In the dog world, the phrase “to correct” is controversial Many dog trainers argue that there’s nothing wrong with ‘correcting’ a dog because you’re simply showing him how to be correct. I’ve seen entire blogs written to justify the use of the word, and its application in dog training, by referring to the root of the word “correct” – to make right. I know that I appreciate it when someone corrects my work to help me improve.
If a correction is designed to make the dog correct, why does it often look like the dog is being made sorry rather than being made right?
This reminds me of a phase in my life where saying something was “bad” really meant that it was “good”. Cool. The meaning of the word changed, and only a person in a closet would have failed to notice that change. As a result, we accepted the changed word and we used the original meaning with care to avoid a misunderstanding.
Is it possible that the current meaning of the word “correct” has changed from “being made right” to “applying unpleasant consequences?” I’m talking about the dog world; not the common usage of the word (we are talking about dogs here, aren’t we?).
If you cannot decide for yourself if the meaning of the word has changed, then I’d like to suggest a fairly simple test to help you get calibrated.
You’ll need three things. A dog making a mistake, a trainer applying a correction, and a five-year-old.
While the five-year-old is observing, “correct” the dog for making a mistake. Then ask the child, “is the dog happy now that I showed him how to be correct?”
If the five-year-old looks at you like you’ve grown a second head, then you may wish to acknowledge that the root meaning of the word and the common usage of the word are no longer the same.
Let’s call a spade a spade. A correction means to make the dog sorry so that they will perform differently the next time. If you are showing a dog how to perform correctly, then don’t call it a correction. You are “showing”,”teaching” or “training” the dog. And if you are really trying to help the dog, then whatever you are doing should look like help to the random five-year-old.
Regardless of how you feel about corrections in training, isn’t it better to use language that is clear and descriptive of what is really happening?
I’ve seen people jerk their dogs all over the place in the name of dog training. I’ve seen dogs cowering away from their owners and other run away in fear. I’ve seen dogs pee and roll on their backs as their trainer approached. I’m sure each of those individuals would say they were ‘correcting’ the dog, and many of them would subscribe to the usage of the word that I began with – that they were making the dog right.
I’ve yet to hear someone say they were abusing their dog. So, in the interest of clarity, if we are truly showing our dogs how to perform and we care how they feel about their work, we should eliminate the use of the word “correction” from our vocabularies and substitute another, less tainted word, in its place.