Thursday, 28 January 2016

Correcting your corrections...

You say correction... I say punishment.. you say no! That's not... but I... how...

Theres a lot of confusion over this term.. I've been pondering it over in my head for a few days and it's time to ponder it out in writing.

When you, the pet owner, talk about 'correction', for example..

"My dog pulls on the lead and so I need to correct him for that"

What you mean, is you want to stop that behaviour and impart to your dog that this behaviour is wrong.

But 'correction' doesn't mean telling someone they are wrong - it means putting someone right..

It could involve pointing out the error, but to be a correction, you need to offer them the opportunity and guidance to get it right.

So you tell me where giving your dog a quick jerk on his collar or shouting 'no' at him, or giving him a zap from an e-collar is achieving that goal?

It isn't is it - in fact if it was, you wouldn't have to keep doing it - and you do, right?

Theres a lot of misconception about positive, force free dog training, particularly around the concept of 'correction'.

Here's the thing though - we DO correct our dogs - yes we do.

We do not use positive punishment (the jerk on the collar, the choke chain, the e-collar) to do it, but we do correct our dogs.

Here's how.

1/ Evaluate the situation the dog is in, so that you know what mistakes are likely to occur.
2/ Ensure you have the ability to control the dog, and also to motivate the dog.
3/Understand why those mistakes may occur.
4/ Have a pro-active, positive alternative behaviour in mind.

So here's a potential scenario - I've taken Spot to Grandma's house where there is a family BBQ happening.

Evaluate the situation - so theres going to be food, theres going to be people, there may be children. I know that Spot likes food a LOT, and he likes people, and he adores children.

The risks therefore are that Spot might steal food, potentially he might steal dangerous food like Corn cobs or things on skewers, and he might take food from children. He could knock a child over as he is very enthusiastic about both food and kids.

Ensure you have the ability to control and motivate the dog.

So I make sure my pockets are filled with high value foods for Spot. I also put him in a harness and attach a medium length line to it, and I take Spots bed with me.

I now have the ability to control Spot with the long line, I have his bed I can ask him to lie on it and stay on it (and I can explain to children not to touch Spot when he is on his bed), and I have both the motivation and the reward in the form of treats Spot likes.

Understand why mistakes may occur...

I know that children often don't do as they are told, so a child could wave food under his nose. I know that whilst Spot's stay on a mat is strong, but when not on his mat he may bounce or follow people for food. I know that even adults will do things they've been asked not to do, such as give him food.

Theres a lot of temptation in this scenario!

Have a pro-active positive alternative behaviour in mind..

Yep, this is holding the long line - and asking Spot to stay on his mat. I can reward him for doing this, I will never be so far away from Spot that I cannot distract him and redirect him to going on his mat, having a treat, doing a little bit of work for me for a treat... generally keeping his focus on me.

So now we are at the BBQ and Spots been great but here comes a toddler and whoops, he's fallen over and he has a big juicey burger in his hand.

I call Spot to me, he is on the long line anyway so I shorten that up, he DID want to take that burger, but because I called him to me and used the long line, I prevented that - and now I ask him to lie on his mat and reward him really strongly for that instead.

I have corrected Spots behaviour - I have seen what was about to happen, I have asked Spot to do something else instead and he has.

THAT is how to correct behaviour.

If you are allowing the behaviour to happen - so lets say I see Spot going to the fallen toddler to take the burger and I let him take that burger - and THEN you punish the dog - NO, BAD DOG...

You haven't corrected anything - you have punished the dog, but all thats going to achieve is to make him wary of you, after all he successfully stole the burger which was super rewarding, so it isn't going to stop him doing that in future.

Lets say you had a shock collar on the dog and as you saw him approach the child you zapped him - what does that teach him? It might teach him that approaching burgers is unpleasant, but he has a child right in his face, are you 100% positive it isn't teaching him that CHILDREN are scary?

So here you still haven't corrected anything - even if Spot doesn't grab the burger, you haven't taught him to do something else and potentially you have taught him a lesson you didn't want to - that children are scary.

You may now be asking 'but how do you teach him that this behaviour is wrong'..

The answer is, you don't.

Attempting to teach a dog that behaviours are socially and morally wrong is pointless, and futile. Dogs do not have the same social and moral standards that we do and they are not capable of understanding such concepts -in fact as I have said many times before, even WE don't have a cast iron, unchanging set of social and moral standards, which is why things like the age of consent and the laws surrounding theft and ownership of property change from culture to culture.

Forget teaching your dog that a particular action or behaviour is wrong - instead, focus on teaching him the behaviours you DO want, and understand him and be ready to pre-empt and redirect him from performing behaviours you don't like.

Eventually you will have a dog whose second nature is to turn to you, to wait for you to give the ok, because his habit is to see which behaviours YOU reward. He will be used to exercising self control and he will understand that acting on impulse tends not to benefit him.

Just for a while, humour me and run through a few situations in which you think you would need to 'correct' your dog.

Counter surfing -
Pulling on the lead -
Jumping up at people -

Now for each of those situations, instead of thinking 'how will I stop my dog and let him know that behaviour is bad', which is really what you mean by correction, think 'how will I prevent that from happening and teach my dog a preferable behaviour'.

Identify why it happens - counter surfing happens because dogs are opportunistic scavengers, theres food up there and its unattended, or there MIGHT be food up there...

                                      - pulling on the lead happens because dogs naturally walk faster than we do, because its rewarding to pull, they get to move quicker, because they don't actually know how to walk any other way
                                      - jumping up at people happens because dogs like to get close to peoples faces to greet them, because there may be a history of reward for doing so, because they don't know any other way to solicit attention from a person, because they are excited and lack self control.

How can you prevent it? - counter surfing - prevent access to the food preparation area, never leave food out when you cannot supervise the dog 100%.
                                        - pulling on lead - use a front clip harness, a headcollar, or both, teach your dog to enjoy wearing these before hand,
                                        - jumping up at people - keep a lead on your dog and don't allow him to get close enough to people to jump up, ask people not to encourage him to jump up.

What would be a preferable behaviour - counter surfing - lying on a dog bed whilst people prep food, lying outside of the kitchen whilst people prep food.
                                                              - pulling on lead - walking beside the owners leg on a loose lead
                                                               - jumping up - sitting down to greet people, keeping four on the floor to greet people.

Just think, if your dog is taught to walk on the lead nicely because he learns that going ahead doesn't work, and staying beside you is highly rewarding - he never needs to learn that pulling is BAD.
If he learns that theres no point jumping on the counter, theres never food up there, but lying on his dog bed means he gets rewarded every so often for doing nothing at all - he never needs to learn that counter surfing means he is a BAD DOG..
He learns that greeting people only happens when he has four on the floor and this is really rewarding - attempting to jump means the person backs up or he is taken away - he does not need to know that jumping up is BAD does he?

So, next time you think about correcting your dog - make sure you ARE actually correcting your dog, ie, preventing the behaviour you don't like and teaching him a behaviour you do like instead.

Just shouting at your dog or causing him momentary pain is not correcting, it isn't even effective punishment if you have to keep doing it - it just makes you a sucky person to be around.

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