Zen and the Art of Dog

The Truth About Balanced Dog Training

Our first dog, Denver, was a nightmare behaviorally.

Our second dog, Benji, was too.

Our third dog, Chloe, was not. But, she had been referred to us by a “balanced” dog trainer we had hired to help us with our first two dogs.

Unfortunately, our dog trainer, Curtis, passed away suddenly a few years ago. It was very sad. But the effect he made on our lives was immense and we are forever grateful to him.

Curtis took us from a situation where we nearly brought Denver back to the shelter to being capable of rescuing and living with three dogs.

So, when I see some of the negative comments made about balanced dog trainers, I am confused. I wanted to write a post giving a full perspective- some of the perspectives I’ve been reading have some validity, but much is over-exaggerated and not applicable to acclimating adult rescue dogs to home life.

What is balanced dog training?

Balanced dog training is, very generally, a term applied to the use of corrections during training.

The paradigm has come to include various different tools including voice corrections, leash corrections with a slip lead or martingale collar and stronger corrective devices like prong collars and shock collars. You can think of this in contrast to “pure positive” training, or solely reward based training.

You’ll often hear from sites like this one about how inhumane tools like prongs, shock collars and choke chains are. These devices hurt our dogs, they’ll say. And, even though these tools work, they come at a huge cost to the psychological well-being of our animals.

More on this later.

Does balanced dog training work?

I’m here- living proof- that balanced training not only works, but is often the only paradigm capable of reaching many rescue dogs. You can read my post about prong collars here.

If you’ve ever attempted to work with a shelter or rescued pet you’ll know what I mean.

There is the crazed look in their eyes. The pup is desperate for any stimulation at all. Spinning around in circles. Often biting the leash. Excitement reaching a level that you fear they might hurt you. The dog isn’t aggressive, but they have developed so many bad habits “doing their time” that a handler can be hurt anyway.

These are the animals that will end up on death row. These are the animals that are so excited for treats they will lose control of their bite when taking food from a hand, causing pain or even breaking the skin. Obviously, pure positive or even somewhat balanced training with verbal corrections isn’t going to reach a dog like this.

These are the animals balanced dog trainers, with their prongs and shock collars, are attempting to save.

And yes, this training works.

Dogs are not humans

We love our pets to death. I know I do. They sleep with us and watch over us. Play with our kids. Clean our floors of dropped food for us.

But dogs are dogs, and no amount of anthropomorphizing is ever going to change the fact that dogs think and learn much differently than humans.

For one, dogs communicate very differently than we do. Dogs certainly have verbal communication, barks, whimpering and whining. But, dogs also communicate with their body language visually AND dogs communicate with their bodies physically.

If you ever watch dogs play you’ll see what I mean. Play is both play and a conversation for dogs. These conversations can be very physical, sometimes bordering on what may look like a fight.

Also, if you’ve ever seen the way a mother teaches her puppies you will understand much about how dogs learn. A mother dog is very physical and can be very confrontational with her pups. She can and will scruff (carry them in her mouth by the scruff of their neck) if they are misbehaving. You will also see her growl and snap at misbehaving pups.

This is how dogs learn boundaries, and this doesn’t change when dogs grow up.

Balanced dog training is in some ways training as a surrogate parent

Especially if you have a misbehaving pup, you have to act as if you are that dog’s surrogate mother. It is your responsibility to set boundaries and rules for the dog’s behavior. The most effective tools for doing this are the prong collar and shock collar.

In my opinion, anyone who insists that these tools should never be considered are relegating a whole group of saveable dogs to be put to death.

It is not their fault that circumstances have conspired against them. And, we need to be understanding of their situations. But the only way many of these dogs will end up in homes is if we give them the boundaries they need.

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