Positive Dog Training vs. Balanced Dog Training

BTK9 Thought: Haters are gonna hate…period. Recently, we had a client comment on their dog’s progress update on Facebook. They were overjoyed with what they saw. They were happy that she is absorbing all the information we are feeding while at the same time – the dog is happy! This is the best part of our job, when we hear awesome comments and updates from the owners – the smiles on their faces and the confidence and liberation we see in the dogs! Shortly after reading the owner’s comments, someone unknown to me and the owners replied to the owners original comment. This comment obviously had a “purely positive” tone to it. The person, hereafter referred to as SL (for Sunshine and Lollipops) said basically, “If you love your dog, why are you causing it pain when teaching it in gentler ways is as effective and more humane? <deep breath and count to 10>
I started to respond to SL however, quickly realized that you can’t fix well….you know. So one, I banned her from the page and two, instead of wasting time and air on SL, I’ll use the time to inform and educate the masses who are interested and want to learn. First, this is the battle that goes on all the time in this industry. You have a failing “purely positive” part of this industry that is losing business. Why? Because so many results are short-lived because this approach to training is so reliant on food. I cannot tell you how many of our clients had already put their dog through a purely positive program and then came to us. When asked what happened, its almost all the same…we hit a plateau! We could not go anywhere without food and a clicker and if we went on a walk and forgot those things – forget it! The most pronounced thing that I have noticed with this method and why we get so many clients who have been through it – is that they reward the good and ignore bad behavior. And in some cases (unbeknownst to the owner) they are rewarding bad behavior.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not against positive training…however, I am against positive training only because, that is not how dogs operate in a pack. The purely positive crowd will tell you that when a dog is with people, it’s no longer a pack thing <again – deep breath!>. I will not waste time on this one however, I will ask, how can they take that out of the dogs DNA?? They are born with it and dogs operate more efficiently in a pack rather then by themselves. Why? Because in a pack there is balance, rules and boundaries and, the majority of dogs are followers, not leaders. That’s why in every pack, you only have ONE alpha! Balanced training, where positive and negative reinforcement are used is closest to how dogs operate in a pack! In a pack, good behavior is left ignored, or there is some play or, the members just peacefully lay around coexisting and enjoying each others company. Negative behavior is corrected by one or more in the pack. Now, when I say correction – people like SL will say that’s where the pain comes in. Wrong, correction does not mean its always aversive! “No!” is a simple correction! Again, people like SL will tell you telling a dog “no” will hurt its feelings <sigh>. Physical correction when done CORRECTLY does not cause pain. It’s just enough information to interrupt the negative thought pattern of a dog and redirect his attention back to you.
So where am I going with this? The majority of the dogs that come to us are here for some sort of behavioral issues be it aggression, anxiety etc. The owners also bring them here because they are longing to be able to to communicate with their dog. That is what we do – establish a clear line of communication with the dog so there is no mistaking what we are telling the dog to do. We do this with the tools we use namely, the e-Collar and the prong training collar. The purely positive crowd like SL criticize these tools all day long when they have never even used them. Or, if they have used them they were used improperly. Both the prong and the e-Collar are used the exact same way. Pressure on, pressure off. That’s pressure, not pain…the same concept that is used when riding a horse. To put it simply, pressure is applied when giving a verbal cue and it is released when the dog commits or completes. The e-Collar is introduced after the dog understands the pressure from the prong. When you look at the prong collar, the reason why it is designed or engineered the way it is, is when you apply pressure, it closes and applies focused pressure evenly 360 degrees around the neck. The pressure the e-Collar delivers is low level muscle stimulation simulating pressure. Our goal is to find the dog’s lowest working level. The e-Collar and the prong collar are used the exact same way. The level most dogs are on that come through here is a level that most humans can’t even feel.
Once a dog is off leash reliable on the e-Collar, the freedom it experiences is freedom like never experienced before. Yet, you have the control over the dog if need be. Before, because of so many types of behavioral problems the owner was experiencing with the dog meant the dog always had to be leashed or confined. So many times you can see an amazing change the very first day a dog is here when the rules, boundaries and leadership are clearly established and the light bulb goes on! JUST LIKE IN A PACK. So much of what I have seen from the critics who are purely positive and how they say we should do our jobs – is trying to make a dog what it it isn’t – many times, a human. The majority of what humans project onto a dog are things that humans need…we need to feel all warm and fuzzy. We need to constantly talk to something. This is a dog’s worst enemy – when a person tries to humanize them. I am not saying don’t give affection to your dog. What I am saying is have them earn it through the jobs you give them to do! So, next time someone sees you walking your dog on a prong or off leash on an e-Collar and they say something (while their dog is lunging and pulling), smile and ignore them. Then look at your awesome off leash awesomeness on four legs and realize you have changed you and your dogs lives forever!