The Importance of Non-Verbal Corrections Among Conspecifics

When dogs interact or play, they are continuously giving feedback to one another through their body language, eye contact (or lack thereof), vocalizations, and attention or inattention.  And, like humans, they have ways and means to communicate their disapproval or discomfort to other dogs in what we as handlers call “corrections”.  Socially adept dogs are able to give and receive corrections appropriately and without incident or a lot of human intervention.  Please note that dogs should be “allowed” to correct each other; handlers that admonish dogs for appropriately correcting their conspecifics can create confusion and disharmony in a pack environment.  If a dog is playing or acting inappropriately, the other dogs should be free to communicate that to him/her!   So, how might we see this play out in a daycare environment?  Here are a couple of fictional case studies for your review:

Case Study #1:  An Appropriately Given and Well Received Correction

Rusty is a new dog in pack who keeps getting mounted by Bones, a daycare regular.  After attempting to avoid Bones on a number of occasions, Rusty snarls and snaps at Bones the next time Bones attempts to mount him.  Bones gets the hint, moves on, and stops mounting Rusty.

*This is an example of an appropriately given and received correction.  Rusty was not attempting to harm or injure Bones, but he made it clear that he did not want to be mounted.  Bones, in turn, heeded the correction and the interaction was appropriately mollified.  There was no need for human intervention in this instance as the dogs were able to sort this out themselves.

Case Study #2:  An Appropriately Given Correction That Is Ignored by the Intended Recipient

As with the scenario above, Bones continually tries to mount Rusty.  After attempting to avoid Bones, Rusty gives him a correction containing a vocalization and a minor snap.  Unharmed, Bones ignores the correction and continues to mount Rusty.  

*At this point, the human handlers must intervene to redirect Bones away from Rusty because if his corrections continue to go unheeded, instead of correcting Bones mildly, Rusty may become aggressive towards Bones and attempt to actually bite him.   If Bones gets bitten in this instance, it is because he ignored Rusty’s attempts to mitigate the situation in a milder way.  While Rusty would technically be the aggressor, Bones lack of social skills make him a liability to himself in a pack environment. 

Case Study #3: An Overcorrection by the Dog

Rusty enters the pack for the first time and Bones attempts to mount him.  With little warning and no previous corrections, Rusty immediately pounces on Bones and bites him, leaving a puncture wound.  

*Rusty is clearly at fault in this instance as his tolerance for inappropriate interactions is unnecessarily low.  He didn’t give a warning sign or offer any corrections to Bones before biting him.  Because of his heightened reactivity, Rusty is not a good candidate for dog daycare.  

Case Study #4: Overcorrection by the Handlers

Similar to our first case study, after being mounted a number of times, Rusty gives Bones a correction, but because the human handlers mistook this correction for an advancement, Rusty is admonished and given an extended time out.  This causes him to become confused and anxious around Bones.   Bones continues to mount Rusty when they are together, but Rusty avoids correcting him which increases the mounting and creates an added need for human intervention.  

*The humans should not have corrected Rusty’s correction in this instance but – I’m not going to lie – differentiating between an appropriate correction and an inappropriate one does take time, training and experience.  

As you can see exemplified here, there are a lot of dynamic variables at play whenever you have large groups of dogs socializing off-leash without their owners present.  At Dingo’s, we utilize our Pack Pro training along with the help and guidance of a professional on-site trainer skilled in pack management to help staff understand the benefits of corrections, the pitfalls of overcorrecting, and the utopia that is found in a socially adept pack.  

Correct more. Overcorrect less.
Wag more.  Bark less.

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