CORRECTION: Why Do We Correct a Dog?

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.

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Published June 10, 2009 by Kevin Behan
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2 responses to “CORRECTION: Why Do We Correct a Dog?”

  1. Ben says:

    “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.”

    Kevin, how does the panic-down come into play here. Is the dog still being stimulating even though he is going into a hard down? If I am walking my dog and I can tell he is starting to get a charge from a dog-on-the-horizon, should I do a hard shock down, followed by high tactile grounding?

    I’m wondering what you would make of the way corrections are presented in this protection-dog video.

    Thanks, Ben

  2. Kevin Behan says:

    Sorry so much time has lapsed. But yes, she’s exactly right although it can be said more succinctly, Correct-the-Dog-When-He’s-Doing-It-Correctly. In those days I put it more obtusely in “NDT” as in “disassociate” yourself from the correction and I in-artfully used the term “shock” meaning to interrupt nervousness and channel this energy into the Drive-to-Make-Contact. But as per the quote you’ve highlighted, that’s all part of the formula. I like to think I’ve influenced the training paradigm as I taught these ideas in the eighties and published same in 1992 whereafter some obedience competition clubs began to adopt the methods. I can’t tell you how much aggravation I received from behaviorists and trainers to the effect of “Aren’t you encouraging a dog to jump up and make contact?” This video seems to be from the mid-nineties and it could reflect everyone coming to the same conclusion but I don’t remember any supportive voices in those days. That said I do remember while waiting for my book to come out, Dean Calderon I believe it was, wrote in”Schutzhund USA” about encouraging a dog to jump up and make contact as a positive release during the heeling exercise. Joanne seems to have nicely systemized it with a very accessible language. Under the nitpicking department I don’t like that stylized manner of presenting the food (doesn’t drill down into collecting) and while the dogs are beautifully light on their feet, bravo, they are a bit jumpy. I make the heeling exercise one step simpler by having the dog follow the handler who is backpedaling and facing the dog, this is easier for a dog to be direct/active since he’s directly acting on the handler instead of deflected onto the side. The reason I present the food the way I do is so that it will work under street as opposed to trial conditions as the dog more closely associates it with the body language of the handler. Finally, the contacting is weak (which is why I turned to Pushing) and food/toy driven rather than contact with the handler for the sake of contact with the handler. Again this won’t matter with highly motivated dogs imprinted for the competition field, and who have been cultivated to have a good relationship with their handler, but it comes into play when a dog is “charged” or damaged and when dogs have to perform when not under a high state of motivational arousal.
    As for the Panic Down, that is meant to trigger stuck energy that the problem dog has reserved for whatever its Charge happens to be. So the dog becomes Charged to the handler, and then the handler can soften it through the core exercises. To begin with dog on the horizon, and presupposing one has gotten as far as they can with the core and are at plateau, then run right at dog on the horizon, shock, make contact and get into core exercises. Best outcome would be to end with a bite/carry about the area, ideally even past dog on the horizon.

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Books about Natural Dog Training by Kevin Behan

In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
  Natural Dog Training is about how dogs see the world and what this means in regards to training. The first part of this book presents a new theory for the social behavior of canines, featuring the drive to hunt, not the pack instincts, as seminal to canine behavior. The second part reinterprets how dogs actually learn. The third section presents exercises and handling techniques to put this theory into practice with a puppy. The final section sets forth a training program with a special emphasis on coming when called.
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