Balanced Dog Training

I mentioned in my last post that I love following and learning from force free dog trainers, but I personally use balanced dog trainers. For my goals and my dogs, balanced training has produced great results.

What is Balanced Dog Training?

Balanced dog trainers incorporate consequences from all four quadrants: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative punishment. Balanced dog training is based on operant conditioning pioneered by behaviorist B. F. Skinner.

Positive means that something is given to the dog, and negative that something is taken away. Reinforcement means that it increases the likelihood the behavior will happen again, and punishment means that it decreases the likelihood the behavior will happen again.

A treat or a toy given when the dog successfully performs a command is positive reinforcement. A leash correction when a dog pulls would be a positive punishment.

Ignoring your dog (taking away attention) when he’s demand barking is negative punishment. Ending leash pressure when a dog downs is negative reinforcement.

What I’ve Learned from My Trainers

I mentioned in my last post that force free dog trainers spend a lot of time explaining why. While I haven’t found that balanced dog trainers offer the why, they are always very happy to explain when asked.

Balanced Dog Training

I asked all of the balanced dog trainers I know for their favorite dog training books. They filled an entire row on my bookshelf! They were very generous in helping me learn more not only about training methods and tools but also about the science behind dog training.

Like most force free trainers, the balanced dog trainers I know don’t advocate for “alpha” or “dominance” methods. They focus instead on improving communication with your dog by breaking down exercises into teachable steps.

I’ve learned (or am learning) how to do the following from the balanced dog trainers at ThunderHawk Canine:

  1. Break down commands into teachable lessons
  2. Proof behaviors to make sure they happen everywhere
  3. Get engagement from “difficult” breeds
  4. Assess what tools are the right ones for my dog
  5. Use tools in a humane and effective way

Balanced dog training gets results in a humane way for your dog and a safe way for the handler.

Is a Balanced Dog Trainer Right for You?

I chose balanced dog training for two main reasons.

First, I have really big dogs. My largest boy Tank weighs in at 140 pounds. His main sport is weight pull. You can bet that if he really wanted to drag my 190 pound body down the street, he could. He could do it easily.

Second, Tank is also half Great Pyrenees. Great breed, but a livestock guardian. He is very alert and independent by nature. That doesn’t mean he can’t learn to be obedient. (He has obedience titles!)

Balanced Dog Trainers for Giant Dogs

It does mean that I have to be much more alert to how he responds to his environment than I do to my Lab mix. It wouldn’t take but a second for a distraction to become motivation to run or to guard.

In his puppy days, Tank broke both a leather leash and a flat collar. He’s also very sensitive. A prong collar is too much and a flat collar isn’t enough. A choke chain isn’t my preference, but it’s what works best for him and my trainers support my choice.

They also support my choice to sometimes provide a physical correction. A good example…

Even with 5 years of obedience training and 2 of it in the same building, a new dog came in the building while we were working, and Tank completely checked out. He couldn’t even be lured with freeze dried beef. Only a physical correction with a firm “No” snapped him back to work.

My trainers have always encouraged me to use positive reinforcement whenever possible but have also encouraged me to venture into the other quadrants when necessary. Without them, I don’t think I would be successfully competing with my rescue dogs.

Of course, you have to chose the methods that best fit with your goals and your dogs. I think force free training would have worked quite well with Bear. I honestly can’t remember ever giving him a correction! Not so much with Copper and Tank.

What are your thoughts on the Force Free/Balanced Training debate?

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