In general, the verb “correct” means to make something right after an error is identified. Most of us perceive it as a learning opportunity but with some emotional baggage attached. For example, if your teacher corrects you repeatedly in a short period of time then it will start to erode your self-confidence, no matter how nicely they do it. As a result, most sophisticated instructors will revert to teaching if they notice the total number of corrections becoming out of proportion to the number of successful repetitions.
In the dog world, this word seems to have gone somewhat awry. When we ask someone to “correct” their dog, what we usually mean is to make the dog sorry, not to make the dog right. It is a function of punishment. Corrections may be used to teach (learn to heel by being popped back every time you attempt to leave), or it may be used after the instructor believes the dog understands the exercise. Regardless, the dog is sorry they made the error because the end result wasn’t too good for them.
“Correct your dog!” is a phrase commonly heard in obedience classes and it would be fairly unusual for the instructor to mean put the dog back with a cookie, though that would indeed put the dog back into position as effectively as a collar pop. The commonly understood meaning of “correct your dog!” in an obedience class is to pop the collar or apply some other aversive that the dog is expected to use to make them more correct in the future. Whether or not that aversive has the desired effect on future behavior is another story altogether and depends on many factors, but suffice it to say that it often has a completely different effect than what the trainer intended or expected.
I’d love to see dog trainers take the word back to its original meaning. When you correct your dog, focus on making your dog right! And if that correction doesn’t work to remind the dog of what you wanted (whether an aversive or a cookie) then you need to stop testing and go back to training – teach the dog what you want.
And if you find yourself correcting your dog repeatedly, whether with a collar pop or a cookie? That suggests a fundamental problem with the dog’s understanding of that behavior under the current circumstances. Go back to the teaching phase. It’s no different than what you would want from your instructor if you were struggling to be correct on a behavior that you were attempting to master- more energy spent on helping you be right and a lot less emphasis on testing your knowledge.
A little patience doesn’t hurt either. I find it takes years for handlers to master the skills required of excellent dog training and good instructors remain patient with the students through good spells and less good ones. Give your dog the same courtesy.
Consider your intent when you correct your dog. What I want is to improve future behavior. I can do that by applying corrections that make the dog right without making them sorry at all, and then I know to go back to training.
Positive reinforcement training is all about making the dog correct. If you’re not sure if you want to proceed with a given approach to training, try to put yourself in your dog’s shoes for a moment. If you apply whatever it is that is in your head, what is the likely end result? A correct dog or sorry one?
Take it from there.
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Well said, Denise! In herding, I am the student, more so than my dog. Fortunately, I have an instructor who always tells me what went right with an exercise, rather than pointing out all the things that were wrong. She is quick to offer alternatives when I am struggling, knowing that if I leave feeling confused, angry, or upset, I just might not come back. She encourages, not discourages. Isn’t that what we want for our dogs??
And how long has it been that I have been saying exactly this same thing to you? I don’t know what obedience instructors you have been watching, but “correct your dog” doesn’t mean “make him sorry”.
Also, luring a dog into position doesn’t make him correct, it just makes him focus on the cookie.
As you said, it’s pretty obvious that our experiences of obedience are different. I have yet to see an instructor say “correct your dog!” who did not mean some version of punishment. I think it’s great that you have had such a different experience with the word, such that “correct your dog!” has no particular negative ramification for the learner.
Luring a dog back into the position most certainly does make him correct (he is now in position), if I put him where I wanted him to be in the first place. It’s the same as a physical correction that puts the dog back into the position. But neither necessarily teaches the dog anything, which is another matter altogether and falls under the realm of training, not correcting. What is done is done – it doesn’t matter a whole lot what you do now; training is what teaches the dog what to do in the first place.
If my dog is making errors, and simply reminding them of what I want doesn’t work, then I revert to training the problem area.
Well stated Denise. It is something I have thought about from time to time but never put into words.
Unfortunately, in my area “correct your dog” general does mean do something unpleasant.