Balanced training, one of the newest schools of thought in the dog training world, is doubted and oppressed by many due to the misconceptions related to balanced training methods or tools. Unfortunately, studies and articles published related to balanced training show misuse of tools and the consequences that result from misuse, not typical use by an experienced trainer. As a dog owner and trainer, I was at first skeptical of balanced training methods having only done positive training in the past. I quickly learned that my preconceptions were incorrect, and that balanced training is an amazing opportunity for dog owners looking to give their dogs more inclusion and freedom by enhancing their reliability and overall behavior.
There are many dogs that do great with positive training methods, I use them myself of many dogs that I train, but for those who are more difficult, or for owners who are looking to take their training to the next level, balanced training is one of the most effective training approaches.
Balanced Training teaches your dog right and wrong.
Like children, dogs need to know not only what is the desired behavior, but also what is not. By providing a gentle correction immediately following a bad behavior, your dog realizes that the behavior just performed does not lead to positive outcomes. When there are no consequences involved in behavior, bad behavior becomes more likely. Many behaviors, like chasing squirrels, are intrinsically rewarding. This means that even though the dog isn’t getting a treat for performing this behavior, it has still been rewarded and the dog will learn that chasing a squirrel is a much better choice than recalling to their owner and sitting next to them while the squirrel passes.
These consequences do not need to be intense to be effective. With some dogs, a stern “NO” will be enough cause them to discontinue the behavior, but most dogs benefit from gentle, momentary pressure from a prong collar, or the low-level stimulation of an e-collar. E-collars and prongs do not need to be used for aversion training in order to be effective. Balanced training is based on “pressure on, pressure off.” When a dog is being trained not to pull on a leash, one of the most common problems owners have with their dogs, a prong collar is used to easily fix this issue. When fitted properly, a prong collar will apply a gentle pressure to the upper region of a dog’s neck, showing the dog that pulling equals pressure. When they slow down, they realize that the pressure is released, and therefore understand that being close to their handler is preferable to pulling when on a walk.
Balanced training is not only for bad dogs.
Balanced training has amazing effects for dogs with aggression and reactivity of all kinds, but it is not only for dogs that are out of control. When I began training my dog at 4 months old, I quickly realized that indoor, distraction free, purely positive training wasn’t cutting it for us. She was awesome, and nearly perfect in class, but I would take her to the park and realize that recall command that she nailed in class when I had a treat in my hand or was excitedly calling her name meant nothing when she was taking a romp through the woods or playing with her new doggy friends. In fact, there were times where I was one of those owners walking around the six-acre fenced in park screaming her name with leash in hand. Three months after our balanced training process began she was 100% reliable off leash, and is still not on leash except where the law requires it.
Balanced Training does not mean forcing a dog into submission.
Many purely positive trainers believe that the idea of e-collars and prong collars are to provide painful, sharp, corrections after a dog performs an undesired behavior. All balanced dog trainers are dog lovers, and want nothing but to provide a comfortable, happy, calm, state of mind for their dogs and the dogs they train. Unlike the “shock collars” of old days, current e-collars use the same technology as a medical TENS unit to provide calming muscle stimulation to act as a tap on the shoulder when you are giving your dog a command. Could high level stimulation cause unnecessary stress in a dog? Of course, any tool used incorrectly can cause ill effects, which is why research and experience are important factors when beginning a balanced training regimen.
Balanced training allows dogs to have a calm, centered state of mind.
Bad behavior from your dog is not typically the issue, it is typically a symptom of the issue. A dog that suffers with dog reactivity is often suffering from fear and anxiety. Giving a dog boundaries is an important step to allowing them to have a calm, centered state of mind. When a dog senses his owner as a soft presence, not only will they take their owner’s commands as a suggestion, but they will also feel the need to protect themselves and their owners. This often leads to high levels of stress, which can be exhibited through barking, lunging, and erratic, unwanted behavior. Through consistent balanced training, an owner can assert himself as a leader, not someone who needs to be possessed or protected. This trust will build confidence in your dog, as well as strengthening your relationship, and allowing him trust that you will control any situation he comes across so that he doesn’t have to. As a human, many of us have struggled with stress and anxiety. Having gone through those chaotic mental states, many would also agree that it is difficult to make good decisions when your mind is clouded—the same is true for your dog. Having a calm, centered state of mind can solve the problems that owners find most frustrating.
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