Pops, Tugs, & Corrections

Oftentimes, we are told to use physical corrections like pops and tugs on the leash, with the justification that it mimics what the mother dog would do. This is totally bogus. I won’t even mince my words here. It’s silly. Dogs know that we are not dogs. They don’t perceive us as their “mother” at any point. We’re just the “other species” they live with, who feed them, open doors, and smell fascinating.

Every pop and tug on that leash is a withdrawal from the relationship bank, just like it would be if you and your best friend were to hang out and randomly s/he would pinch you. It would be irritating and frustrating and likely would cause you to avoid hanging out with them or at least dread it in the future. Let it go on long enough and you may even retaliate with a smack or a punch!

Corrections are old-school. A correction is a technique that is no longer recommended by educated and qualified professional animal trainers, Veterinary Behaviourists, and Certified Applied Animal Behaviourists.

Steve White, a friend and colleague of mine who I respect beyond words, defines the 8 Rules for Using Punishment. Steve is a police officer and revered Professional Dog Trainer who specialises in clicker training canines for law enforcement and military organisations. He’s no Joe Blow.

Eight Rules for Using Punishment:

  1. The punishment must be something the animal dislikes and something the animal does not expect.
  2. The punishment must suppress behaviour. (This is, in fact, the very definition of something that is a punisher.) If something is being used for punishment, but it does not suppress behaviour, its ineffective and often just plain abuse.
  3. The punishment must be of the perfect intensity. Too much and there will be negative fallout. You’ll end up hurting your relationship with the animal and losing more than just that behaviour. Too little and the punishment will only serve to desensitise the animal and build resistance.
  4. The punishment must happen immediately after the behaviour with which it is to be associated. Otherwise, a clear enough association between the wrong behaviour and the punishment will not be made.
  5. The punishment must be associated with the behaviour, but not with the trainer. Otherwise, the trainer becomes part of the punishment and the animal starts fearing and disliking the trainer.
  6. The punishment must happen every time the behaviour occurs. If punishment does not happen every time the behaviour occurs, the behaviour gets put on a variable schedule of reinforcement. Depending on the behaviour and how often the punishment actually occurs, the animal could decide that performing the behaviour was worth the risk of getting punished.
  7. There must be an alternative for the animal.
  8. Punishment must never be used to the extent that punishment outweighs positive reinforcement (from the animals perspective, not yours!)

(Sorry, Steve. I had to “Canadianise” the spelling. Love ya!)

Do you see how complicated it is for punishment to be effectively used? 

You know what’s more effective? Positive reinforcement. Environmental management (prevention). 

So, let’s drop the pops and tugs and let’s look at a gazillion ways to make walking our dogs far more enjoyable for both dog and human!