Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"Corrections" aren't.

I've got a bone to pick with the word "correction."  I was listening to a trainer instruct someone on the proper use of a Gentle Leader head halter yesterday.  She told the owner that every time the owner subconsciously pulled tight on the leash, it was giving the dog a correction.  Now, in her mind and in common dog-trainer parlance, she was correct.  She meant that every time the owner pulled on the leash, she was giving the dog an adversive - that she was applying an unpleasant experience to the dog that would probably confuse the dog or make it dislike the halter.  Or perhaps she could have said that she was applying a punishment, which in behaviorism-lingo means a consequence that makes a behavior less likely to reoccur.

The problem is that the average owner isn't a trainer, and "correction" doesn't sound like a very negative term.  Which is the very reason the term came into use in the first place.  Back in the days of jerk-the-chain punishments when a dog did something wrong (days that are still with us), trainers knew that if they told their clients "jerk the leash to punish the dog for pulling" it would sound overly harsh to people who loved their dogs and just wanted them to walk nicely.  So they invented a euphemism, "correction".  "Give the dog a correction by jerking the leash when it pulls."

And it worked.  Most of us don't want to punish our dogs.  But "correction" is downright positive!  If you're kid spells a word wrong, and you give him a correction, i.e. show him how it is actually spelled, then you've helped him out!  And that's just what we want for our dogs, right?

Sure, except that, in dog training, a correction doesn't show the dog the right answer.  It just tells him what he did wrong.  Rather than telling your child the correct way to spell a word, it would be as if you just snapped, "Wrong!" each time they misspelled a word.  Which do you believe would be the more likely result, that your child became more motivated to improve their spelling, or that they would become sullen and not want to try anymore?  The second, certainly, because punishment dampens enthusiasm, and punishment without even pointing out the correct response doesn't just dampen enthusiasm, it kills it.

Keep that in mind in those times that you do use a punishment, however mild, with your dog.  All of us do at one time or another.  Sometimes it's even necessary, or even the best way to deal with a situation.  But any time you do, it is vitally necessary that you immediately show your dog what the correct answer is.  If your dog pulls and you end up jerking the leash out of frustration or old habit, at the very least lure or entice your dog into a proper position and then reward them for being there.  "That was wrong.  This is right." 

Let's build enthusiasm, not kill it.

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