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Written by
Ed Frawley

Leerburg Enterprises, Inc. is a family-owned business that was started in 1980 by Ed Frawley, who has owned and trained dogs since 1960. Ed purchased his first video camera in 1978 for personal use and began producing training videos in 1982. He also began breeding dogs in 1978, and continued to breed working bloodline German Shepherds for 35 years. Ed retired from breeding a few years ago in order to devote more time to Leerburg.

During the 1980s, Ed competed in AKC obedience, tracking competitions, and Schutzhund, where he titled a number of dogs. In the late 80s, he started training police service dogs, and in the 90s, Ed was a K9 handler for the local Sheriff’s Department, during which time he also worked as a K9 handler with a regional multi-department drug task force.


Ed Frawley on The Theory of Corrections in Dog Training


LISTEN TO THE ARTICLE AS A PODCAST

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There seems to be a lack of understanding about when or how to correct a dog. POORLY timed corrections or too harsh of a correction can result in confusion, depression, stress, problems with relationships, avoidance, and in some dogs, aggression towards the handler.

Fifteen or so years ago, I wrote an article of same title. The core of that article reflected the type of dogs I bred for 30 years. They were high drive working bloodline German Shepherds (GSD).

My dogs had hard temperaments. That means they had a high threshold for corrections. You know you have a hard dog when you give a normal prong collar correction and it has little to no affect, and your dog ignores you or looks at you with the expression “Is that the best you can give”.

The dog that taught me more about corrections than all my GSDs was Daisy. Daisy was a wonderful 9-year-old Shih Tzu that we added to our family back in 2009.

Daisy was the opposite of my GSDs, she had a very soft temperament. If I raised my voice too high, she was crushed. The first and only time I gave her a pop on the leash, she stayed away from me for a week.

This doesn’t mean she never needed a correction; she did. Daisy forced me to rethink my concept of “consequences for not minding”. Daisy is also the reason that I had to rewrite this article.

First, here is my definition of a correction: The purpose of a correction is to get a behavior change. It’s not to punish a dog. When we understand this concept along with methods on how to motivate our dogs, we are on our way to becoming good dog trainers.

So, where to start?

It’s important to learn that there are different types of corrections. I’ll list a few here and talk about them later.


Corrections That Could Have Been Avoided

In my opinion, if we all did a better job managing our dogs before they were fully trained, we could eliminate a lot of corrections. This means keeping an untrained dog on leash, in an ex-pen, in a dog crate, or in a fenced yard when you can’t supervise them.

I produced a FREE Leerburg online course on how Cindy and I manage our dogs in our home. If you are new to dog training, you should investigate the material in that course. CLICK HERE to learn more.

Formal Obedience Training Corrections

For me, there are 4 phases of obedience training:

  1. Learning
  2. Distraction
  3. Correction
  4. Maintenance

We start all our dogs with marker training (read my Marker Training article, The Power of Training Dogs with Markers). We use high-value food and toy rewards to motivate our dogs to want to learn and follow commands. This is what all-positive trainers do. We are not all-positive trainers; we are balanced dog trainers. I’ll discuss this more later in this article.

During the “learning phase,” our dogs are taught that we have high value rewards which we are willing to share with them. Our goal here is they “learn how to learn”. They become problem-solvers because we expect them to figure out what we want them to do before they get our high value rewards.

During the early stages of a learning phase, when our dogs don’t do what we expect, we simply say “NO, you need to try again”.

We say this in an upbeat tone. We don’t get mad; we don’t scold them; we don’t give leash corrections. We simply tell our dog that if they want our rewards, they are going to have to try again.

The truth be told, withholding a highly anticipated reward is a form of correction.

Here is an example: I used to ask our kids to clean their room before they got their allowance. When there were still empty pop cans on the night stand and the waste basket was still overflowing I told them “No, go back and try again,” if they wanted that allowance. If they want their allowance, they had to do it right. To them, that was a correction.

Once they understood I “ALWAYS” withheld the allowance if the job wasn’t done correctly they just gave up and did it right the first time.

Now here is the caveat. As they got older I had to ramp up the reward. A $5.00 allowance wasn’t high enough value to make them “want to clean their room”. So rather than punish them (correct them), I changed the game. In high school, the reward became the family car. If they wanted to take the car, they had to keep their room clean.

