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Corrections in Dog Training

Correction in a dog’s world – The correct time and place to correctly use corrections!

Let me stress that correction is a serious subject because of the potential for abuse and because if done incorrectly, or with the wrong timing, can actually make matters worse.

On the flip side, if done correctly it is the key to teaching dogs reliability. Reliability can be the difference between life and death for some dogs, that may be facing euthanasia for their behavior problems. Reliability is also essential for the dog's and public’s safety, when dealing with certain working dogs, such as guide dogs and police dogs.

If a dog has a history of aggression or even the potential for aggressive behavior, it can be irresponsible to bring that dog into certain public settings, without formally teaching the dog that disobedience is not an option.

When corrections are done in conjunction with positive reinforcement for good behavior, we will get the best results.

All corrections that we will give a dog during training generally fall into two main categories:

1. Personal corrections –
Personal corrections are used during direct interaction between the dog and a person.

The personal correction is to mimic how dogs correct each other as much as possible. By this, I mean, there should be distinct communication and a warning before the correction, whenever possible.

Think of the dog. When a dog is communicating to another dog to stop/change a behavior, there is generally some kind of body language to signal what that dog desires of the other (for instance posturing over a food bowl to communicate to stay away). Then, there is generally a distinct warning (such as a growl or bearing of teeth). After, there is a correction if none of that works. That correction, when the dogs are interacting normally, is generally the minimum amount necessary to get the point across. The dogs are then both back on good terms. No grudge necessary. Also, any obedience from the dog, receiving the warning, will result in the cessation of the cycle, which lead to the correction in the first place.

2. Environmental corrections (the Dog God) –
The environmental correction or “Dog God” is to be used to deter behaviors that are unwanted whether the owner is present or not. The dog should not make a correlation between these corrections and the owner.

These corrections are generally simple cause and effect based. An example of a naturally occurring environmental correction, could be when a dog climbs onto an unsteady structure, which starts to collapse or when he finds and mouths a toad, which then causes a bitter taste in his mouth. Dogs, like most animals, have the ability to adapt to the environment and avoid situations, which may be uncomfortable, seem dangerous, or startle them.

Simply, correction is a natural part of the dog’s world and part of their culture. When applied fairly and with respect, it can be used to teach very reliable obedience and to help shape the dog's behaviors, when you are not present (such as digging up the yard, chewing furniture, peeing on the rugs, etc.)

If correction is used incorrectly or the wrong type of correction is used for that training situation, a person can actually make their dog’s behavior worse and make it more difficult to shape, than before the error.

Here is as an example:

Correction is a small, but important part of polishing off a good housebreaking plan. Since the goal for housebreaking, is to leave a dog unattended in the home, without causing damage, we would rarely use personal corrections. The environmental correction, or “Dog God”, is the best choice.

What happens when we do personally correct a dog for stealing from the counter top or chewing on a slipper? The dog will likely correlate these personal corrections with the rules of their pack structure. It will communicate to them, that the counter top and slipper are resources that we are claiming. We have learned that in Dog Culture, once a higher ranking pack member is not present, their claimed possessions are free to be claimed by another pack member, which if left by himself, by process of elimination, will be the dog.

The possible result here is a dog that will behave nicely when the owner is present, but when left out of sight, will do the unwanted actions. Now we have a training situation, that is even more difficult to fix, because it is tricky to administer a proper environmental (dog god) correction, if we do not see the dog in the act. In this situation the owner or trainer is forced to manage the problem or think out ways to covertly observe the dog to administer the “Dog God”.

A similar training problem can happen if the dog relates people to the corrections he receives for having pee accidents, which will then make housebreaking much trickier than it has to be.

Another example:

We want a dog to not mouth our hands. So instead of using a personal correction, which involves communication and a warning, we instead use an environmental correction, such as using a remote citronella or electric stimulation collar the instance the dog mouths the hand.

In this situation, there is the probability that the dog may think that any contact with the hands might be bad and actually shy away from your normal contact or possibly even act out with a fear bite if you suddenly reach for the dog. This happens, because in the dog's mind your hand = correction.

At this point in your troubleshooting you are mainly concerned about house breaking, so you will mainly be dealing with the environmental correction. I use the term "Dog God" for short, since it can be related to a correction that God gives the dog and not you. We want the dog to believe that you may not always be watching, but God is.

We will cover the more difficult personal correction in the obedience training sections of our knowledgebase.

Up to this point we have mainly been discussing pee and poop accidents with regards to housebreaking and not chewing household objects such as furniture, walls, slippers, etc. Corrections for chewing these types of objects, will also be of the "Dog God" type, but we will cover that in an upcoming section.

Here are the guidelines for using Dog God corrections in housebreaking:

- Be sure you have followed the steps of putting your dog on a schedule for at least 1 training month and your dog is at least 6 months of age.

- Maintain your dog on his normal schedule - do not set your dog up for failure by forcing him to have an accident.

- When you witness your dog in the act of having an accident, at that time use your chosen Dog God. Do not say anything to the dog. Ideally, do not even let your dog know you are watching him. Several seconds after the accident and correction, calmly take your dog outside to finish. Act normal!

- Be consistent! Remember the Golden Rules of Dog Training. Once you start using a Dog God to eliminate a behavior, keep with it for at least one month after the last time your dog has an accident, before you let your guard down. Up until that point, be sure you are prepared for any accidents, when your dog is loose in the house.

If you understand the concepts, you have read so far, it is good to start keeping track of your dog's progress on a housebreaking chart. This is an excellent way to troubleshoot your dog's progress and set backs.

The "Dog God" correction is the short term for the "environmental correction".

Here are some of the rules of the Dog God correction:

- The dog should never know that you are associated with the correction.

- Timing is very important. It should be delivered immediately after/at the time of the unwanted behavior. Ideally within 1/2 second.

- Always use the minimal amount of motivation to get the desired response, but do not forget your Golden Rules of Dog Training. For instance, if you are using a Dog God with the correct timing and you are being consistent, but your dog continues to repeat the behavior after several corrections, there is a good chance you may have to gradually increase your estimated motivational level of the correction.

- Be sure there isn't an underlying health issue, associated with any behavior that you may try to correct this way.

- Do not overwhelm a dog with "Dog God" corrections. Focus on one behavior at a time or else you WILL cause a dog to be tentative to interact normally with the environment.  For instance, if a Dog God correction is used to prevent a dog from pulling things out of the garbage, focus only on that until the behavior seems to have been eliminated for several days.  Manage any other problems until then.

Different types of Popular Dog Gods:

Shake can - This is a soda can with about 10 pennies or pebbles inside and taped shut.

To use this, you need multiple cans placed within grabbing distance throughout the house. One quick shake is used to startle the dog/puppy.

Rolled newspaper/magazine - Magazine or paper rolled and help together with a rubber band.

Use by slapping on surface, or by throwing and hitting wall near puppy.

Canned air or other type of noise maker - Any product that makes a sound that may startle a puppy or dog.

Use by making the noise as a dog does the unwanted behavior.

Remote Citronella or Other Spray Collar - These are collars that have a remote control and when the trainer presses the button a burst of scented spray is discharged from the collar which may act as a startling correction to some dogs.

Use like all Dog Gods - don't let the dog know you did it.

Electric Stimulation Collar (Dogtra Collar) - These collars are used remotely by the trainer to administer electric stimulation as the correction.

These must be used carefully. The Dogtra brand in particular, has the ability to work as a suitable Dog God for any dog because of the highly adjustable levels of stimulation, but if used incorrectly, has a higher chance of causing behavioral side effects.  It is highly recommended to use any Electric Training Collar under the supervision of a trained professional.

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