What is "correction" in dog training?
You only have to browse through dog training forums to come across this term “correction”. The term “correction” has been used for decades by trainers who believe that a dog’s particular behaviour is wrong, so it must be corrected.
But why does dog behaviour go wrong in the first place? What is “wrong” behaviour. The word “correction” implies that the dog knew he was doing wrong, so needs to be corrected. But I would argue, perhaps the dog has not learned the behaviour his owner would rather see in the first place.
Let’s take lead walking as an example. A correction dog trainer “corrects” pulling on a lead. Anyone using this term is likely to be yanking a slip lead/check chain, prong collar. The pulling behaviour is “corrected” because when the dog does this behaviour, he gets hurt, so avoids doing this again. You can often see what methods have been used on lead walking because correction trained dogs often do not engage with their environment or handler at all, don’t sniff, and walk steadfastly forward with an uncomfortable gait and will very likely not have a wagging tail.
An educated and positive dog trainer will be teaching the dog what we do want him to do instead of correcting the behaviour the dog is offering. If we teach the dog to do the right thing, we will not need to “correct” the “wrong” thing. A positively trained dog will have a freer gait, is likely to be looking at the handler fairly often and will happily sniff and engage with their environment. The dog will often have a wagging tail and look rather pleased with himself. See this video of a dog trained with kindness:
I am tired of seeing videos and photos paraded on various social media pages of dogs that have been successfully “corrected.” Every ounce of their body language tells me they are unhappy. Clamped ears, heads down/cowed, wide and bulging eyes, avoiding eye contact with the trainer or other dogs; groups of dogs packed abnormally closely together to show off how clever the trainer is - but all the dogs are looking very tense, avoiding eye contact with each other and the trainer, showing signs of conflict avoidance behaviours. Dogs, like humans, get stressed when too close to others.
The U.K Government created the Companion Animal Welfare Council, a study group to assess whether or not regulation was required in dog training to ensure good welfare. They concluded, there was a need to ensure regulation in the interests of good animal welfare, and the welfare of dog owners. However, they fell short of writing this in law, suggesting instead, self-regulation. The result of this study group was the establishment of the ABTC (The Animal Behaviour and Training Council). The council developed strict criteria to be adhered to and member organisations invited to join if they could prove their members met the requirements. This is an ongoing initiative and more organisations are joining as they move to show how they ensure their members meet these requirements. Membership of the ABTC provides dog owners with assurances that the trainer they employ meets exacting standards and codes of conduct designed to ensure good welfare for dogs. If the trainer fails to meet the standard, the dog owner can report them to the ABTC, or the trainer's member organisation. This ensures that trainers are held accountable for their practices.
Unfortunately the message still isn't getting out there and there are increasing numbers of individual trainers with little regard for good dog welfare in the methods they choose to use. Prong collars, pinch collars, vibration/tone/stim/static/shock collars are not ethical tools and they do cause distress/pain, it's why they work sa the dog tries to avoid the painful consequences. But other more positive methods work even better if the trainer is skilled, and these methods are are kinder and less likely to lead to behavioural fall out (e.g increased risk of aggression, anxiety). Dog owners are hoodwinked into believing these unkind methods/tools are ethical, don't hurt the dog etc. only finding out, too late, that the dog suffers as a result. As these trainers are not part of any overseeing body, there is nothing at all the dog owner can do about this. This is why working with a trainer that is a member of an organisation is safer and better as the trainer can be brought to account and lose their membership if found to be in breach of codes of conduct. Naturally, this ensures ongoing high quality, and access to dog trainers that continue to learn new methods through attendance to compulsory Continuing Professional Development (CPD).
Why should we teach dogs rather than correct?
Hopefully, by now, this is obvious. In addition, we know so much more about dogs thanks to research published in the last decade. We know dogs have emotions, have an attachment relationship with us like a parent child relationship. We know they feel pain, feel fear, have preferences, delight in getting things right, can be left pawed or right pawed. Dogs can read human emotions and have evolved skills specifically for interacting with us. Dogs are able to detect cancers and explosives; identify criminals in line-ups, find lost and injured people. Dogs make excellent assistance dogs, guiding the blind, helping the deaf, providing stability for those suffering from PTSD. Dogs can help children to learn to read, they can help autistic children to communicate. Dogs are truly special and deserve to be treated humanely. In some countries, such as France, dogs are now seen as sentient beings, providing them with protection from abuse.
Dogs deserve our kindness in training and will thrive when we do so. Let’s educate, not correct!