How to Use Corrections

Corrections should never be the foundation or principle means of training a dog but there are a few very specific situations when corrections could be helpful if used fairly, correctly, 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. Only use corrections for self-rewarding behaviors. Self-rewarding behaviors are behaviors that are intrinsically fun for a dog. Leash pulling can be a self-rewarding behavior. A dog pulls on the leash. It feels good to him. He is being rewarded for leash-pulling by the leash-pulling itself because he likes it.
  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.
  8. Always ascertain why your dog isn't behaving. Is he fearful or anxious? This can cause both leash pulling and excessive barking. Behaviors done out of fear should not be addressed with corrections. The underlying fear needs to be addressed. Corrections are the answer only when the reason for the misbehavior is simply that the dog is enjoying it and for no other reason.