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Sarah Wilson
Award-winning Pet Expert
Teacher, Trainer & Author


In this pet podcast... Ever wondered about corrections? Is there a secret to doing them well? Are they bad? Can they be good? Find out in this week's episode of Teacher's Pet with Sarah Wilson. Learn why giving calm, clear direction can be hard for women and how your history in school can influence your training today. See how to have fun and be effective as Sarah teaches Pip something brand new and then has Pip begging for more.

Have questions or comments? Send them to or stop by the message boards or see Sarah train on Comcast Video on Demand - Life and Home - Pets. Enjoy!


Sarah Wilson: Hello, this is Sarah Wilson with Teacher’s Pet on Today we’re inside again ‘cause it’s 14 degrees here in New Hampshire and that is too cold for dog or person to be outside doing much of anything. And today what I want to talk to you about are corrections. There’s so much confusion about it. Lets start with the word; what do we call it? The behavioral people call it punishment. Now, the problem I have with the word punishment is the scientific definition just means anything that lessens a behavior. So taking a treat away from your dog or blocking them so they can’t rush out a door is a punishment. But in our normal day to day lives, punishment means something harsh, it has a lot of emotional baggage to it. So I don’t like to use the word punishment in general conversation because it’s almost impossible to have a rational conversation about it without having that emotional baggage come along with it. So we’re going to talk about corrections, which mean to me anything that helps the dog get it right without creating confusion, fear or pain. So first we’re going to listen to the sponsors, and then you’re going to come back and we’re going to talk about this a little bit, and then I’m going to demonstrate a few different ways that I commonly “correct”, quote-unquote, Pip during training to help her understand what I want better, and to do what I’m always trying to do: get to good faster. Talk to you in a second.

Sarah Wilson: Okay, welcome back. This is Sarah Wilson on Teacher’s Pet on Pet Life Radio. Corrections; for those of you who have been listening to my other episodes, you’ve heard me use a lot of them. You’ve also heard me laugh a lot, and that confuses people, ‘cause they think if I’m laughing I can’t be being effective, and if I’m being effective, I can’t be having fun, and that is a myth. You can have a great time and be effective and love the type of trainer you are and the results you get in your dog. And if can get you thinking this way, I will be one happy person. First thing to contemplate; now when you’re teaching commands, all your dog knows about the commands, the entire knowledge set they have, comes from a human being. Hopefully from you, but it could be from a previous owner. So if they don’t do it the way you want them to do it, it’s because they don’t understand what you want. I do not believe in stubborn, difficult or spiteful dogs in general, and I really don’t believe in it when it comes to commands. What I do believe in are frustrated, confused and upset people.

We think we’re communicating clearly and we think the dog should understand it, then when the dog doesn’t behave the way we want them to, we blame the dog. No! It just means they’re confused about something, alright. Everything the dog knows about sit down, come, stay, wait, leave it, whatever you’re teaching them, they learn from a human being, probably from you. So if they’re not responding the way you want them to, what I want you to think about is how to slow it down, break it down and reward more frequently. That is often the correction that I choose. I choose to slow it down, break it down, reward more frequently. I try to slow it down, so it’s less confusing. Often when we people get upset or things aren’t working, we speed up; sit, sit, sit, sit, sit, sit, sit, and the dog goes “Whoa, whoa, I didn’t understand the first one, I sure don’t understand the gatling gun approach, alright. Break it down, meaning if the dog isn’t coming from ten feet away, start closer, find the point that your dog goes “I kind of understand. I almost understand”, and work there to improve it because if they really get confused at four feet, forty feet ain’t going to get any better. Pat Perelli, you guys always hear me talk about the Perelli’s, horse trainers, one of the things he says is taking the time it takes, takes less time, and he is absolutely right. Thumping along on some behavior your dog doesn’t understand, you try to call them away from the fence line when they’re barking, they don’t come, tomorrow you try to call them away from the fence line, Wednesday you try to call them away from the fence line, and what happens, they don’t get any better because you’re not actually practicing success, are you? You’re actually practicing failure, and what does your dog get better at? Ignoring your recall at the fence line. Practicing failure does not create success.

