the owner then calmly says “no” while using a leash pop to guide the dog down onto the ground, the owner times the leash pop while the dog is still on the counter. So far, the owner has used the first two of the three factors of an ethical correction.

Lastly the owner says “down” to which the dog responds to, and the owner then rewards the dog for the appropriate behavior.

On the other hand, an unethical example of a correction would be this. The dog is jumping up on the counter and the owner sees the dog. The dog gets off the counter and the owner walks over and proceeds to angralily yell at the dog and hit the dog saying, “bad dog” 

The first mistake is that the owner is timing the corrections after the dog has already gotten off the counter, the second problem is that the owner is using unethical means to correct the dog by hitting it and potentially causing long lasting effects.

Lastly the owner provides no communication to the dog as to what it should do in order to stop the correction and the angry tone used only creates fear in the dog.

Not only is this second example unethical it does not teach the dog anything, other than when the owner raises their voice they will get hurt. The first example on the other hand teaches the dog what not to do while simultaneously teaching the dog an alternative behavior to fill its place.

As dog trainers and dog owners we must hold ourselves accountable and ensure we correct our dogs in an ethical and productive manner. Not doing so only creates frustration for the dog and the owner and leads to many more issues. Corrections give the dog guidance and understanding, punishment creates confusion and stress. 

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