When to Use Corrections

There are a few specific situations that are very difficult to teach with a totally positive approach. These situations generally fall into two categories.

There are some undesirable behaviors that are what trainers call self-rewarding. An example of these behaviors is pulling on a leash. It feels good to a dog to pull on a leash and so the only way to stop this behavior with an all-positive approach is to provide a reward that is greater than the good feeling that pulling on a leash provides. Verbal encouragement and praise is rarely enough. The best way to stop leash pulling is with positive reinforcement, but there are times that giving rewards is difficult or very inconvenient. If used in moderation, these are the times that we recommend a correction. See our page on Leash Pulling for more information.

The second category of behaviors where training can be enhanced by corrections is in dogs who know what you want and are stubbornly refusing. This can be tricky as you might think your dog knows what you want when in fact he doesn't. You must be sure. If you punish a dog when he doesn't know how to stop the punishment or understand what he has done wrong, you will do more harm to your dog than good. There are a few rules to follow if you will be incorporating corrections for stubborn refusals.

First of all, never use corrections in the teaching phase of any behavior or in puppies under six months. Your dog could very likely not understand what he is expected to do. Your dog must be thoroughly trained in a behavior.

Second, you must know how to give a correction just strong enough to work while at the same time still maintaining drive and a happy desire to work in a dog. The correction must be at the correct level, neither so light that your dog ignores you nor so harsh that your dog cowers or doesn't bounce right back to his happy state afterwards.

Before an assumption is made that a dog knows a behavior and is refusing, the behavior must be proofed. Proofing a behavior means making sure that a dog has learned how to do it even in the midst of distractions. You must gradually increase distractions. Just because a dog has been taught to sit and stay in the living room with noone else around, doesn't mean that he can do it while there is company. Levels of distraction must be gradually increased before you can consider that your dog knows the behavior in the face of distractions. Corrections in these situations are unfair and will undermine your training.

Before an assumption is made that a dog knows a behavior and is refusing, the behavior must also be generalized. Generalizing a behavior means making sure that a dog has learned that a behavior is required in all locations and under all necessary circumstances. Dogs are very in the moment and situational. For example, if you teach a dog to sit in the kitchen, he won’t know until he’s been taught that he also needs to obey the command to sit in the living room or to sit to be petted. Dogs need to practice commands in all the different situations that they will be expected to obey it. Until they understand what is expected of them no matter where they are and no matter what unusual circumstances might have occurred, a correction isn’t fair or helpful.