The Million Dollar Correction Question

Photo by Kevin Lowery |

Photo by Kevin Lowery |

What does it mean when you say, "I need to correct my dog when they..." ?

The word "correction" has such a negative implication to me that when I hear it used by an owner, I get a little....well, negative. So, I looked the word up in the dictionary.

correction |kəˈrekSHən|
the action or process of correcting something

• a change that rectifies an error or inaccuracy
• used to introduce an amended version of something one has just said
• punishment, esp. that of criminals in prison intended to rectify their behavior.

The last definition is the one that most people have in mind when they use this word to describe correcting their dog's behavior.  The doing of physical harm to teach a dog what not to do.

But, looking at the origin of the word I find something that makes more sense:

ORIGIN Middle English: via Old French from Latin correctio(n-), from corrigere ‘make straight, bring into order’

I like the original intent of this word. There is no mention of physical punishment, merely the act of bringing order. This true definition fits so nicely with my training philosophy:

  1. Discover what need the unwanted behavior fills for the dog.
  2. Find a new way to fill that need.
  3. Figure out what you want the dog to do in it's place and teach them to do it on cue.
  4. Reward the new behavior with something the dog values, thus conditioning the new behavior to replace the old one.
  5. Bring order to the dog's behavior.

So, how do I respond to owners who want to know how to correct their dog's behavior? I ask them the million dollar question:

What would you like them to do instead?


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Positively Expert: Laura Brody

Laura Brody is the owner of Denver's Good Family Dog, Kind, Purposeful, Force-Free Dog Training and Behavior.


3 thoughts on “The Million Dollar Correction Question

  1. KaylahKola

    This is a nice refresher to read. We just adopted a dog a few days ago and when he gets tired or really, super excited he gets mouthy. He just needs to focus his energy elsewhere, and not on my arms or ankles with his mouth! I keep replacing my arm/hand/leg with his toys or i'll try to redirect his attention to a working/training mode.

  2. sharina

    With regard to Laura Brody's article: I don't think that training a dog to perform a task (command) is really well described as "bring order to the dog's behavior". I think that people who "correct" their dogs are simply punishing an undesirable behavior and we don't need to try to find a "better" definition for the word to make it mean something other than what people do. Your philosophy is great but you don't need to try to add the term correct into it somehow making the term indicate something that is OK. Correction, as it is used and understood, doesn't fit any of your points. Your points (except for 5, which turns out to be not useful) are self explanatory and follow appropriate training philosophy and techniques. The reason I am making a big deal out of this is that I feel the term should be correctly identified as simply another term for punishment that people who use it do so to try to conceal the fact that it is punishment. This needs to be pointed out and explained to its proponents and your clients. People who want to train their dogs effectively and appropriately need to understand that corrections are simply punishments and changing to a different word to try to soften punishment isn't useful. In the veterinary and animal behavior profession we are trying to eliminate many terms associatd with the dominance theory, its misconceptions, false principles and poor techniques, so exploited by current reality shows and the media, rather than try to assign better definitions to them

  3. Adri

    I love that million dollar question. If you set the dog up to be right and reward behaviors you like, corrections are unnecessary. I see so many people "correcting" their dog for lunging at distractions, but they never show the dog what they want. It's so much easier to reward the tiny steps that they do right rather then wrong. I mean after all, which would you prefer the correction or reward?

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