Lets talk specifically about some corrections, ‘cause that’s an area where so many people are confused. What are some of the corrections you’ve heard me use here on Teacher’s Pet on Pet Life Radio? Well, when we were outside working on the listening when outside section, Pip got up when I kicked the ball near her. I took her by the collar and I guided her back. I did not yank her back, I did not drag her back, I didn’t pick her up by the collar, all things I’ve seen, ‘cause that would create what? Confusion and fear. I don’t want that. Nobody learns when they’re confused and fearful. I want to be clear, but I don’t want to be emotional. So what you will hear me do is get quiet, and usually I just gently put them back in the position. Now my dogs are taught how to be guided. They know what my touch means, when I touch their rear a certain way, they understand “Alright, that means sit.” I give gentle pressure on the collar downward they go “Oh, yeah, that means down.” I use gentle pressure forward they say, “Oh, I’m supposed to follow that.” So I teach those things separately so that when I need to communicate with my dog I can do so really effectively, and again no confusion, the dog goes “Oh, I understand what she wants now. She wants that thing I’ve already done.” Easy. And what did I do when she got to the position I wanted her to be in? I praised her. Right, ‘cause your goal is always to get to the praisable moment, always, always, always, seek the praisable moment. And if you do that, your dog is going to relax and really enjoy training. Too often, especially if we were raised with punitive training methods, if we were raised with teachers who taught us by shaming us or embarrassing us or pointing out our failures, that’s our template in our brain for what teaching is, so we click back into it with our dogs. We think, “Oh, she’s not doing it right. Oh, she’s going to get that wrong. Oh, again she’s making the same mistake”, and we begin to have that feeling that our dog is wrong or stupid or being difficult, and once you get that feeling, once your dog starts to not become your partner, but starts to become that “them” who’s difficult, now you’re on your way to losing control with your dog or doing something that you’re not going to be happy with. So you watch that mentally, and anytime you hear yourself thinking, “Oh, she’s so difficult about this” or “She’s just stupid” or “Ugh, she’s so stubborn”, I want you think, “Wow, she’s so confused. She’s so confused about this”, ‘cause once you start thinking ‘confused’, you’ll remember that it’s your job to help her learn. It’s not your job to make her wrong. She can’t be wrong if it’s something that you are entirely responsible for teaching. All she can be is either uninformed or confused. Really embrace that, and your training will take off, take off.

Last week in place, the little Italian Greyhound puppy, who was so cute, but that’s a whole other topic. Alright, little Italian Greyhound puppy, I turned to her for place and she layed down half on half off the mat. What did I do? I paused and I looked away from her for a second, and she thought, “Ooh, wait, that’s not what I want, that’s not what I want”, and she was able to think it through. I didn’t confuse her, her brain was working. So she was able to get up and lay back down on the mat. If she had lay down half on and half off the mat and I had gone “No, place!”, what would she have done? She would’ve gone “Eck, what?”, ‘cause she doesn’t know. It’s like you have a teacher, if I was teaching you and you’re just standing there in the room, you don’t know, and I walk up to you, go “No, shame on you. God, she’s stubborn”, and you go “Wait, I have no idea what you’re talking about”, and I’m like, “See, she’s being difficult again”, does that make you want to learn? Does that make you want to participate with me? You know the most sacred thing you’ve got as a trainer, the single most sacred thing you’ve got is your dog’s willingness to participate. You lose that and you lose everything. I protect that with my life as a trainer. But does that mean at the same point that I let her quote-unquote “do whatever she wants”? Ooh, absolutely not. One of my tenets that I always think and say in my classes is ‘never optional, always pleasant’, ‘never optional, always pleasant’. “You will do this, and I will make you glad you did”. So while I’m laughing and having a blast, I am not confusing my dog by being unclear with him or her. ‘Cause I consider that a form of, well meanness. We’re trying to be nice, and again often it is the people who had the most punitive teaching methods themselves, that have the hardest time finding that calm, clear, loving leader that doesn’t punish to create fear or pain or to belittle, but also doesn’t confuse.

