There is another serious problem I have observed in my teaching of obedience. I encountered it when I first started training my own dog 12 years ago. This problem is the use of the word “correction.” It has an undesirable connotation – it implies punishment because a mistake has been made. Try it in your office as I did. Ask a person who does not train a dog what he thinks when he hears the word correction. He will tell you that it means to punish for a mistake that has been made. Personally I dislike the word. When my first instructor used it in talking to me about training my dog, it implied to me that I or my dog had made a mistake – done something wrong – even if we did not know what it was. I believe my feelings are like the average person’s – he does not want to make a mistake, and he wants to learn how to do things correctly. As I went on in my training and read books on training, I learned that the word correction was supposed to mean “show your dog how to do that exercise correctly”, but, and the big BUT is – does the beginner understand what he is to do when the instructor says “correct your dog?’’
Over the years I have found many beginners resentful when they were told to correct their dogs, because they believed that their dogs had done nothing wrong, and not understanding exactly what the instructor wanted them to do. I have even had trainees tell me when they trained under this method of instruction that they did not believe the instructor was talking to them particularly. They felt that “correct your dog” meant everybody else in the class because they knew their dog had not done anything wrong!
Because I failed to reach many of the people in the classes that I taught with the use of the word correction, I began a serious program to find a way to avoid this word and its connotations of punishment. Following the words given to me at an Instructors Clinic – that of showing the dog what he is to do before any correction is applied – I began to think that perhaps this was the answer to get the message across to beginners. I believe teaching is best done when we keep repeating what is to be done rather than calling attention to what the handler interprets as errors, that is, use a positive approach rather than one that appears negative even though as instructors we know that it does not necessarily have to be negative.
When I started operating my own training college, I made a conscious effort to avoid the use of the word correction in my first beginner class. While in fact the trainees were performing what we know as corrections, they were expressed as follows:
“Show your dog how to sit straight.”
“Make your dog sit straight.”
“Bring the dog in closer to you – he is heeling wide.”
“Make the dog wait to be called.”
“Make the dog heel with you. Don’t let him forge.”
You will note that all of these phrases are giving reinforcing and repetitive instructions to the handler. If he has forgotten what he is supposed to be doing, my instructions remind him. I believe an instructor’s job is that of teaching people. As he teaches, he must review constantly to see that instructions are being followed. When I keep repeating the instructions, I am helping the person who has not yet gotten it, and the others in the class receive reinforcing information to remind them of the proper way to perform the exercises. People seem to accept suggestions made this way a little better and do not seem to resent the directions from the instructor as much. They feel that they are being taught how to train their dogs. In fact, the handlers welcome the attention of being told how to do the exercises correctly as opposed to being made to feel stupid when the instructor constantly tells them to correct their dog. After all, dog training has to be an approach to the people who will do the training. By the same token, I do not like to see an instructor who is afraid to tell his trainees they have done something wrong for fear he will hurt their feelings. People must be told when they are not training correctly. That is why they are in class. But, we can make them feel better by using a positive approach rather than the negative approach connoting correction or punishment. One person recently told me she appreciated how I kept after her to do the exercises properly.
There is one other training aspect which I had to rethink. I have observed that teaching the right and left turns can be a traumatic experience for the handler and the dog. They invariably seem to get in each other’s way no matter how hard we tried to avoid this situation. There is a lot to remember about footwork, lead handling, commands, praise, etc. Unless all of these things are timed correctly, problems can result. The handler stumbles over his feet, he stumbles over the dog, the dog gets ahead of the handler and is out of control altogether. Any one of these conditions could make for a serious accident. Taking a page from the book on the Figure Eight – an exercise designed to show that the dog can do the heeling under all conditions – I decided that the introduction of the right and left circles before the right and left turns might help. I have tried it and it was a decided improvement. The trainees are instructed to make rather large circles to the right or left as commanded by the instructor. The main object is for them to learn how to control the dog and a large circle permits them to concentrate and work on this. As they get their dogs under control, they are told to make the circles smaller and smaller. After about two weeks of circles, they can then go into the formal right and left turns without the problems I used to encounter.
Let me conclude by saying that I am not so conceited as to believe that I have thought of revolutionary new approaches or new techniques in dog training. What I am telling you about are new approaches or new techniques that I have developed for the purpose of improving my instructing ability and the resulting training of dogs in my classes. Seminars such as this one give us the opportunity to get together in order to exchange ideas and share experiences so all of us can learn from each other.
©1973 O.S. Point