Ed Frawley’s Theory of Corrections
by Ed Frawley
A dog’s behavior is reflective of their owner’s behavior.
One of the most misunderstood areas in dog training for both professionals and beginners alike is when to give corrections to their dogs. This has been blurred since the introduction of motivational methods. This is called clicker or marker training. Many people who use clicker training feel like corrections are never needed. I employ both corrections and clicker training.
Corrections need to be used properly in order to be effective in dog training. If they are poorly timed or inconsistent, then you aren’t communicating with your dog the right way. You need to bring in clarity. When it comes to dog training, consistency and timing is what will make your message clear.
Force Training vs. Corrections
We do not recommend force training at all. While it might work, the most crucial thing gets broken: your bond with the dog.
To fully comprehend force training and how wrong it is, you need to know how to motivate a dog. There are 4 ways to motivate a dog: 1) using food rewards, 2) using toy rewards, 3) praise from the handler, and 4) force (aka fear).
Many professional trainers will force train a client’s dog. Not all of them will but there are many who do. This is because they only have a small amount of time to teach a dog to sit, down, and come. The bond can’t be developed because of the lack of time. Hence, they use force training.
Force trainers will use the prong, choke, and remote collars in order to make dogs comply. It’s effective and produces results but this causes a lot of stress.
Force training is when you tell a dog to do something it has never been taught to do and then correcting it until it does. It is NOT force training when you correct a dog for refusing to do a command when it already knows what it means.
Here’s an example: George has a problem with his dog pulling him down the streets. His dog hasn’t been trained so she takes it to Marie, a professional dog trainer. Marie will put the prong collar on the dog. She will take the dog out for a walk. And as she’s walking, she will turn the other direction and gives a strong leash correction while saying, “HEEL.” Marie will keep doing this again and again until the dog will turn quickly and “HEEL” for the trainer.
This is force training. This is the type of training where the dog obeys commands because he wants to avoid corrections, not because he respects the handler.
The only time you should ever execute a correction is when your dog refuses to execute a command you are 110% sure he knows the meaning of. You need to correct him for non-compliance, not for his lack of understanding.
We’ll be following up on what kind of correction to apply and what level in the next few sections.
Negative punishment is used with trainers who use food rewards and toy rewards. It means that when the dog makes a mistake, the trainer will tell him, “Nope, you don’t get your treat.” We don’t give a “physical” correction. Withholding the reward is enough for many dogs. This is negative punishment. You can learn it in detail from the following DVDs: The Power of Training Dogs with Food and The Power of Playing Tug with Your Dog.
If your dog jumps up to you, simply say NOPE and wait for him to back down. If you just wait for him to back down and give him a food reward, then it will take much longer for him to not jump on you.
Opposite of negative punishment is positive punishment. This is a “physical” correction. Many dogs cannot learn simply with negative punishment. You may need to use some positive punishment for this to work.
When competing motivators are present, you need to correct your dog for this. Competing motivators are things that the dog wants more than what you have. It may be a distraction of someone else with a ball or perhaps a toy that’s been left a few feet away. These things are competing with your reward, so we call it competing motivators.
The correction is added after the word NOPE. Other words can be used too but it needs to be consistent. You will need to use a different word for one with negative punishment (withholding a reward) and one with positive punishment (adding a correction). Eventually, a dog will figure out which word goes with what.
It is very crucial that trainers do not add positive punishment until after the dog knows exactly what he’s supposed to be doing. If you introduce a physical correction when he doesn’t know, then that is forced training.
Mature dogs will figure out very quickly the meaning of NOPE when followed with a correction. They will change their behavior to avoid the correction.
If your dog already changes his behavior immediately after saying NOPE, then you do not need to add a physical correction. However, you might fall at the other side of the spectrum where despite a correction, your dog will show no behavior change. This means you aren’t correcting strong enough OR are saying NOPE under bad timing.
When you say NOPE, you are creating a bridge. NOPE means, “You’re going to get a correction now.” And right after that NOPE, you need to give the correction.
Likewise, you can use this with reward-based training. We call it Clicker Training.
Keep in mind to be very careful of distractions and punishers. If done poorly, the dog will associate the distraction with a punishment. This makes the dog afraid of certain distractions (which can be an even bigger distraction).
This is a difficult thing to master. To reduce this, we recommend using reward-based repetitions so that the dog knows how to do it. And once the time comes for a correction, they’ll remember what it is they they’re supposed to do instead of, “Why did I get this correction?”
Here’s an example of that: George walks his dog on a bike trail where there are many strangers walking. Every time a stranger passes, George gets out a toy that his dog is obsessed with or gives his dog 3 or 4 pieces of steak. After the 300th time, the dog is going to see a stranger coming and he is going to be looking at George for his toy and steak.
Let me used the same example with strangers and a nervous dog.
Now if after 300 reps, the dog still doesn’t look at the handler, then the trainer can give a pop on the leash and have the steak ready or the toy ready. He’ll think, “OH! I know what I should’ve been doing.” They think, “I don’t want that to happen again,” and the next time they see a stranger, they focus on the handler.
Now let’s assume that George thinks he has his dog trained to strangers. He takes his dog into a new location (downtown) and expects it to walk on the street with strangers. When the dog freaks out and George corrects it, the dog is going to associate corrections with downtown and not strangers.
Many people will only give small corrections. These will have very little meaning to the dog. If it isn’t strong enough, the dog will start to think it’s a normal thing. He’ll learn to just ignore the punisher. These nagging corrections don’t work. You need to create an experience that is unpleasant enough that the dog does not whatn it repeated.
Dogs will remember things that don’t make them feel good. Associate it to an action and he will avoid that action if he must.
As always, trainers need to think about the correction and whether or not it’s proper to execute it. If you keep correcting your dog again and again for something that’s already learned, then you need to look at whether or not your dog really understands the command or if your correction isn’t hard enough. Corrections are a difficult concept for many trainers and need good timing and consistency.