Women in particular, we’re socialized to be pleasant and nice and to be patient and to be loving, and when can we be assertive? When we’re angry and frustrated. So we bring that to our training. We try to be nice and pleasant and maybe not all that clear, and we get frustrated and then we get angry because we can only get assertive in our culture when we get angry, and then we feel terrible that we got angry, and then we go back to being mostly patient. Arggh, it’s enough to make a dog crazy, and it doesn’t do anything for us either. In out culture a woman who is clear and absolutely goes for what she wants, but she’s not emotional, you know what we call that? It begins with a B and it rhymes with witch. Of course those of us in the dog world kind of take that as a complement, don’t we? ‘Cause we know a good B is a fine thing. But in any case, we get labeled, so it can be really uncomfortable at first for us to learn to go for exactly what we want without bringing that anger and frustration with us. I was talking to somebody a few months back, and she was talking about handling her horse and she says, “It doesn’t matter whether it’s the dog, the horse, whatever, it’s all the same thing”, and she was frustrated by something and frustrated by something and she kept sort of working on it and then she just lost it and she said, “I made the horse do it and she did it”, and that’s always sad in a way of sort of asking for permission and forgiveness for it, like, “I didn’t have a choice, I had to get that way ‘cause that’s the only way the horse would listen.” No, no, no, no, no, no, no! You could be just as assertive and effective without being angry at all. That’s a whole new skill set, and when you learn this, often I tell women in my classes, warn your husband, warn your husband ‘cause things are about to change. Instead of sort of letting things go for weeks and weeks that you’re annoyed about but you don’t know how to talk about and you don’t want to get angry and then blowing up, you start saying, “You know honey, I’m really uncomfortable when you do that”, and they look and they go, “Huh?”, and you can have a calm, unemotional discussion about what you want. Shocking! So much easier. But that, again, is a whole other episode.

Today we’re talking about corrections. So what we’re going to do next is I’m going to work with Pip on a few things that I think will cause her to need me to help her. One of them from last week is when I asked her to be up on the landing out of sight, of place, that was hard for her. So I realize I hadn’t really done a lot of work with her holding position out of sight, so we’re going to do that, and I’m going to talk you through the corrections I do. And one of the things I want you to think about is every time you help your dog, no matter how neutrally you do it, you’re going to create some level of additional pressure for the dog, ‘cause they’re going to be trying to figure this out. So one of the things I always do is if I have to guide her back or block her back or send her back, no matter how calmly I do it, that I reward her faster and I may give her a break in between sets and just pet her or talk to her and let her relax a little bit and then come back into it. Don’t rush this. Take your time, and the more pressure that ends up going on your dog, the more breaks you take and the faster you reward. And that way, again, that keeps them thinking and it keeps them in the game. It also keeps you more relaxed and allows you to take a break and reset because training is a dance of two and your emotional realities and your headset are just as important as the dogs. Lets hear from out sponsors and take a little break while I get downstairs with Pip and set things up. I’ll talk to you in a minute.

Sarah Wilson: Welcome back to Teacher’s Pet on Pet Life Radio. This is Sarah Wilson, and we are down in the basement training room next to the wood stove. Ben, our cat, is sleeping in front of it enjoying his, enjoying a nap, and why am I laughing? You know why I’m laughing, because of P-I-P, and what’d she do? She just ran over and threw herself into her place position. What we’re going to do now is I want to set her up to make a mistake, which is so against my training, it’s going to be hard. We’ll see if I can pull it off, ‘cause generally I see my job as setting her up for success. Setting her up for success over and over and over again, and then asking more when she understands. What I’ve done is pulled out a Very Kennel, and I’m going to work on having her lay down behind it and to allow me to go out of sight without her popping up or coming to see me, and she’s such a little eager beaver and busy body that this is going to be a challenge for her I think. Pip come here, good girl. What’d she do? She went to jump up on the Very Kennel because that’s, yeah, good girl, off, good. Very nice. She popped off and she’s sitting, she’s looking at me like “What are we doing?” Excellent. Good girl. Down. Good. And she’s already up. Down. I guided her and now I’m going to just tickle her on the side, on the side back by the flank and ask her, we’re actually having a big discussion about down. Over. Good, very nice, and I just put her off on one hip by gently pressing back by the hip. She does not even want to down here. That’s good in this situation ‘cause I want to show you what I do. So I had to actually guide her down a few times because she doesn’t like this position. I guess it’s too tight between the wall and the crate, whatever it is, it’s more of an opportunity than I thought, and because I had to guide her down several times, I’m hanging out here and stroking her and massaging down her back and getting her to relax in this position, and she doesn’t even look remotely relaxed.