This concept also applies to our dogs.

We need to constantly evaluate our reward system. Rather than giving the dog one piece of steak, we give them 3 or 4 pieces of steak (that’s called "jackpotting"). Dogs often check out if they know they only get one food reward. If we randomly give 3 - 5 pieces of steak, we see the dogs stay engaged.

If food doesn’t seem to interesting to our dog, we simply cut back on how much food they were fed every day or we train before we feed.

Some dogs with low food drive will get all their daily food during training. It doesn’t take long for a hungry dog to find our steak rewards to be very valuable.

Corrections Used in Formal Obedience Training

Our philosophy in training is: We only correct a dog if the dog 100% understands what we are asking it to do, but refuses to do it. During obedience training, we feel it is unfair to correct a dog if it doesn’t understand a command.

Through marker training, we know when the dog has generalized a command. Once the dog understands the SIT in our kitchen, we gradually increase the level of distraction and the level of rewards. We move to other training locations and teach the SIT. Through this work, we train the dog to generalize the sit when asked.

As balanced trainers, we don’t kid ourselves. We know that every dog will reach a point where it is placed in a situation where the distraction is more interesting to our dog than the high value food reward or toy reward that we have to offer.

When that happens and we are 100% sure the dog understands what we are asking, but he blows us off, then he must get a correction. That correction should fit the dog’s temperament and drive level. The correction should also fit the crime.

The handler needs to figure out how strong a correction needs to be to get a behavior change specific dog. Some dogs (like Daisy) only need a voice correction, or a short time-out in a dog crate. While others may need a prong collar correction.

Herein lies the art of dog training.

When I am working with my dog, I am always talking to the dog. If he makes a mistake I tell him NO. In fact, I seldom give a correction without saying “NO” first. I give the dog a chance to offer a behavior change. If I get a change I tell him “GOOD”. If I don’t get a change I correct the dog at a level that fits the temperament and the mistake.

For this concept to work, the handler must be 100% consistent. They can’t ignore the dog not listening one time and then correct it another time. This is a huge thing that new dog trainers must learn.

Think about it: by the time you are ready to introduce corrections, the dog has heard “No try again” hundreds of times. This isn’t something new; they know what NO means. In this new work, they just learn that NO is coupled with a correction.

Rosie | Shih Tzu

TIMING, TIMING, TIMING

Three things need to happen for a correction to have a lasting effect:

  1. The correction needs to come within 1 ½ seconds of the infraction.
  2. If you’re new to dog training, you must understand that correcting a dog 10 seconds, 15 seconds, or an hour after an infraction only confuses the dog. Dogs live in the moment, and they don’t understand a correction that comes 10 seconds after an infraction.

    Coming home and finding a pile of poop in the living room is not something you can correct the dog for but if you’re watching TV and the dog starts to poop right in front of you, he deserves a correction.

  3. Consistency must become absolute. I can’t stress this enough. If you correct one time and then come up with an excuse for not correcting or you simply chose to ignore the same infraction another time, you become your own worst enemy.
  4. Here is the hard one: the correction must be firm enough that the dog remembers the correction the next time he refuses to mind.

Back in the day (my GSD days) this was an easy concept to work with. It’s easy to give a firm correction.

Daisy died of heart tumor 2 years ago. We added a new Shih Tzu puppy to our family several months later. Rosie is laying on my lap as I type this. Her temperament is very similar to Daisy’s.

There is a fine line between giving Rosie an appropriate correction and overdoing it. Figuring out a level she remembers the next time is difficult. I have to use time-outs in her crate or ex-pen or verbal scolding (but not too hard). The time outs only need to be for a few minutes, or I might I just put her on a leash in the house, put all the toys away and she loses her ability to run around.

Balance Your Corrections with Play Time

One of the things that goes a long way towards building a resilient training relationship is to keep your training sessions very short (a minute or two) along with having a lot of short play breaks. The breaks only need to be a minute or less; it just depends on what you are working on.

The breaks and rewards are how we keep our dogs engaged in our training sessions.

These play breaks are also a great way to monitor stress. A stressed dog may not want to play.

If you’re a new trainer, get the DVD or stream we produced with Michael Ellis titled, “The Power of Playing Tug with Your Dog”.

