Corrections

For very young puppies, I only advocate positive and gentle training methods.  On the other hand, I don’t spoil puppies and do suggest allowing puppies to learn from mildly stressful events.  I do recommend physically controlling puppies for a large percentage of their waking hours and I don’t give into all their desires.  I control them by having them spend time in crates and pens and by extensive use of a leash.  But, I try to make those experiences as pleasant as possible with toys and bones and by making leash times happy fun times.  I expect obedience from my puppies, but I use positive motivational techniques to achieve that obedience.  I want my dogs to obey me because they respect me, not because they fear me.

However, as puppies mature, I do believe that there is a place for what trainers call adversives or punishments or corrections.  I incorporate as much positive training as possible with raising my dogs but in my opinion there are times when a dog must obey just because I said so. 

All positive methods are based on three principle ideas.  The first is to create a distraction so that the dog forgets about wanting to do the undesired behavior.  The second involves creating an environment where a dog always wants to do what you want him to do and conditioning him to enjoy your rewards more than anything else that could compete for his attention.  The third principle behind all positive training is the idea that un-rewarded behavior will extinguish itself and be replaced by rewarded behaviors.  The overall philosophy behind all-positive training is the idea that a dog will obey his owner’s rules because he wants to and not because he has to.  I do use and recommend all the positive training techniques myself.  They are excellent training tools, but I think that taking your training a step further and requiring a dog to obey whether he wants to or not makes for a much better behaved, consistent, happier, and more confident dog.  I have several reasons for my opinion.

First of all, there will be times in a dog’s life that you don’t have that something that the dog wants more with you.  Of course the positive only trainers make just the opposite point that if you rely on corrections and the dog doesn’t have on the collar to receive the punishment, he won’t listen either.  I agree that that can sometimes be the case too which is why I recommend that older puppies and dogs need to be trained with both methods: 95% positive training with corrections given in those few cases where a fair correction is given when the dog knows what is being asked of him and refuses to do it.

Secondly, there are certain behaviors that are self-rewarding.  The dog gets his reward just by doing the behavior.  Examples are excessive barking, digging, leash pulling, and chasing cars.  In order to stop these behaviors with all positive training methods, there must always be something better to offer the dog.  The behavior will not extinguish itself just because rewards are withheld.  The behavior itself is rewarding. They enjoy it. You can’t take the reward away from these types of behaviors. 

Thirdly, I believe that it is good for a dog to learn impulse control.  Though this can be taught with all positive methods, it can be better taught with a balanced approach to training.  A puppy that is raised getting mostly anything he wants does not learn impulse control as well as a puppy who learns to obey his pack leader both because he gets rewarded for good behavior and because he might get a correction for bad behavior.

Fourthly, I believe that appropriate corrections are helpful with some dogs because I have seen the results in the obedience ring.  The most competitive dogs are often the ones who have some corrections incorporated into their training.  I want consistent obedience from my dogs not just for obedience competitions but so that I can trust them off leash in the world.  However, I have also seen the opposites.  Those trainers who use primarily the old-fashioned yank and crank methods often have dogs who aren’t happy working dogs.  I want my dogs to be both consistent and happy. I rarely use corrections in obedience training myself. So far, my dogs don't need it, but I do know of others whose dogs have benefitted from corrections. My opinion is that no training method is 100% the best for every dog. You must know your dog and know what works best for him.

Corrections must be used appropriately, fairly, and at the correct level.  I know of dogs who have been ruined by inappropriate corrections.  They become fearful and lack confidence.  You must be careful with corrections.  I can understand why positive trainers have gone to the extreme that many of them have gone to.  All positive training is much better than correcting a dog inappropriately.  There are a few rules that I feel should never be broken in correcting a dog. 

  1. Never use a correction in actually training  a dog to a new behavior.  Use corrections only when a dog is thoroughly trained to a behavior and is still choosing to not obey you when you are more than 110% sure that he knows what you’ve asked him to do.
  2. Use the smallest correction necessary to cause a dog to obey.  Dogs with softer temperaments need smaller corrections than dogs with harder temperaments.  Dogs who are in drive (zoned in on what they are doing such as chasing something) temporarily have harder temperaments so even with the same dog, the strength of the correction must vary.  You need to know your dog.
  3. Don’t use too small of a correction repeatedly.  This becomes a nag.  One correction at the appropriate level is better than 5 nagging corrections.
  4. Don’t correct a dog before a minimum of 5-6 months of age.  (Occasionally I would recommend leash corrections starting at 4 months for dogs with harder temperaments that are pulling on a leash.)
  5. Always reward a dog immediately after he has obeyed you.  A dog who has been corrected needs to be brought right back up to a happy state of mind (within seconds, not minutes).  A correction that lingers will make a dog think that you are unhappy with the dog himself, not just the behavior.
  6. Never correct a dog when you are angry and never yell at a dog.  Yelling and anger communicates that you are out of control.  Dog’s need a stable pack leader in order to be secure and confident.  Otherwise, they feel a need to take over as pack leader themselves.  All corrections need to be given matter-of-factly in a calm voice.
  7. Never hit a dog as a correction.  The only correction I ever recommend are corrections that come from a collar.  If your dog isn’t dependable, don’t let him off a leash.

Dogs in the wild are not persuaded with treats and toys to obey their pack leader.  They obey the leader because they respect him.  A pack leader will tell a subordinate dog no with a subtle growl when that dog tries to take his food.  If the subtle growl doesn’t get the desired response, the leader doesn’t try to distract the other dog or give him a higher value treat to appease him.  He nips him.  The subordinate dog knew that the pack leader was saying to leave the food alone and the subordinate dog disobeyed in spite of it.  He got a nip (a fair correction) and his respect for the pack leader grew.  The alpha dog doesn’t get mad and out of control.  He growls or nips and then goes confidently right back to whatever he was doing.  Respect in the dog world is taught with kindness, but it is also taught with fair corrections when a dog knows what he should do and refuses to do it. 

Again, most of our training is positive and with very young puppies, it is all positive.   Inappropriate, unfair corrections will make for a cowardly dog.  If positive training methods are all you have to rely on, your dog’s life must be controlled in such a way that you can always put a stop to bad behavior with rewards, distractions, or waiting on unrewarded behavior to extinguish itself.  Positive trainers say to stick with it and be patient. 

I argue that certain behaviors in certain dogs cannot be curtailed with positive methods alone without making three big changes to your life: (1) change your environment in such a way that there is nothing inside or outside that your dog can ever chew, dig, or bark excessively at, (2) stay with your dog every single minute that he is out of a crate or pen, and (3) always keep treats or toys on your body every single minute your dog is out of the crate so that you can reward and distract when necessary.  I personally don’t want to make these kinds of changes in my life.  I don’t think going to such extremes are good for a family or for a dog.  Yes, there are many changes that do need to be made for a dog.  Most dogs have unwanted behaviors because families are too busy.  Dogs are bored.  Dogs are lonely.  I am all about families having adequate time for a dog and dogs need LOTS of time. On the other hand, yes, many dogs can be successfully trained without using corrections. If that is your dog, go for it. However, you can't put every dog in a box and say that what works for one dog will always work for another. I believe that balance, flexibility, and knowing your own dog is the key to a happy dog with a happy family. 

See our page on collars for more information on which collars we recommend and how to give collar corrections.