Correction: Such a negative word for such a positive result
By Patrick Shannahan
“Go correct your dog!”
When trainers usually talk to their students about a correction, the students sometimes feel intimidated. They tend to act like they understand the word, but avoid using the action. Students are worried that a correction will mean that they have to be in conflict with the dog. They think it means they must be mean. They worry that the dog might not like them, or they might damage their relationship with their dog.
That is where the student is wrong. A correction is simply getting the dog to make a different choice. Sometimes that choice is also wrong, so another correction is in order. A correction is used until the correct choice is made.
Now, when a trainer or handler has a very good relationship, sometimes the correction can be very subtle. It doesn’t have to be harsh, loud, physical or aggressive. It can be as simple as saying “no” in a calm voice. These are the types of corrections that we are striving for. One that the dog does not feel threatened, and the person does not feel the need to dominate.
Now, not all corrections go so easily. Sometimes the dog feels the need to challenge the correction, or does not feel the need to make a different choice. This is when the trainer needs to increase the correction, or change the correction to something that is more suitable.
Many times I have had experienced dog trainers not know how to effectively give a correction. They mimic or copy another trainer’s corrections, and expect those to work for them. Occasionally they do. But many times, the correction is too severe or too light to be effective to make the dog make a different choice. Just like we need to adjust how we have a conversation with some of our friends, many times we need to adjust in how we give a particular dog a correction.
Some dogs need a very firm correction. They must know that there is no other option, but to make the right choice. Other dogs would “melt” with this type of correction. The dog might not understand why the trainer is mad at them. They might actually get worse as this type correction goes on.
To be fair to the dog, once the dog makes a different choice, we need to take the pressure off. They then will learn that corrections are not bad and that you are not angry with them. They can start to understand that they just need to make a different choice. Hopefully, as a trainer, we have made that choice very obvious.
The type of dog that I enjoy to train is one that understands corrections. It freely agrees to change, and is happy in doing so. Part of making that a success, is learning to recognize that the dog is ready to change, and you are ready to go on with the lesson. If you want to fight or dominate, when your dog has agreed to change, then you are not being fair to the dog, and most likely you can lose the lesson and their respect.
Training your dog cannot happen without proper corrections. So when I train, I look for places that I can correct my dog. A good training session revolves around me being able to challenge my dog, and the dog responding to instruction and corrections. A training session where I don’t have to correct my dog, doesn’t lead too much actual training.
So when you are thinking about training, and how you are going to teach your dog, think about the communication of your corrections. Remember that corrections are positively the best way to instruct your dog in what you need from them. The word sounds a bit negative, but the response is very positive.