I wrote this article a long time ago for the newsletter of the dog sport organization I was a member of. I thought it would be usefull for this topic.
Since some people have asked me different training questions and seem to be a bit misguided on some very important points, I'd like to state my vision on one of the most important aspects of dog training. The correction. A corrections seems as natural in training dogs as drinking water is to us. But just how simple or complex is our approach to corrections? When do you correct? Why do you correct? How is a proper correction applied? Simple right? Let's see.
First of all, to be able to correct you must need to have a dog. And the dog must be in some sort of training. So let's look close at this. Dogs can't choose their owners and/or disciplines they want. So it's up to us to prepare ourselves in the area of choice as best as possible to keep our dogs learning process as smooth and swift as can be. Another very important thing to keep in mind is our dog's health. No dog should undergo any training what so ever, if it's not in excellent health.
Second thing I'll address is "when" to correct. A correction should come only if the dog knows and demonstrates the correct behavior, response or action and decides not to obey. So, disobedience should be corrected. DISOBEDIENCE!!! I can't stress it enough. Why? Many people out there correct dogs who are not disobedient. They're correcting the dog's mistakes. This is crucial to dog training, learning and overall dog's acceptance and motivation to you. If we as rational humans beings make mistakes and get confused, what makes you think that an irrational creature like a dog won't make them? Let's look at an example. Your dog is standing and you command him to "down". He looks at you and responds immediately but instead of lying down he sits. Did he disobey? ......... Nope! He DID try to do something, but he got the wrong position. Disobeying would be if he looked at you (or didn't) and just refused to do it. Of course there are tangibles you must keep in mind, like any distractions, health issues, environmental issues, etc. But overall that's the main idea here. Nothing will tear down your dog's confidence in you more than him getting a correction without know why he's getting it for. Remember that in your dog's mind, he thinks he IS obeying you.
Now let's get into the "how". This is a very crucial part of dog training that can make or break a dog. First and foremost is "timing". We only have 2 seconds to give our dog a correction that he can relate to the misbehavior. After that 2nd second the dog's ability to relate a correction with the mishap is almost null. So, in training try to make it as clear as possible in the dog's mind why he's getting a correction and then give the dog the opportunity to do it right. That's the stress relief. All training causes stress, and corrections even more so. So always try to level out the stress of a correction with some kind of positive stimulus that your dog likes a lot once he does do the proper response. Another aspect of the "how" is the intensity of the correction. This is also huge in dog training because too harsh of a correction can break a dog and turn him into avoidance. This would be a major set back for you, your dog and the training especially if your going for a trial and have set your goals to compete at a certain time frame. The other aspect of intensity would be the "under-correction" where the dog gets a correction and it doesn't phase him at all to comply. Yet we see it all the time, don't we? Why's that? It's mainly because most people don't know just how harmful it is to training especially for the competition dogs. When you give a little pulls on the leash or small "pops" or jerks on the collar where the dog doesn't really react to it, you are, in human terms, nagging. I've seen numerous people always popping the dog into the position they want. And the usual result is the dog not doing it when off lead. There is a reason for this. In the dog world there is no such thing as nagging. In their social life dogs interact in a pretty "black & white" way. Anyone who steps out of line is "corrected" in a very decisively way. So when you start nagging a dog into obedience what you're actually doing is teaching your dog to disobey you. When you do that you're accustoming your dog to YOU doing the training instead of him. Which puts in his mindset the attitude of "why do it if he's going to? let him do it!"
So bear in mind that dogs are very smart creatures and can easily be misguided by improper training. So it's up to us to keep our abilities sharp to make sure we're not taking our dogs to doom, but making them clearly understand the skills we are trying to teach them. We owe it to them. Happy training!