Alright, now she’s going belly up, and I’m scratching her for a second, and I think now she’s maybe relaxed enough to leave. Down. Wait. I’m going to step out of sight and right back. I do not want to wait for her to fail, I want to catch her doing it right, right? So don’t step out and see how long she can stay there. Uh, uh, uh. There’s an old saying about ‘having achieved success, you rush headlong toward failure. Avoid that, avoid that. Enjoy the success. She’s lying down, she’s behind the crate. Wait. I’m going to step out of view, I’m going to step right back. Good, very good. That was nice. Gave her a little treat between her paws. Now I’m going to step out of view again. And it’s actually not that out of view because she’s got a long neck and this is a small crate. Good, very nice. I come right back and reward her. Good. Okay, now I’m releasing her because what was the hardest part of that whole behavior for her? It was the start-up. She had a really hard time lying down back there for some reason, I have no idea why. I’m gathering it’s because it’s close to the wall, but frankly it’s not that close to the wall. So who knows why, but I’m going to practice that part until she gets relaxed with it. And she’s standing back on place, ‘cause last time we came down here that’s what we were doing. Okay, good girl. Down. Okay. The problem with lying down behind a crate is over. Good girl. That’s done. Wait. Because I made her successful, I rewarded her. Alright. I went out of sight and she popped up, perfect. I’m coming back, she lay back down, I didn’t do anything. Oh good, we’ve hit a point in confusion. I’m going to gently take her by her collar, guide her down. Good. Wait. This is what I wanted. Now what I’m not doing notice is I’m not saying, “No, down”, ‘cause she’s already confused. You get that? She’s already confused, she says, “I’ve never had to stay out of sight before. I don’t know what you want”, it’s a perfectly natural thing for her to do, to pop up into the sit position so she can see me. Why would I add fear to this or confusion or make her think that she’s wrong or worry? I don’t need to do that to be effective. All I need to be is persistent.

Persistence is more important than punishment. I’m simply going to say, “This is what I need you to do.” Now the other thing I’m going to do is apparently when I walked all the way across to the other side of the room, that was too far and she popped up. My guess is it’s because I’m walking close to her place bed and she wants to make sure I’m not going to ask her to do something, like run there ‘cause she loves place. But that’s my working hypothesis, I could be entirely wrong. It’s important to remember as a trainer you could be entirely wrong, and if I was entirely wrong and I punish my dog and it turned out that this was my mistake, I’ll tell you, I’ve done that in my time as a trainer and that feels lousy, lousy, lousy, lousy. And as I’ve gone along in training, it’s become clear to me that most mistakes my dogs make is do to me as a trainer. It’s true for you too. If your dog makes a mistake it’s because they don’t understand. So we’re going to try this again. Wait. I’m going to walk. Yup, as I thought. Good. I turned back, she simply lay back down. Her ears are up. What has she done? She’s lay down so she can see me. This is going to be hard, we’re going to have to actually focus on teaching you now and not talking on the radio. She’s arranged it so she’s behind the crate but can see me. This is the problem for her that I thought it was, it’s a hole in training, and what do you do when you find a hole in training? You celebrate.

You say, “Great. Now I’ve got a chance to straighten this out in her head.” Wonderful! What I’m going to do is step in and out of her line of sight, and do it fairly quickly so that she is successful. Wait. I step out of sight, I come back. Good. Very good. That was excellent. Wait. I step out of sight, I come back. Good, very nice. Wait. I step out of sight. Nice, good girl, good. Notice too, good girl, okay. Notice too that I am praising her as I’m stepping out of sight ‘cause there’s no reason that I can’t verbally support her in that position, with a lot of stay situations, what do people do? “Stay, stay”, and then they’re silent, and the dog doesn’t understand that they’re doing it right. Often in dog training, silence means the owner is somehow upset or disappointed. This causes a lot of problems in the ring by the way. If you train nice and happy with a lot of praise and you go in the right and you get silent, your dog can start thinking that you have a ring issue and they start getting tense about it. But in any case, with ‘stay’, the dog gets no feedback other than a command, and then often they get punished for making a mistake. But they’re not supported in between time. So I do a lot of support in between time. I want her to know every time she makes a good choice, that’s it, that’s the good choice. And as she gets more comfortable and more experienced then I can start fading supports if I need to, but not now when we’re doing something brand new. And guess where she is, she’s standing on her place. You’re very cute. Okay. Good. We’re still not jumping up in the crate, but thanks for asking. Good girl. Down. Wait.

