Do Dogs REALLY Need Corrections When Training?

When dogs exhibit behaviors we consider undesirable, the typical response is to correct them. However, I believe correction isn’t the most effective training method for dogs. While it might yield short-term results, it often falls short in the long run and can even exacerbate issues. Why?

Firstly, correction training is often rooted in outdated theories. Secondly, there are more effective approaches, such as positive reinforcement.

To Correct Or Not To Correct, That Is The Question…

Humans and dogs both learn from the consequences of our actions, forming associations through experiences, which shape our future behaviors and emotions. However, humans possess an innate moral compass, distinguishing right from wrong, while dogs rely on past experiences, instincts, and safety perceptions for their behavior.

Correcting a dog for “wrong” behavior may exacerbate issues; instead, teach desired behaviors, such as loose leash walking with a harness and long line (not a leash correction using a prong or choke collar), or train an alternative behavior like “touch” instead of using a shock collar to stop barking.

It can help us have empathy for our dogs to know that their choices are largely about the reward history for that behavior. If your dog is regularly rewarded for walking at your side and leaving things when asked, they are likely to choose that option more often. It just makes behavioral sense; it’s not the “right” thing to do (not in your dog’s eyes, at least).

Alpha Dominance Is A Myth

Dr. David Mech, renowned for his expertise in wolf behavior, debunked the myth of alpha dominance within wolf packs. His groundbreaking study conducted on the Ellesmere Islands revealed that there is no hierarchical conflict among wolves, contrary to popular belief.

The notion of alpha dominance originated from studies of wolves in captivity, where unnatural conditions distorted their behavior. Mech admitted his error in assigning the term “alpha” to the dominant male, clarifying that leadership in wolf packs is familial, with the lead male and female being parents caring for their offspring.

Many individuals, including some dog trainers, advocate for corrections as part of training. The premise is to teach the dog desired behaviors and correct them when they err to establish boundaries. This approach stems from outdated dominance theories, suggesting the need to dominate dogs, particularly working breeds. It’s based on the misconception that since dogs are descendants of wolves, wolf pack dynamics apply. However, this dominance theory has been debunked, as it doesn’t hold true, even in wolf behavior.

Correction Makes Things Worse

Dogs are constantly assessing the things they encounter to figure out if they are safe or dangerous. This is how their brains work: repeat behaviors that are rewarded and stay safe. Armed with this information, you never have to feel discouraged that your dog is doing anything to spite you again. And if you truly want a dog who can participate in as much of your day-to-day life as possible, remember to teach them that the world is safe.

My approach to handling situations involves proactive measures to prevent the need for corrections. I prioritize setting up conditions that promote success rather than failure, particularly when working with dogs.

Many dogs have been trained using a “command and correct” method, which often involves frequent corrections, creating a negative experience for the dog. While corrections are necessary for dogs to understand boundaries, it’s important to recognize that dogs correct each other naturally. However, as humans, our approach to corrections should be different from that of dogs. We are not dogs, we are humans. And dogs know this!!!

Even ineffective training methods often yield some results with dogs due to their strong bond with humans. However, I question why we would want to create negative associations for dogs. Instead, why not foster a positive experience where the dog enjoys working and behaving willingly, rather than feeling compelled to do things they perceive as negative?

If you’re considering correcting your dog because you’ve seen it done on TV, it’s crucial to understand the repercussions beyond the broadcast. The true consequences unfold once the cameras stop rolling and the supposed “trainer” departs.

In my opinion, dependence on corrections is a sign of intellectual laziness. Instead, our focus should be finding ways to collaborate with our dogs positively, cultivating experiences without needing corrections. It requires more effort and sometimes more time, but the outcome is a dog with overwhelmingly positive associations with their work.

Dogs do NOT need corrections. They seek out connections with humans to feel safe.

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