Correcting a Dog
Today, I wanted to discuss with you guys the different types of corrections that all trainers use. I know, this can be a little controversial. Yes, ALL trainers use corrections, even the positive-only trainers. The nice thing about being a balanced trainer is that you can say both yes and no to your dog, depending on whether we choose to encourage or discourage a behavior. Keep in mind, that to your dog, if you don’t say no, that’s an automatic yes. The true art of dog leadership is pretty subtle, to the point where the dog and most people don’t even realize it. Maybe the first few times your dog has come and nudged your hand, you obliged him by giving him lots of pets an ear scratches, inadvertently rewarding the behavior while you were otherwise distracted while watching tv. Soon, you have a dog that is annoying you with how persistent they are about getting you to pet them or pay attention to them! Can’t you just watch your TV show without being pestered?! Yes, even I have felt this way, even with my own cats! I mean...just look at this loveable black mass sprawled out on my lap! We’ve had to set up some serious boundaries when it comes to lap time. So let’s get started here, and dive right into the thick of it.
The most important aspect to your corrections guys, is TIMING. I cannot emphasize that enough. You have about a 1-2 second window after the undesired behavior to give a correction. While most of you will already know this, if you’re new to dog training, you can’t correct a dog 10 seconds, 15 seconds, or 1 hour after the infraction. It only confuses the dog. A pretty common example of that is when your dog goes potty on the carpet, or when your dog gets into the trash and leaves the mess for you to come home and find. So just like you wouldn’t correct your dog once you get inside from a walk, for something they did inappropriately on the walk, you can’t correct your dog for something they did when you weren’t present. Sorry, guys! That’s an entirely different article I should probably tackle for you guys soon. But anyways, back on topic of timing, we here at Ruff Beginnings Rehab like to work with low-intensity training. Now, in order to do that, you’ve gotta be in tune with your dog and catch an outburst before it happens. The trick is that you have to match the energy of your dog. If your dog is at a 3, then you need to correct at a level 3 or 4. Anything less will underwhelm the dog, and will not discourage the behavior. If you have a dog that is reactive towards other dogs, and you think that the explosion of lunging after another dog happens out of nowhere, I implore you to study your dog a bit closer. Are you distracted while walking your dog? On the phone, or perhaps worrying about your environment, keeping a lookout for dogs? Then you might be missing the subtle signs your dog is giving you leading up to the explosion. It could be something as subtle as “going quiet”, when your dog stops panting and closes its’ mouth. Or even more subtle than that, a wrinkling of the forehead; A pause in their step. These are the moments which we try to catch, to give a low-intensity correction, because the dog is responding to outside stimulus in a minimal way. Catch ‘em before the explosion. Nip it in the bud! If you get them mid-explosion, the best thing to do is give distance. Get out of the current situation, until your dog no longer cares about the squirrel, or the other dog, and start again below your dog’s threshold, at a lower level intensity and try to keep an eye on your dog’s body language. You’ll learn the signs in due time.
There are different forms of corrections, too. What we primarily use here are leash pop, verbal, ecollar low cues or when needed corrections, and occasionally a physical touch or some combination of these. Remember when I said that the art of leadership with your dog is subtle? It’s sort of the same with cats. When my kitten, who is still learning boundaries, puts her paw up on the coffee table, all I have to do is give a verbal correction and most the time she’ll slowly remove her paw and sit back down while flicking her tail frustratedly. However, there are times where she will try to test her boundaries, and so I need to escalate if she doesn’t listen. Sometimes, that just involves leaning forward or standing up with authority. This usually relates to both cats and dogs in relatively the same manner. Sometimes, I’m forced to get up and walk around the coffee table, and wedge myself gently between my kitten and the table, giving her a bump with my shin to give me space. What you’re telling your furry friend is that the table is yours, not theirs, and gently reminding them that they aren’t allowed on the table, or counter. Side note: for those feline owners, if you want to keep your cat off a surface when you’re not present, I highly recommend a Scat cat from Amazon. They’re pet correctors with motion detectors. Just be advised, at some time or another you will startle yourself with it! I certainly have :) This is an example of body blocking, check out my last article on leash reactivity in dogs for some video links on body blocking. Verbal corrections are just as it sounds. Usually a “No” or “Tschht” will suffice as a verbal warning, if the dog has been taught what a no means. With pop corrections, it’s a quick, sudden interruption to the dog’s current behavior, a ‘pop’ of the leash to the side, or the quick press of a button on an e-collar to deliver the same type of interruption in a split second. With all of these, you can vary your impact through intensity. Sometimes you just want to barely cap the dogs intensity level, and other times you need to have a much stronger level of intensity to create an inhibition.
When we talk about the different intensities of corrections, what we talk about are levels of intensity usually associated with pop corrections with a leash or ecollar corrections. This is a sudden tensing of the leash that is relaxed right away, hence the term “pop”. It happens that quickly. Now, we can whisper or we can yell with different dog tools like a prong, an e-collar, a choke chain, slip leads, martingales, what have you; It’s the intensity with which you give the correction that matters. If your dog is at a level 8 out of 10 and you give a correction at a level 3 energy, your dog isn’t gonna give a damn about whether or not you are there and disagreeing with a behavior. Alternatively, if you correct a dog at a 9 when they’re only at a level 5, you’re gonna get a bit of a fearful response. There is a time and a place for that when we talk about aggressive dogs, but for most of you, it isn’t warranted. Now if you happen to overcorrect your dog, they’re pretty resilient, and they’ll bounce back, but just fight the urge to baby them and sweet talk. They will be FINE. Just take a moment, take breath, and continue on. We also do pop cues to our dogs. These are super light little nothing corrections that are more about giving your dog feedback and communication. For instance, if your dog is heeling beautifully but they have a longer stride and they’re starting to pick up the pace, we might give a gentle pop cue to curtail the dog getting ahead of us and keeping them in their follower position. It’s just like a little reminder, a little tap on the shoulder that they don’t make the decisions. That’s for us to worry about.
It is a bit of a balancing act at first with making sure you’re matching your dog’s energy, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll find that you’re able to find that happy medium, and your dog won’t be so frustrated because you guys will have much better communication and understanding about what is expected of your four legged counterpart. Corrections are one-half of the equation. For every no, there are more yes behaviors we reward. We also don’t start off with just telling the dog no. We do lots of patterning and conditioning work to help the dog understand what it is we are asking. We’re not going to correct a dog at a higher level for a first time infraction. It may just be a verbal correction is enough, or perhaps your dog is being an idiot and you’ll need to dial up on the e-collar, or any area in between. Dogs are just as individualistic as we are. There is no formula that will work for every single dog. We are always fine-tuning ourselves with each dog to set them up for success, while still addressing bad behavior with a correction. Corrections are not a bad thing. They’re not emotional. It’s just a way of communicating to your furry friend that something was unacceptable or undesired by you. If you feel yourself getting frustrated or angry, don’t force yourself and the animal to try and muscle through a training session. End it on a positive note if you can, and try again later. There are so many nuances to corrections for each individual pet, so don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions you may have to how corrections might pertain to your situation. We are always here and happy to help.