What is a correction?

In the dog world, the phrase "to correct" is controversial   Many dog trainers argue that there's nothing wrong with 'correcting' a dog because you're simply showing him how to be correct.  I've seen entire blogs written to justify the use of the word, and its application in dog training, by referring to the root of the word "correct" - to make right. I know that I appreciate it when someone corrects my work to help me improve.

If a correction is designed to make the dog correct, why does it often look like the dog is being made sorry rather than being made right? 

This reminds me of a phase in my life where saying something was "bad" really meant that it was "good".  Cool.  The meaning of the word changed, and only a person in a closet would have failed to notice that change.  As a result, we accepted the changed word and we used the original meaning with care to avoid a misunderstanding.

Is it possible that the current meaning of the word "correct" has changed from "being made right" to "applying unpleasant consequences?" I'm talking about the dog world; not the common usage of the word (we are talking about dogs here, aren't we?).

If you cannot decide for yourself if the meaning of the word has changed, then I'd like to suggest a fairly simple test to help you get calibrated.

You'll need three things.  A dog making a mistake, a trainer applying a correction, and a five year old.

While the five year old is observing, "correct" the dog for making a mistake.   Then ask the child, "is the dog happy now that I showed him how to be correct?"

If the five year old looks at you like you've grown a second head, then you may wish to acknowledge that the root meaning of the word and the common usage of the word are no longer the same.

Lets call a spade a spade. A  correction means to make the dog sorry so that they will  perform differently the next time.  If you are showing a dog how to perform correctly, then don't call it a correction.  You are "showing","teaching" or "training" the dog.  And if you are really trying to help the dog, then whatever you are doing should look like help to the random five year old.

Regardless of how you feel about corrections in training, isn't it better to use language that is clear and descriptive of what is really happening?

I've seen people jerk their dogs all over the place in the name of dog training.  I've seen dogs cowering away from their owners and other run away in fear.  I've seen dogs pee and roll on their backs as their trainer approached.  I'm sure each of those individuals would say they were 'correcting' the dog, and many of them would subscribe to the usage of the word that I began with - that they were making the dog right.

I've yet to hear someone say they were abusing their dog.  So, in the interest of clarity, if we are truly showing our dogs how to perform and we care how they feel about their work, we should eliminate the use of the word "correction" from our vocabularies and substitute onother, less tainted word, in it's place.


Lee Baragona

Would you allow that the unpleasantness can be as simple as frustration (not physical discomfort)? When using negative punishment, I am “correcting” my dog for his error, but he races back, often barking in frustraion, desperately eager to be cued to try again so he can get it right. Always reminds me of the scene in the movie “Rudy”….“I can do it, coach, I can do it!” :) but it’s a correction cuz he changes his behavior on subsequent reps. And the 5 yr old would most definitely say that the dog IS having fun.


I’ll touch on this. I do punish my dogs in training and I’ll call a spade a spade. I make them SORRY that they chose whichever path they might have selected. I don’t pretend that I’m helping my dog. I don’t pretend that the dog doesn’t object – it wouldn’t work if the dog didn’t object! I call it punishment rather than correction because I do not correct the dog at all; I never say a word about whatever they did that I did not like. I simply take away their opportunity to work. it works beautifully, but only if the trainer has put in the time to make the opportunity to work with the trainer quite important.

Tamandra Michaels

Dogs aren’t “bad”, they’re simply behaving…like dogs, doing what works. If they’re doing an unwanted behavior, they’re being reinforced for it in some way. If you control that reinforcement (the environment), that’s much more efficient than trying to control the dog. And I don’t think they’re such simple creatures, either. Maybe your average pet dog, that hasn’t been taught all that much, nor had all that stimulating of an existence, they can seem that way. As a partner to working dogs, I can assure you, they can be quite complex, intelligent beings. I’d call it simplistic to believe that we must teach them who’s in charge, or they’ll take over. It kind of goes without saying that we call most of the shots in a dog’s life. What they eat, where they go, when they do it. It’s actually empowering to train in a way that allows them to make choices. We use our brains to motivate them to make the choices we desire.


This is so awesome! Dogs just do what seems right to them at the moment and don’t understand why we are pulling on them all the time. I manage a large retail store and brought my dog into work for the first time today. Since we were closed she had the run of the place. I put her breakfast in a treat pouch and clipped it to my belt and every few minutes would call her in a really excited tone. Without fail she came running every single time, then I would give her a piece of kibble and tell her to go play. She was having a blast but would come back to check in with me (all on her own) because it was fun. The positive reinforcement was motivation enough for her to leave whoever she was playing with or whatever she was sniffing and come back to see me.


I’m sorry but this way of thinking has been shown to be really faulty. Dogs aren’t trying to rule our lives or homes, they don’t think that way. Dogs are inherently selfish creatures, they are always trying to make good things happen to them and do it in whatever way works fastest (i.e. jumping up on people gets attention because even if you are pushing the dog off of you to the dog it is attention). What they think is appropriate isn’t always okay in the human world. It’s our job to shown them a better way to get something or a better way to act. Teaching them boundaries and patience is much better then correcting them or punishing them. We have a policy in our house we call “No Free Rides” meaning the dogs can get what they want but must always do something for it. They must “sit and stay” before they are greeted or fed, they must “touch” or “high five” if they want to come up on the furniture. My dogs absolutely respect me and listen extremely well but my home is a lot calmer because I am not always yelling or correcting them. They are listening because they know that’s what pays off, we are a team but I am the team captain. I am not the dictator.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published