Friday, May 20, 2011

To correct or not to correct?

Just yesterday I was talking with my friend Janey about different training styles, what works, what doesn’t, and . . . egads! Are people really still using shock collars?

Now, you should know that Janey’s training style is very soft--much softer than mine, which led to a debate about whether or not dogs need a correction word.

When I think about a correction word, like “wrong,” as folks at AllBreed do, I state it much as I would to give direction to someone helping me with dishes. Say my friend Kris was over, and she was drying a dish and asked, “This goes under the sink, doesn’t it?”

I might reply, “Wrong. It goes in the cupboard above the stove.” To me, this is an effective way to redirect my helpful friend without any emotional charge (or repetition--"wrong, wrong, wrong"). I simply convey the information and move on. This form of correction works well with dogs--well, most dogs, anyway.

Janey, however, claims that some dogs don’t handle any correction well; they melt down, and she’s absolutely right. This is particularly true for rescue dogs that have been traumatized at some point in their pasts or dogs that don’t have a lot of confidence, yet.

In those cases, try something softer. For the dog that isn’t quite doing what you want but has a fragile ego, try giving the dog some direction, “sit,” “stay,” or even “heel,” and then look at the dog quietly until he complies. Clearly, this approach may take a longer time than the correction word, but it can be a good strategy to work with some dogs, provided you’re in a good, calm state of mind when you train this way. No sense building on the dog’s natural agitation by trying this approach when you have limited time.

By the way, you might want to try working on one of these commands while you’re watching TV. If your dog is with you—preferably leashed for this activity—you’ve got at least the length of the TV show to get this behavior.

Once your dog sits, praise him lavishly, of course. “Nice sit!”

And don’t forget to let him know when he’s done so he can move on to another activity, say a walk to the park or a game of frisbee . . . or a nice long nap.

Ahhh, the life of a dog.

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