What are we trying to accomplish when we correct a dog? Do we want to make the dog submissive to us? Are we trying to show the dog that we’re displeased with his behavior? Do we want the dog to feel guilty or ashamed over what he has done or how he is behaving? I think not. When we strip away all of the emotional considerations involved in any incident where we feel the dog should be corrected; whether it is anger, disappointment, a sense of betrayal or embarrassment, we want them to stop doing something which isn’t appropriate. The owner wants the dog to settle down. Unfortunately this kind of thinking while justifiable in most cases, simply won’t work because dogs can’t learn not to do things, they can only learn to do things. Now, I’m not suggesting that a dog can’t learn to be still, my point is that a dog can learn to be still, only by learning how to be calm. So, while we may think that we want inaction from our dog to accomplish our aim of settling the dog down, we really need action!
Dogs get into trouble with their human companions due to the canine’s natural tendencies and inclinations: their wild instincts. These instincts would be completely appropriate and normal if the dog were living in the wild and so it is to be expected that dogs become excited at the arrival of strangers or at the return of their owners. It is natural behavior for a dog to be destructive when left alone, or to pull rambunctiously when walked on/lead. So the problem isn’t that our pets are acting abnormally and that we’re bad dog owners, these behaviors are inborn traits. The real problem is how we perceive a dog’s behavior and then how that perception influences the way we present training problems to our dogs.
What this boils down to mean is that rather than saying to the dog; “don’t pull on your lead,” we need to say instinctually; “be attracted to me even though there are powerful distractions about.” Rather than commanding a dog not to jump on strangers, we need to train him how to make contact with strangers. We can’t tell a dog not to bark, or to cease being a pest, but we can train him to have an unswerving focus on an objective and through such a focus, a dog can be commanded to settle down. Ultimately, the dog can develop so much patience that whenever he wants something, calmness rather than nervousness will be his habit for success. So if we analyze what we’re trying to accomplish in those everyday situations that require manners from our dog, we’ll find that we actually want to train our dog to do things. Therefore, our correction should have the effect of stimulating the dog towards whatever action we want him to perform.
This may at first seem contradictory but once again we can ask, if we have to correct a friend, a child, or a co-worker, what is the best possible outcome of such an interaction? Do we want the person who is criticized to have any defensive reaction towards us and thereby to become subdued? Or, is it not much better to leave them feeling powerfully motivated to adopt our suggested course of action? The answer is obvious, in the final analysis: we truly want the one just criticized become excited. So completely enthusiastic about doing things our way: that they hold nothing back. On the other hand, the degree to which the person, or dog, were to become defensive, may prove to be the degree of unreliability we can expect from them when we’re not around.