When a dog behaves inappropriately during training is it okay to use a leash correction?
In recent years it has become increasingly popular to use positive reinforcement methods when training dogs. The theory being that the dog associates the treat with a good behaviour and will repeat the action in order to gain more treats. As training develops and the dog gets more willing to perform the action, the treats are lessened in frequency until the dog eventually will respond to the request without treats being presented.
More traditional training methods started off with treat training but would progress onto corrections during the ‘proofing’ stage and would call for the dog to be corrected with a sharp ‘pop’ of the leash if it did not perform the requested command.
The problems with traditional training methods are that they can in extreme cases lead to fear (either of a situation, an object or the trainer) and nervousness. Neither of which make for a happy dog nor owner, and could lead to further problems such as aggression.
That said there are occasions when a leash correction can still be used effectively and humanely, without detriment to the dog or the trainers relationship with the dog. Leash corrections can be used as a means of attracting your dogs attention back to you rather than to punish him for a command that wasn’t carried out.
The force of the correction must only match the intensity of the distraction. If the dog does not respond to the attracting of his attention without applying inappropriate force, then the trainer has been too delayed in applying the correction. The leash correction should always be carried out in a calm controlled manner. Leash corrections should never be carried out in anger or frustration.
A dog can go from calm to extreme excitement within seconds, and the sooner the trainer realises that a distraction has occurred the smaller the amount of force on the leash will be needed to focus the dog back to the job at hand. It is therefore extremely important to concentrate fully on your dog and learn to read his body language so that the early signs of distraction (pricked up ears, fixating stare, stiffened body, etc.) can be acted upon soon enough to prevent escalation.
Certainly the leash correction has it’s place in today’s dog training methods, but it should be used as a way of getting the dogs attention during intense distractions than to ‘show the dog who is boss’.
Remember, always consult a professional dog trainer if you are unsure.