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 no praise. Most dog training today is no corrections and using positive reinforcement only. In my opinion, the concept of ignoring bad/dangerous behavior and only rewarding good behavior is unsafe and irresponsible, 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 very little positive reinforcement and most learning takes place through correction. This is a survival mechanism associated with hazard avoidance. Nature can be rough and one sided. We don't have to be. We can acknowledge dogs for both bad AND good behavior.
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 litter mates. During play the pups will tug and pull at one another with their puppy fangs. This is how dogs learn "bite inhibition" 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. 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"....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.
A Little Bit About the Remote Collar in Dog Training
There is one word that separates the E-collar of old from the E-collar today. That word is technology. The original model was designed by a man in the late 1960's who was tired of his bird-dog running away while hunting. The collar he invented had one level, high, similar to the concept of the electric fence. There was no variation. There were no levels or modes, it was just one button that produced one level of stimulation which was completely aversive. Look where technology has brought so many tools in the past 30 to 50 years. It keeps changing before our eyes. We almost can't keep up with it. Fortunately the remote collar, electronic collar, or E-collar has been along for the ride. My favorite brand of ''today's'' remote collar is E-collar Technologies, which has 100 levels of stimulation, as well as vibration and tone modes. A lot of people would ask why so many levels? Why do you need to go that high? It's not about how high you can go, but how low you can go when you have a 100 level spectrum.
Most dogs' "working level" (the first level that is tangible to them) is typically not able to be detected by a human. The majority of my clients cannot feel their dogs' working level even if they have a large breed or a more physically powerful dog. By having such a great range we can communicate by tapping the dog on the shoulder from across a field, to tell them they have a command coming. Or, more importantly, we can save their lives in the face of an emergency, like the dog running into the road after a squirrel. The vibration mode is incredibly startling to most dogs and can typically only be used for corrections, such as to stop jumping, not so much for commands. There are many ways to use this tool. It is so universal. It is amazing to use on fearful dogs and nervous dogs. Why? When you physically hold a leash in your hand you are sending emotional messages of energy whether you intend to or not. Your internal feelings are being transferred down that leash and impressed upon on the dog. The remote collar allows for clear, precise communication that is always consistent and never varies with tone of voice or inflection. It never gets caught up in human emotions or frustration. This consistency in communication makes fearful and nervous dogs much more relaxed. It's truly amazing to see the way these dogs respond to low-level remote collar training.
I can't say enough good things about what the remote collar has done for the world of dog training. This tool could virtually change your entire relationship with your dog. The quality of life increase that you and your dog experience from having the freedom to be off leash, is just endless. Imagine letting your dog finally be a dog and run free through the woods without fear of him/her never returning. Are you a busy family with children? This is your go-to tool when trying to manage young kids and dogs together. Imagine watching from the porch or doing yard work as your kids played with your dog knowing you were able to control any over-excitement or mouthing with the push of a button. Having a dog that obeys all commands when being off-leash, whether you are standing in front of them or sitting on the couch, makes your day-to-day routine so much easier and more enjoyable. Last but not least, this tool is the ultimate lifesaver. I have had two clients contact me to help them with their current dog, because their previous dogs ran into the road after deer and were killed by a car. This tool can save your dog's life in that scenario, as well as teach your dog boundaries of your property that are not safe to cross. Any dog can transform unwanted behavior or reap the safety benefits of using the latest technology in remote collar training.