Is It Possible to Train a Dog Without Using Corrections?
Corrections as Information
There are two types of corrections used in dog training.
Verbal (or vocal) corrections, and physical corrections, which includes leash corrections.Verbal (or vocal) corrections include things like saying “No!” “Quiet!” “Uh-uh!”or making a “Tch-tch...” sound. Physical corrections involve using your hands to physically manipulate (or gently force) a dog into a sit or down position, etc.
Leash corrections can be something as simple as a slight tug on the collar or “hanging” a dog, where you momentarily lift the dog’s front legs off the ground, a technique which should only be used in an emergency situation to prevent a dog from harming himself or others.
In each of these cases, the corrections are simply a way of providing important information to the dog and aren’t necessarily punitive in nature. In fact, they can be quite the opposite.
Still, many “all-positive” trainers like to claim that they never use corrections at all, ever. On a blog post at the Leerburg dog training website, dedicated to training police dogs, military dogs, and other working dogs, trainer Ed Frawley describes this tendency perfectly.
In the past 15 years we have seen many all-positive trainers
(otherwise known as “+R” trainers) who mistakenly think they
can train every dog and never give a dog a correction. These
people either lack experience or they know better and simply
talk the talk so they can be politically correct. Not in a million
years could any +R trainer anywhere have trained or certified
any one of the police service dogs that I worked while I was
a K9 handler.
In fact, 99.99% of every dog trained in the +R system will
eventually be faced with an off leash distraction that is more
interesting to that dog than the reward his handler has to offer.
When that happens the dog will not follow his owner’s
commands, even though the dog knows exactly what his owner
is asking. That’s how dogs get into dangerous situations. This
is how +R dogs get in dog fights or get hit by cars.
I also don’t have a lot of patience for +R training organizations
(like Pet Smart) that push purely positive dog training in their
training classes and won’t let their trainers talk about corrections.
They do a disservice to new dog owners who make the mistake
of taking their classes.
I would add that one of the reasons +R trainers are against using corrections is that a good part of their training paradigm involves the mistaken ideas that 1) “as soon as you get your puppy home, the clock is ticking,” and 2) puppies should be trained as early as possible. In the model of training used by truly professional trainers, like those who train police dogs, military dogs, and other working dogs, obedience training doesn’t start until the dog is at least 2 years old! No wonder positive trainers would rather avoid corrections, because you never want to correct a puppy for anything! So, what are corrections, exactly, and why are they so important in training? Corrections are a vital element of behavior and learning in all animals. They’re not a negative thing at all, but an important form of information. In dog training, corrections provide important information to the dog about what you want him to do or not do. In fact, you can’t fully train a dog without using them, and anyone who tries to eliminate corrections entirely will end up with a dog that’s unreliable in one way or another. Again, corrections are an important form of information not abuse.
Two Types of Corrections
There are two basic types of corrections: vocal corrections and physical corrections.Vocal corrections include saying “No,” “Uh-uh,” and vocalizations like “tch-tch,” etc.
Physical corrections include things like a light tug on the dog’s collar, physically manipulating the dog into the proper position, harder pops on the collar, and using the leash and collar to momentarily lift the dog’s front legs off the ground to prevent him from doing harm to himself or others.
Leash corrections are not necessarily aversive. In fact, as Kevin Behan says in the video of Zeke below, they’re no different than Pavlov’s “bell.” There is nothing either positive or negative about them.
In fact, the positive nature of leash corrections can also be seen in this video of Noodles, walking next to me, then forging ahead. As I give him a few corrections he begins to walk next to me rather than pull, he starts feeling more connected to me, and even looks up at me in a happy manner.
There is nothing wrong with using corrections as long as they a) increase the dog’s ability and willingness to learn and obey and b) don’t induce fear or reduce a dog’s motivation.
Do some dog trainers and owners overdo it? Yes, absolutely. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use them. They can actually be a very positive, not to mention effective, way not only to train your dog, but to deepen your emotional bond.
“Life Is an Adventure—Where Will Your Dog Take You?”