Here at the Asheville Dog Company we believe in a balanced approach to dog training. I tell people this a lot and have noticed that many nod their head and smile but it occurred to me that a good number of those people probably have no idea what I am talking about. So here goes…
Balanced dog training, in simple terms, means that we assess the overall picture of dog and owner and try to use a variety methods to ensure us the best chance of getting lasting results. Trainers started using this term several years ago partly in response to the “All-Positive” training fad that was emerging and gaining strength. This group of All-Positive trainers claim that you can achieve the same level of success in training by only using positive reinforcement (treats, praise, and toys in exchange for behavior). True or not, the problem with using this approach to training eliminates half of the experiences ALL animals learn from.
You see, learning in all animals works the same up to a point. Operant Conditioning is how animals learn from interactions with their environment. In simple terms, if we do a behavior and it leads to a positive outcome, we as animals are more likely to do this behavior in the future. I totally agree with this statement and it is the foundation of how we train behavior at the Asheville Dog Company. However, I also understand that this is only half the picture. You see, if a behavior consistently leads to a negative experience this same science tells us that this behavior will happen less often. To ignore this fact is ignoring the science of how animals learn.
Balanced dog trainers understand that although the foundation to good training is through the use of reward, we also acknowledge that consistency and harmony in training can only be reached when a dog understands not only what behaviors are good and worthy of reward but also understand that certain behaviors are off-limits and can have consequences. Through this process we raise a well-rounded member of the canine community; dogs that are happy while having a healthy respect for leadership. We are helping owners to raise dogs that understand how to deal with negative experiences, persevere and come out the other side stronger and smarter. After all, isn’t that what life truly is all about. Mistakes are a crucial part of the learning experience, but this only holds true if these mistakes lead us to future success. Take, for example, the student who acts out in class. If the teacher ignores this behavior, because if not reinforced it should go away, but students in class giggle and snicker, the teacher will find the behavior does not go away. If, as a dog trainer, I try to merely ignore unwanted behavior, then I don’t give the dog a clear message, I will get mixed results. You must understand what is motivating behavior in order to correctly address it. It can certainly seem confusing and overwhelming at times to know what to do but one thing for me seems clear….leaving half of my tools at home because the word punishment doesn’t sound nice is not in my client’s or the dog’s best interest. There is no one right way to train a dog but there can be ways that are faster, smarter, and more effective.