What is balanced training? What tools do you use and how do you train?
In a nutshell, balanced training is when you tell the dog when he's got it right and you tell the dog when he's got it wrong. Old school dog training was all about corrections with little to no acknowledgment for good behavior. A lot of dog training today is no corrections “positive reinforcement only.” In my opinion, the concept of ignoring bad/dangerous behavior and only rewarding good behavior is unsafe as well as completely unnatural to dogs. It is our responsibility, as our dogs' leaders, coaches and guides, to show them appropriate and safe ways to be a part of our man-made, confusing world. This involves both correction and positive reinforcement. In nature there is almost no positive reinforcement and most learning takes place through correction. This is a survival mechanism known as “hazard avoidance.” Nature can be rough and one sided. We don't have to be. We can communicate with dogs clearly and fairly by acknowledging them for both bad AND good behavior! We are ALWAYS looking for behavior to reward in our dogs with positive reinforcement, but sometimes when a dog is so out of control, there will not be any behaviors worth rewarding if we do not give a correction first. The more motivation a dog has to do behaviors that we want, the less corrections we will ever have to use in the first place. This is why we allow the dog to tell US what rewarding to them. Most dogs are highly motivated by food, while a ball may be #1 drug of choice for the next dog. We pair commands and healthy states of mind with these rewards and over time the dogs cant wait to offer what we are looking for!
Where it all started…
The first correction a dog ever feels is that of its mother giving the pup "information." If the puppy nurses its mother too hard she will respond by biting the puppy. More often than not, this correction is enough to make the puppy squeal, but certainly not enough pressure to break the skin. Next, the pup will receive similar communication from its littermates. During play the pups will tug and pull at one another with their puppy fangs. This is how dogs learn "bite control" and how to apply/release the amount of pressure that they put on one another with their mouths. A well socialized adult dog knows how to appropriately use his mouth in play, by respecting his playmates' communication. If this is how dogs communicate, then how are we equipped to communicate with them? We are NOT equipped, because we are not dogs. That is where training equipment comes in. There are tools out on the market that are designed to communicate with dogs in ways that simulate dog-to-dog communication. These tools are Starmark collars, prong and remote collars, all of which make communication gentle, easy and precise.
It is my belief that any tool can be used properly or improperly, humanely or inhumanely. It is never the tool, but the hand of the human behind the tool that dictates the manner in which it is used. I have used every training tool on the market and without a doubt I find that slipleads, Starmark collars, prong and remote collars are the most subtle, but acute way to communicate with a dog. You can put SO much less pressure on a dog using a training collar than you can with a traditional flat collar, harness or martingale collar. When a dog is constantly pulling, they are also constantly getting corrected and potentially damaging their trachea. Using a training collar will allow the dog to be guided around smoothly and gently with significantly less pressure. I will use a head halter upon rare occasion, but find there is no other tool that dogs loathe more. They fight it like crazy trying to rip it from their faces. Why do dogs hate them so much? The head harness was designed for livestock using the concept "where the head goes, the body follows." This is a great model for horses and the like, but it doesn't work so well for dogs. Almost every dog I've put a gentle leader on, has gone manic trying to remove it. This has NEVER happened to me while using a prong collar, remote collar or Starmark. I let the dogs tell me what works. So how do I use the training collars? It's always the same, simple concept. Just like mom and their siblings used to teach: pressure/release. I want them to know what behaviors will turn pressure on and then what behaviors turn pressure off. If the dog pulls out in front of me, the leash pressure is turned on. When they come back next to me, in the heel position, the pressure is immediately turned off and they are promptly rewarded. It's as simple as that.
Let's talk about the word "pressure" for a moment. Like many words in dog training, it tends to have a negative connotation. Pressure is so universal and has many meanings. It can be the ultimate motivator. We experience the concept of pressure/release all day and everyday of our lives. It is virtually within every move we make. Let's look at some examples: You are hungry. Pressure. You eat breakfast, then you release that pressure. You are impatient waiting at a red light, pressure. The light turns green, release. You are passing a tractor-trailer on the highway, pressure. You pass the trucker and move over back into the right lane, release. A man is a fumbling, nervous mess before he proposes to his girlfriend, pressure. She says yes, release! Someone crowds over your shoulder on line at the grocery store. You take a step away from them to release the pressure they put on you. You get the idea. It's everywhere! When I am working with a dog I am using multiple forms of pressure in training: leash, spatial, social, even the "pressure" of food.
Leash pressure works like this: if I want the dog to sit, I say the command while giving gentle pressure upwards with the leash. As soon as the dog sits, I immediately release the leash pressure back to slack. For a down, I say the command and give leash pressure downwards. When the dog downs, I immediately release the leash pressure back to slack. Essentially food pressure works the same way. The puppy wants the treat; "I want it, I want it, I want it".... I lure the puppy into a down, boom! Pressure of wanting the food is released by the dog getting to eat the treat after completion of the down. Spatial pressure, also known as body pressure, is typically used in conjunction with leash pressure. If I want a dog to sit, I will move towards them with my body and once they sit I take a step backwards. Once again, pressure/release. Social pressure is using a dog's instinctual desire to be part of a group to help the dog overcome issues. An example of social pressure: I have a fearful dog that is scared to walk down the street. I will use a small pack of dogs as a motivator to get that dog to move along. The desire to be part of a pack, that pressure, can help override nerves and hesitation. All living things innately understand this concept. Now that you see how universal it is, you can begin to communicate with your dog in a more effective way! Over time and with consistency, we fade out the pressure cues and are left with just the verbal commands. We don’t ever fade off of our e collars, or prong in certain contexts, because those tools are our safety nets. We always want to have that line of communication open to be prepared for whatever the environment can throw at us.