Leadership Corrections

Establishing leadership with many dogs is a no-brainer. It’s not much of an issue when the dog is sweet and submissive.

With other dogs, establishing leadership and developing management skills is mandatory if the dog is expected to live with a family.

Three of our current house dogs would never had made it with a new dog owner that didn’t understand leadership and management skills. These dogs require consistent management and likely will for their entire lives.

Dogs that are not properly managed often develop behavioral issues, and in many cases, this can lead to aggression problems.

Very few dogs are truly dominant. Most people who think they have a dominant aggressive dog just have a dog that is insecure. Many times, a dog displays aggression because they are nervous and want to be left alone.

When people don’t take a leadership position with their dogs, the dog feels unsure. In many cases these dogs become nervous, they don’t want to be the leader, and this makes them insecure, and that insecurity can lead to aggression.

This is not a male/female issue. It’s a temperament issue. When an aggression issue raises its ugly head (usually around 24 month of age) that dog needs to be managed differently and its life needs to change.

New dog owners don’t have the experience to know how to correct aggression issues with a collar and leash. Those people run the risk of getting bitten by their own dog if they give a leash correction for an aggression issue. If you think this isn’t serious, I recommend you have a look at the pictures people have emailed me of their dog bites that came from their own dogs. leerburg.com/dogbites.htm

Therefore, these dogs need more management than leash correction.

Taking the dogs freedom away is not as challenging or threatening to the dog.

  1. Simply keeping the dog on leash 100% of the time (even in the house) is a subtle correction.
  2. Putting the dog in an ex-pen or dog crate when it’s in the house is a subtle correction.
  3. Not letting the dog off leash when it’s outside becomes a subtle correction.
  4. Never allowing the dog to get on furniture is a big deal to a dog who has learned to lay on the couch. This can be controlled by keeping the dog on leash in the house.
  5. Never allowing the dog to sleep in the bedroom is a big deal to a spoiled dog that has always slept in the bedroom. To a dog that has been allowed to sleep in the bedroom, this is a subtle correction.
  6. NEVER pet the dog when it comes to you and tries to get you to pet him. That’s a subtle correction. Don’t let the dog tell you when to pet him. From a leadership standpoint, petting the dog when he nudges you to get petted is a bad idea.
  7. Only feeding the dog in his crate eliminates food aggression. If the dog has growled at the wife, then I would have the wife feed the dog in the crate from that point on. Don’t reach in the crate to take the dog bowl away, wait and call the dog out and then take the bowl.

The point here is these things establish structure in a safe manner.

If you have a dog like this, I recommend you get the DVD I produced titled, “Dealing with Dominant and Aggressive Dogs”.

Using Pressure/Force During the Learning Phase - Avoidance Training

Now, let’s talk about using pressure or force during the learning phase of training. For years, I trained dogs with escape or avoidance training, and a lot of it wasn’t pretty. In fact, looking back, it was unfair to the dogs because I wasn’t very good at it.

Escape/avoidance training simply means the dog learns to turn off pressure through compliance. I used to call this “Old School Training”. I don’t use that term anymore because the truth is, there is a place for this style of training.

When escape training is done correctly (and that’s hard to do), it is very effective and a very quick way to train a dog. The problem is that it requires perfect timing and a good understanding of pressure. New handlers don’t have perfect timing, so it ends up being ugly.

What is escape training?

It is probably easier to understand escape/avoidance training by talking about how it’s done with remote collars, even though many use a leash and collar.

Hunting dog trainers often teach their dog to go into a dog crate with a remote collar. They put the dog on a long line, thread the line into the crate and out the back. They give the “crate command” at the same time they turn on the stimulation for the remote collar.

The stimulation stays on until the instant the dog starts to go into the crate. When the timing is perfect, the dog learns very quickly. If there is a problem, the dog is helped by pulling him towards and if necessary, into the crate.

It’s not necessary to use high levels of stimulation. If the dog has been conditioned to remote collar training, the working level of stimulation varies from dog to dog, but it can be quite low and still get excellent results.

With a few repetitions, the dog learns that they can turn the stimulation off by getting into the crate. When the handler sees this, he gives the command and holds back on the stimulation. The dog thinks he beat the stimulation by getting in the crate.

In all escape/avoidance training, the exercise is set up so the handler controls every option the dog is faced with. In crate training, the dog cannot escape and run away because of the long line.

