What the heck is balanced training?
So lets ask the question again? “What the heck is balanced training?” First, the word balanced means so many different things to so many different people that when using it to describe a style of dog training its become very controversial. Okay so basically there are about three schools of thought on dog training. There is the purely positive method which as I understand it, it goes something like this. You never tell your dog no and you give lots of praise and rewards when the dog does something you like. The idea is to ignore bad behavior and reward good behavior. And eventually your dog will understand that it only gets your attention when it does something that pleases you. Now I’m not here to bash any style of training, so I will say that I guess this method would work given enough time…lots of time…Next up we have the positive reinforcement method of training. This differs slightly from the purely positive. This training method does allow you to say no to your dog, basically letting the dog know when you are displeased with a behavior. And then you use treats, praise or lots of love and affection to reward good behavior.
Now lets take a look at nature as we know it. For thousands of years we have taken dogs and turned them into pets, basically forcing them to learn our human rules of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable according to us. Even though dogs do everything they can to please us, most of what we ask of them goes against their innate instincts. Lets look at a pack of wolfs. First and foremost there is always ONE leader in a pack, now that position will be tested by up and coming younger wolfs. But until the top wolf can be brought down due to old age or sickness, there is still only one leader. What happens when one of the wolfs steps out of line, gets to the food first or starts a fight with another in the pack? There are consequences. The lead wolf will take action to put everyone back in their place. This is done by various methods, maybe a growl, bark or even a nip or bite. If the wolf analogy does not work for you, lets use a human. Lets say you go out hiking in the woods, you don’t hike very often so you don’t know much about poison oak or spiders or scorpions or black berry bushes for that matter. So your walking along enjoying nature looking up at the trees and you don’t realize that you just walked through a patch of poison oak, and tripped over a log that had a scorpion underneath, who decided to sting you for unearthing his home. What has now happened? You received consequences for your actions, the poison oak will make you itch and the scorpion may land you in the hospital.
The point here is that in nature, there are consequences for our actions.
Now because balanced training offends positive reinforcement trainers and because its very controversial, I would like to tell you what balanced training means to me and to my methods of dog training. First of all, I cant call myself a balanced trainer unless I’m truly balanced. Meaning, I use treats and a clicker, slip leads or transitional leads. I also use a prong collar and a remote collar. When I train a dog, my first agenda is to build some trust and a relationship. Once that is accomplished then I can use various tools or methods to find what works best for the dog. Remember, its not about what works best for me, its about what works best for the dog. So I stay open to using a combination of everything and anything that I can come up with. If I find that I can keep a dog from bolting out an open door by using a blue and white piece of rope laid out on the floor and a trip alarm (the kind you can get at Home Depot to put across your windows) over the top of it (thanks Gary Wilkes), will I use that method? of course! will the alarm bother the dog the first time he trips it? yes! that is the point! there is a consequence for crossing the blue and white rope. Just like the consequence of walking into a thicket of black berry bushes, its uncomfortable, will you do it again? no! In the same breath, can I accomplish the same thing with treats and a clicker? Yes I can. It comes down to which method I think will be more effective for the dog. What will keep the dog from bolting out the door when a squirrel runs by.
The only bias I have against purely or positive reinforcement training, is that it wont work for every thing, and when that happens, as a trainer, I would certainly hope you have other tools that you can use and are willing to use. After all, in my world its about saving the dog and creating a calm and balanced state of mind. When your dog knows that you will take care of the things that surround you on your walks or at home, and that its not his job to protect you from that plastic bag blowing in the street or the bird that landed in front of you. You have given your dog the ability to relax in all its surroundings. Calm mind, calm body. Balanced mind, balanced life.
Just to wrap this up, to me, balanced training means you know and understand all the training methods and are willing to use what you find works best for the dog. Not just works best for you! I hope this clears up the term “Balanced training” for some of you!