The idea of positive behavior modification in dog training is obviously here to stay and still
gaining followers. As training techniques have become more sophisticated through the years we have learned that disciplining a dog for not doing something does not work and that positive reinforcement brings out the behaviors we want. The problem comes when down owners take that too far and do not correct their dog for an unwanted behavior.
One example would be from students in a dog obedience class I was working. The owners put their dog in to a sit/stay, I went over to greet them, and the dog stands up and approaches me, breaking the stay. I saw it happen several times in the class and there was never a correction given to the dog, they did not disagree with the behavior once. The dog has absolutely no idea that she was doing something wrong. Through the owner’s inaction she is learning she can break the stay any time she wants. In fact, she is being trained that breaking the stay gets her what she wants. In this situation it got her the ability to come and approach me and even touch me without permission. She was rewarded for ignoring her owner’s commands and that can cause the leadership of the owner to start to erode and effect every other skill the dog learns.
We always want to follow through with our commands. If we put them in a stay, they should stay until released. Every time. Being inconsistent is obviously very confusing to our dogs and so is not being clear as to what you want. To be clear, you should reward your dog when they do the right thing, every time and you should correct your dog when they do the wrong thing, every time.
Let’s talk about correction and discipline for a moment. There is nothing that says that correction or discipline must be physical, painful or scary in any way. The corrections should not be given in an angry way at all, but some kind of calm and low impact correction must be made.
Obviously, people will differ greatly on what a proper correction needs to be. What is one person’s correction may appear to be excessive to another. I find that a dog owner who is in a strong position of leadership can correct their dog with just a verbal sound. UH-UH! Or Phoey! With my dog Tex I can correct him with just a slight leash “jiggle.”
Having a positive, behavior modification style dog training program will put you in the position of leadership to your dog. Working with positive behavior modification techniques will help train your dog to understand what is wanted behavior and what is unwanted behavior in a way that will build your relationship, not erode it. A great tool in this style of training is the Correction Noise.
You do not have to resort to a leash jerk, or an alpha roll or any kind of physical correction at all. If you have trained your dog properly and modified their behavior properly you can control them with a sound you make. Isn’t that better than a physical correction?
I have had the best luck starting to teach a correction noise using the Stay command. The way I teach Stay is to work on “Time” first then “Distance.” I start teaching any skill with the dog on a leash. With the Stay command I always give the Sit command first. I put the dog in a Sit because it is harder for the dog to break the Stay command if they must stand up first. Plus, it gives me that extra second to use my correction noise.
Once the pup obeys the Sit command I PRAISE AND TREAT them. Often when owners are working on multiple commands in a row they forget to reward the first skill completed, such as the Sit here in my example. You want to reward your dog EVERY TIME they obey one of your commands. Every time. Even if there are more commands to come. This builds VALUE in your verbal commands. They are potent and signal that a pleasant experience is always to follow when your dog follows your verbal command.
When you are rewarding Step 1 of a multi-step skill you should make that reward very calm and controlled because you want the dog to keep her focus. So a quiet verbal praise for the Sit and then immediately give the Stay command.
Remember the first skill we work on with “Stay” is Time. Meaning the length of time your dog stays in the “Stay.” You will want to work on your dog staying in an extended time Stay eventually. But we start with baby steps.
So, when you give the stay command wait one second and then reward your dog and then give a “release” word like “Free!” or “Break” or whatever works for you. The goal here is to work on Time first and get to three seconds before we work on Distance.
She should stay “Solid in the Stay” during the one, two or three seconds stage. Meaning no happy feet, no excessive, nervous licking of her lips, she should seem calm at each stage before moving on to more time. If she exhibits any of these nervous behaviors then you are progressing too far, too early. Go back a stage and do that until she is solid in the stay.
Working on the Distance of the Stay is the same pattern. You give the “Stay” command and take one step back and immediately step back toward your dog. She should seem comfortable with that step before you try and backing two steps away.
If at any time your dog breaks her stay you should use a correction noise. “Uh oh” or “Phoey” or any sound that you can make that your dog will learn means you are disagreeing with her behavior. She will learn that she doesn’t get her reward and that the Stay exercise starts all over. Use your leash, put your dog back in the EXACT SAME SPOT and give the Sit command again, reward her for the sit and give the Stay command.
Every time she breaks stay, give your correction noise, put her back in the exact same spot and start all over again. It is important for her to go back to the same spot because she cannot get any accomplishment for breaking the stay.
The correction sound should be calm and without anger. It is just a marker to let your dog know that she did not complete your request and that she is not going to get her reward. If you practice this and use the exact same steps and voice tone and demeanor, your dog will catch on.
The great thing about a correction noise is that once your dog learns it you can use it at any time in any situation. If you are meeting a stranger and your dog wants to jump up on them, use your correction noise. If they are smelling at some food on your counter and you think they may go for it, use your correction noise.
Dog owners sometimes hate correcting their dogs. They feel it is oppressive or is going to make the dog sad or resent them in some way. If that is the way you feel, then you should feel pretty good about using a correction noise. It is just about the lowest impact way of correcting your dog you can find.
No matter what technique you use, if it is not scary and/or painful, get comfortable with the concept of disagreeing with your dog when they perform a behavior that you do not want and rewarding them for doing what you do want.