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Knowledge and Force in Dog Training: The Inverse Correlation

Updated: Jan 23, 2021


chocolate Lab tilting head to side

I recently posted a statement on Facebook that received quite a few comments, and started a few interesting conversations when people shared it. Here it is: “There is an inverse correlation between trainer skill and intensity of corrections: the better the trainer, the fewer and less harsh the corrections. Trainers who use harsh physical corrections simply do not have enough experience or knowledge to do better.”

The vast majority of trainers who have access to the page I posted the statement on are what would be categorized as “positive” trainers; a title that could benefit from an actual definition, but you get my drift. Most comments were in agreement, but the topic of corrections is a touchy one, and where the line gets drawn is a never-ending controversy. Most of us agree that there is never a need to use hanging, helicoptering, or any of the other inhumane, over-the-top types of corrections that persist to this day. And then there are many of us who refuse to use harsh jerks on choke chains or similar collars. Some trainers believe in LIMA, which stands for least invasive, minimally aversive. If a correction is absolutely necessary, that sounds about right to me. Still other trainers believe that even verbal corrections are unnecessary and too harsh. That’s fine, but even though we do our best to set things up so that no corrections are necessary, life happens, and in my opinion, dogs need information at both ends of the spectrum, just as children do. We need a way to let them know it’s okay if you do this, but it’s not okay to do that.

The other day when it was raining, I finished working and went to return my laptop to its case. The soft envelope case, which had been lying on the carpet, was wet. For a moment I was baffled. Had water come up under the carpeting somehow? I wondered as I patted my palms all over the case. Then I spied a more vertical object nearby that seemed to have a splatter of water on it. Oh! Bodhi had apparently decided he didn’t want to go outside to pee. Imagine my joy. Now, I hadn’t been there when it happened, so I couldn’t very well correct him; but had I seen him in action, you bet I wouldn’t have just ignored it. There would have been a sharp verbal “Eh-eh!” to let him know that I didn’t appreciate his leaving P-mail, even if it was, appropriately, on my laptop case. Administered properly, a verbal correction is not traumatic to the dog. It’s information, nothing more. Of course, even a verbal correction can be taken differently by dogs who are more or less sensitive, so care must be taken, depending on the individual.

I’ve meandered a bit off point. My original statement wasn’t aimed at verbal corrections, or even the type of corrections many trainers use when teaching leashwork. We can debate definitions of “punishment” and “corrections” all day long, and trainers often do. I’m talking here about harsh physical corrections. I stand by my statement that, barring a physical attack on a person or some similar emergency, harsh physical coercion is never necessary. Again, the more you know, and the more experience you gain, the less need there is to ever resort to violence.


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