I corrected my dog today.
Now some of you may be scratching your head saying yes…and? But this is an important statement. There comes a time in training when your dog is ready for a correction, a negative (or positive if you’re looking at the 4 quadrants*) consequence for making the wrong decision.
Let me start with saying we lay a solid foundation with a reward based system to teach our dogs the right behavior. We help and guide them into making the right choices, but at some point we have to stop doing the homework and let them take the test. And this is where I think a lot of the real change happens in the relationship. You are no longer just a coach but a leader. They now need to really think about what the right choice is to both receive their reward and to avoid a correction. And clarity is far easier to give when you can tell your dog what they are doing both right and wrong.
(Imagine trying to put together a car but your teacher can only tell you when you’ve gotten something right. How long would it take you to build? Now what if they could say when you’ve gotten it wrong and right? Much quicker and less stressful for you!)
But what is a correction exactly?
A correction can be something as simple as saying turn left instead of right at this road and the next time you remember to turn left. We’ve mangled the word a little bit in dog training to be this big scary term, but it shouldn’t be. It should have just enough meaning to change the outcome the next time your dog is faced with that decision. (In short terms, the punishment should match the crime. Don’t shoot the jaywalker) It can be pressure from a training collar, a verbal no, a withholding of a reward, and more. Whatever you deem best to show your dog that was the wrong decision and to encourage the right.
So why did I correct my dog today?
The short of it? Because she didn’t come when called. Now Romi (my 1 year old belgian malinois for those new to the area), Jasper and I decided to go enjoy the beautiful 70 degree and sunny weather Ohio granted us today. My dogs are off leashed trained and get to enjoy the freedom that grants them. (Simply put they respond to commands on or off leash and are e-collar savvy) Romi has had an amazing recall since I started her at 8 weeks old. She kicks up dirt to return to me and was taught only with food/toy rewards as her foundation.
The malinois is the equivalent of a ferrari in the dog world. If you’ve met a mal before you’ll understand what I mean by an insane prey drive. They absolutely love chasing small fast moving (preferably cute and fuzzy) things and this day a squirrel dared cross Romi’s path. I let her race through the woods chasing the brave/or foolish soul up a tree and happily watch it scamper to safety. Once finished I called her to return to me.
If a dog, in that moment, could have given me the middle finger she would have. She was far to busy to return to me. And frankly that’s not acceptable. For her safety (and my mental health) she must come to me when I ask, the moment I ask, no questions asked.
So I pushed the button on her e-collar at her working level* with a calm verbal no. She ignored that to. I bumped up my number. She ignored that one to. I bumped up a good deal more, she stopped what she was doing and calmly raced back (because malinois do nothing slowly) What was the number that finally changed her decision?
81. That’s 80 settings higher than her working level. Was it the end of the world to her? Not at all. She happily went right back to bounding and leaping through the woods when I released her. And the next time I called her, she came the first time I asked with all the normal excited energy she has.
Why tell this story? Because sometimes you need to dial up. There are 100 levels on the e-collar, that’s 100 levels of distraction/intensity you can adjust for. If your dog is deserving of a fair correction. Correct them. Or you will always live in the land of wishy washy obedience, done when they feel like it, not when you ask.
A final note
Only correct your dog for disobedience if they truly understand the command. You need a solid foundation, with tons of repetitions, and with rewards and guidance in many different distracting environments, before you can say your dog understands it.
If not it would be like me yelling Xklatgfea at you and pinching you if you didn’t respond. And pinching harder for every time I say it and you don’t do as I asked. Well of course you’re not going to, you’ve no idea what Xklatgfea means. And at what point are you going to start wanting to avoid me or punch me?
Lastly remember it’s only a worthwhile correction if it changes the outcome the next time they are posed with the same situation.
Head Trainer Viktoria Miller
*Skinner’s 4 operative conditioning quadrants.
*Working level is the level the dog first perceives the feel of the e-collar stim. Romi’s is typically a 1.