Today, more than at any other previous time we hear so many dog trainers refer to “Balanced Training”. What is balanced training anyway? Or maybe the question should be “what is unbalanced training or trainers”?
The general public is lead to believe that “balanced training” is something new. I can assure you that “balanced training” or whatever we wish to call it is not new, far from it. Balanced training has been around for decades.
For the purpose of this article I will spin the coin around and will focus on what might aptly be referred to as “unbalanced training” or “unbalanced trainers”.
Many of my long lists of clients over the years (who have worked with different trainers previously) have told me that they had been instructed not to use a certain technique, tool, or method utilized by other trainers. I could accept them being told this if these same good people had been told “why not”. Yet they have rarely if ever been given an explanation of why not to use a certain training tool, technique or method. Just don’t!
Hell, some of my clients had even been advised by trainers not to work with me because I use “choke collars”. These same trainers will often proudly declare that they use “positive reinforcement treat based training methods only”. That limited mindset is what I will suggest is “unbalanced” Though it is true that I do not believe in using treats as a primary reinforcement in my foundation training exercises, I do not completely rule them out either. I do not believe that stuffing a dog full of treats in an effort to coerce it into performing a task that I am willing to take the time to teach it to do, is the best method to instil long term trustworthiness, I believe such sole practices are unreliable in the long term and are often used as “bribes”. I do not bribe a dog to do anything. I take the time to form a partnership with a dog by working together and focus on teaching rather than coercing. In this way I am able to steadfastly develop a partnership with a dog, a partnership that is built on trust, respect, confidence and loyalty. My experience has long ago taught me that positive reinforcement is not and should not be limited to treats alone. There is a place for treats in training, and that is for a job well done – not to get a job done. I prefer to verbally praise a dog, physically touch and reward the dog, and yes even occasionally I will treat a dog for a job well done. That in my opinion is a more “balanced” approach.
Balanced training in simple terms means to use all constructive methods (humane), tools, techniques, or references, one might need to shape, reshape, or rehabilitate a dog so that it becomes a balanced and integrated member of its household, pack, or even better, society in general. To rule out any of these tools without provable cause is and should be considered “unbalanced”.
Unbalanced are those who reject another trainers techniques or methods based simply on something they may have heard about that particular trainer. We don’t all have to agree with everything another trainer may do or say however that does not make other trainers all “wrong” and us all “right”. It is flawed in my opinion to rule out a trainer simply because a third party may have disagreed with something that trainer did, said or used.
Unbalanced are those who rule out a training tool simply because they don’t like the looks of it or don’t understand how to use the tool correctly or understand the original intended use for that tool. An example might be a “prong collar”. Granted they are unpleasing to the eye, and I for one do not believe they should be used nearly as often as they are. That in itself however does not make them a “bad” or “inhumane” tool when used by a professional and applied correctly on a dog that may need such a tool to save it from being re-homed, surrendered to a shelter, or even worse, euthanized.
Not so long ago I was working with a client who was a volunteer at an organization when she told me a story of a dog that had been returned several times from potential adopters’. This dog had a severe behaviour problem that the best efforts of the trainers at the organization could not seem to eliminate. The problem described to me was one that I have dealt with successfully on a regular basis for most of my 30 plus years working with dogs. I volunteered to help to correct this behaviour at no charge to the organization whatsoever. I made it known that the organizations trainers were welcome to witness and even participate in helping me address and correct this dogs behaviour if they so desired. My services were declined simply because I didn’t limit my tools to a “treat based only” positive reinforcement method!
Keep in mind that this is an organization that DOES EUTHANIZE animal’s they cannot find a suitable home for. Now that in my opinion is “UNBALANCED”! To potentially destroy a dog because of an unwillingness to keep an open mind is ridiculous. I wonder how many of those who make donations to such shelters are made aware that the shelter would choose to destroy a dog rather than to accept help from an experienced, certified, and humane trainer, a trainer that simply uses a variety of techniques, some of which might not be of their liking or as in many cases, within their scope of understanding.
Too bad that dog’s are not considered in these decision making processes.