We call ourselves “Balanced Trainers,” but what does that mean?
In it’s simplest form, Balanced Dog Training refers to any approach to dog training or behavior modification which involves the use of both reward based techniques (treat training), and aversive consequences (anything that may be irritating or uncomfortable to the dog). In other words, the trainer shows the dog that their choices and behaviors can result in either pleasant or unpleasant results. To understand this fully, we should talk about the history of dog training and how it’s drastically changed over time.
Decades ago, dog training was extremely different in how it is today. Old-time dog trainers would use a great deal of force to train dogs. Their theory behind this was that the dog will listen to commands because she is moving away from substantial stress and discomfort. What made this incredibly problematic is that the force was being applied to the dog before she knew what she was supposed to be doing. Imagine trying to figure out the correct response, while undergoing significant pressure and stress? It was an unfair and cruel way to “train” dogs. In addition to what today seem like the obvious moral and ethical issues with this approach, training conducted this way was wrought with undesirable side effects.
About 40 years ago, dog training changed dramatically. We started borrowing positive reinforcement only methods from wonderful marine mammal and exotic animal trainers, where using force was physically impossible. By using these positive reinforcement methods, they learned that this increased desirable behaviors. There were countless books written about this new and humane way to training dogs and the “Positive Reinforcement” movement EXPLODED.
The positive reinforcement way seemed very attractive to dog trainers because it meant using reward based training only while getting great results without having to correct a dog or use punishment. At this time, dog trainers as a whole were more capable than ever accomplishing far more with rewards than we ever thought possible, although many dog owners and trainers realized that this idealized vision of dog training didn’t quite hold up in the real world, and not everything could be accomplished through the use of reward-only based training. The biggest challenges arose when dealing with problematic behaviors. The issue was that the trainers and dog owners weren’t able to maintain the same responses when given a command when the reward (treats) were not present. In addition, they also were having great issues with maintaining the reliability in the real world with a great deal of distractions.
Current day, we are dealing with two very different schools of thought and strong movements that are similar to the left and right in politics. In the dog training community, we have become completely divided: The Positive Reinforcement trainers on the left and the Balanced Trainers on the right. It’s a shame, as it really comes down to lack of education around balanced training methodologies and how we apply it. At The Good Hound, we have a true desire to educate the public about our methods and our success in training this way.