Dogs response to pressure is to move their feet. The best exercises to start escape/avoidance with should be movement exercises. I.e. the crate exercises; the recall; go to your bed etc.

Here is the way escape/avoidance works with a leash and collar:

As we walk the dog on a leash we give a “Heel” command. Now the dog had no idea what word HEEL means, he has never done heeling training. Right after the command we do a 90 degree turn and give a leash correction.

In the beginning, we make the turn obvious. We have specific signals, foot work, and head turns that the dog learns to recognize. When that happens is the dog begins to react to those signals and makes a turn without needing a command or correction.

When we do this training, we move from using an automatic correction to a random correction. This is part of the learning phase.

Just like remote collar training, these corrections are done at a level that fits the dog’s temperament (the Daisy syndrome).

Here is a point that one should think about: training doesn’t necessarily need to be 100% avoidance; just like it doesn’t need to be 100% all positive.

Professional Dog Trainers and Avoidance Training

Most professional trainers are forced to train customers’ dogs within a limited time frame. These folks don’t have the luxury of taking months to motivationally train a dog. They are lucky to have a few weeks. Time constraints require the use of pressure in the training to get the job done.

Because of this, I used to be critical of the whole professional dog training scene. I have mellowed with age, and I have learned that most people who take their dogs to professional dog trainers are usually too busy to take the time to learn how to train their own dog.

I have come to terms with the fact that professional dog trainers do provide a valuable service and they often save dogs that might be abandoned or abused because of behavioral issues.

Using LEASH PRESSURE

In recent years, using “leash pressure” has become a popular method of training loose leash walking and in training dogs that are to reactive on leash.

In a sense, “leash pressure training” is a mild form of escape/avoidance training. I have this in the same category as withholding my sons’ allowance for not cleaning their rooms.

“Leash pressure” is a tool used to teach a dog to walk with us on a leash without pulling.

Once a dog has a foundation in markers, we introduce “leash pressure”. There are training steps that teach the dog that when they move to release the pressure, they get a reward.(Leash Skills with Michael Ellis).

With some dogs, the handler may need to move to a prong collar or even low level stimulation with a remote collar (these are often levels humans cannot feel).

AUTOMATIC or PUNISHER CORRECTIONS

When we touch a stove, or get our hand too close to the fire, we get automatic correction. How many times do you have to touch a stove to figure out you better not do that?

There are uses for automatic corrections in dog training:

These corrections need to happen the INSTANT the dog does them. They can’t happen 2 minutes after the deed is done. In addition, the correction needs to be a strong correction that puts the dog into avoidance. That dog needs to remember what happens if he does that again.

If we are in the house when our dog is in the back yard and we look out the window and see the dog digging a hole in the garden, it’s nice to have a remote collar on the dog to give it a high level automatic correct. That dog thinks they just dug into a land mine. If the correction is strong enough he will NEVER dig in that spot again. If the handlers timing is not correct and the correction is nagging low level correction, the dog may stop digging, but he will do it again.

Handlers need to understand that punishing corrections will often lead to “superstitious behavior”. When the dog gets stimulated for digging a hole in the garden it thinks there are land mines buried there. They don’t want to go near that spot again.

Using automatic punishing corrections should be well thought out. Using them incorrectly or with poor timing stresses the dog.

It takes training for the dog to understand the fact that it’s not what’s in the hole that caused the correction, it’s the digging. Therefore, timing is critical.

Corrections that Add Drive to a Dog

There are corrections that are intended to add drive to the dog. A couple of examples:

  1. In training police service dogs or biting sport dogs, the dog is sent to a passive decoy and told to do a bark and hold. With a long line and prong collar on it gets automatic POP-POP-POP corrections just as it gets to the decoy. These pops increase the intensity of the bark and hold.
  2. 2- Similar corrections can be used in training a competition heeling dog. Low level POP-POP-POP correction raises the dogs level of focus and drive.

IN CLOSING

In Closing, I want to make it clear that just because I talk about certain type of training or correction in this article, does not mean I promote, use, or encourage those types of training. I just believe that new trainers can’t learn enough about dog training. I think they need to be able to make educated decisions on how and why they train their dogs in a certain way. I hope the readers become balanced dog trainers.

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