Very happy to lie down there and just lay down so she, oops, that’s what I wanted. I’m coming back to her. I wanted for this case. She stood up. Good. Good. I guided her down. That’s it. Good. Very good. So that guiding her down told her, “I want you to stay in this position”, but her ears are still up, she’s lying on one hip, she’s not at all freaked out or concerned. She just got the message, “Oh, I should probably park it”, and that’s what I want, I want the message to be delivered without any of the side commentary of stress or worry. Good. Very good. That was wonderful. Good girl. Okay. So I released her, alright, she’s not, didn’t release. She’s decided like the p-l-a-c-e spot that this is a rewardable spot and she actually likes it. Good girl. Okay, come on, you got to get up. Now that she’s found that a rewardable spot, oh funny, she’s standing in between the two locations. Instead of running to her bed and popping into place, she’s now standing between the two spots and looking at me saying, “Which one should I go to? Both are good.” Though now that this is a really strong and good spot, I’m going to actually push the crate back and see if we can do some work on the landing, which was the hard part last week when she didn’t want to be out of sight on the landing. So we’ll work this. Give me some stairs work-out too. Pip, good girl. Up. Good girl. Back. Good girl, good girl. So she’s now up on the landing. Down. Good. Wait. And I’m going to go down and I’m going to step out of sight, and the minute I start to go out of sight she gets up. So I’m going to come back up the stairs, guide her back to the landing, guide her down. Wait. That was it, that was the correction. Are you terrified? Are you shaking in your boots? Good girl. Good. Very nice. Oops, she held a little longer that time, but still didn’t hold it. Back we go, back I guide. Wait. And we try it again. ‘Cause I’m going to be persistent, I’m helping her understand this new thing. Beautiful. That was good. She got it that time, didn’t stand back up. Very good, nice. Now because I had to guide her down a few times, I’m going to sit up here and give her a couple of treats because I want her to think, “Oh, this is a good spot to be in. Turns out, even though I can’t look at things, it’s a good spot.” And I’m rubbing down her back for a minute, and I’m rubbing her ear for a minute. Good. Wait. ‘Cause if I do my job right, pretty soon she’s going to say, “Could you step out of sight because the best things happen.” And that time she held it beautifully. Why not? Good girl. Because this is a great situation, whoops, I’m sorry, I thought I was kneeling on one stair and I knelt on another. It’s a great situation where you can see ‘never optional, always pleasant’. I made it clear this is what you need to do. We’ll do one more round here sweet pea. Wait. “This is what you need to do, but I’m going to make it well worth your while to do it”. And stepped all the way out of sight, pause for a second, beautiful. Good. Nice. That was super. That was so good little one. You are such a smart bean. Good. Okay. And again, we right now have a broken “okay”, ‘cause she won’t get up. Was that very long that I had her wait? No, uh uh. ‘Cause it’s more important to me that she get the feeling of “Wow, when she steps out of sight, that’s great news because she’s going to be back in a second and I’m going to get praised and I’m going to get rubbed and I’m going to get a treat or two or three.

What a great game. I hope she decides to go out of sight. The best things happen when she’s out of sight.” And when she asks, I consider this asking a question, when she stands up, she says, “Ooh, you’re out of sight, I’m not comfortable with that. Is this okay?”, and I just walked back and guided her and said, “No, no, not what I want.” And that’s all the information I had to give her, and I had to give it to her two or three times. Two or three times behind the crate to begin with, and two or three times up on the landing. I don’t care how long it takes her to learn, because by being persistent, what did it end up taking us? Two minutes? Five minutes? If I, and guess where my girl is. She’s standing on the top step where she can have two paws on the landing and be looking at me saying, “Could we please play this game again?” Ha, that’s what I call a successful training session. So I’m going to leave you with those thoughts. Go and create success of your dog, have fun and use corrections in ways that are helpful but not frightening, and you and your dog are going to make so much headway, you’re going to have a blast and you’re going to see that yet again any dog can be a teachers pet. This is Sarah Wilson on Teacher’s Pet on Pet Life Radio, and I will see you next week.

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