The unfortunate truth is that the world of dog training is hugely divided. We are all in this business because we love, respect and want to help dogs, but somehow the human ego has gotten in the way and created an industry with a lot of contempt and childish name calling being thrown around.

Quite often hear trainers refer to themselves as “force free,” “aversive-free,” or “positive only” trainers. It is typically these methods of training that have long been equated with being the most humane. The terminology and wording all sounds great and makes us feel good, right? As humans, when we look at Operant Conditioning and see words like “positive punishment” or “negative reinforcement,” well, that terminology just doesn’t sound very appealing.

And then there are trainers like us…what most of us refer to as Balanced Dog Training. Which, simply can be summed up by saying we use a balance of rewards and consequences in our training. Quite often we are using tools like prong collars or e-collars in conjunction with a system of rewards (which may be food, praise or play). We believe that, as trainers, if we limit ourselves and say we will “never use {insert method or tool here}” that we are going to severely limit the ability to help or rehabilitate a dog. In the end, we are doing this FOR THE DOGS, not for our own egos.

To be honest, this post was prompted by an interaction that I had with a “force free” trainer online. A lot of inappropriate and unprofessional name calling ensued; she called us misguided, weasels, that we were putting dogs through hell. It was really unprofessional and unnecessary. I invited her to attend one of our seminars for free and also welcomed an intelligent and respectful conversation…we LOVE learning things from trainers, it only helps our training game. I asked her to show me any videos or testimonials of rehabilitation cases, to which she could provide none. One of the things that bothered me though, was that she made mention of how quickly behaviors can be turned around utilizing balanced methods…as if this was bad.

Why is that a bad thing?

The answer is that it’s not. Far from it.

With all this conversation about humane and ethical forms of dog training…the fact that we can turn around some severe behavior in the matter of a session or two versus months and months of training, in my mind, is infinitely more beneficial to the dog and the family. We, quite often, see clients and their dogs who are literally at their wits end. They have exhausted other trainers and methods that simply didn’t work. The dogs are stressed and suffering. Quite often they are not even able to leave the home because the owners don’t feel comfortable, they are concerned for their safety, for their dog’s safety or for that of other people/dog’s safety. This only exacerbates the situation.

Take the video above of Oreo and Shelby. These two were completely stressed out, their escalating energy levels led to some severe fights. Shelby was not even able to leave the home because her aggression, and had a multiple bite history. Given the fact that we had two dogs in the same home fighting with each other, if we even attempted to use food as a reward to teach Shelby how to heel; this would have only led to additional fighting between the two of them. You can clearly see, when we first walk through the door, both Oreo and Shelby are stressed, anxious, fearful and not in a good state-of-being. Shelby was on the verge of losing her life. We needed to make changes quickly to keep her alive and keep everybody safe.

You can see we immediately got the walk squared away. Not only does this allow us to get Shelby the much needed mental and physical exercise that she needs, but we are also working on the relationship between the owner and their dog. We used leash pressure to introduce the prong collar, not a forceful correction. At no time were these dogs in any pain, which you can clearly see as they are walking, relaxed and calm with their owner. Let me repeat that…BOTH DOGS WERE WALKING CALMLY with their owner. That hadn’t happened before.

Now we are able to focus on the other layers of our training system, management, day-to-day interaction, obedience / engagement / impulse control and desensitization work. In the first session (which is roughly 1.5-2 hours) we were able to give them a way to not only walk their dog, but allow people into their home safely. The dogs went from being completely stressed and out of control, to calm and relaxed.

A common theme among the arguments of “force free” trainers, and something the trainer that I got into the tangle with online said is that we are “putting dogs through hell” or causing dogs harm/pain. Aside from the fact that I find this incredibly offensive personally, that statement couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s this type of misinformation and inaccuracies that will lead to more dogs being surrendered or euthanized and scare dog owners away from trying something because they don’t want to hurt their dog. Guess what? We don’t either!! A thoughtful, well timed correction that provides the dog with some input, is far less stressful then using a method that is solely based upon rewards, giving the dog a very one sided view. The same rewards based training would take a lot more time and a lot more money and not have the ability to resolve the issues in the same manner.

For example, we have heard stories about trainers who use treats, throwing them on the ground to distract the dog from the other dogs on leash to deal with the reactivity. Or one case, where treats were thrown on the ground to distract a dog who was biting people as they entered the home. You know what happened? The dog took the treats and then bit the people and the behavior worsened. What did we do? We taught the dog a place command using combined positive reinforcement and low level ecollar input. The dog hasn’t bit anybody since. Or, worst case, like Shelby in the video above, trainers will advise to put the dog to sleep when their methods don’t work. Blaming the dog for being the problem.

We hear story after story like this. And are able to turn these cases around.

Let me be clear…this post isn’t a “Hey! Look at us! We are great!” Far from it! We are in the business of helping dogs and educating and empowering dog owners to learn how to live with these beautiful creatures. We are completely transparent with what we do. We take plenty of pictures and videos and document our training so dog owners can see what it’s all about and hopefully do away with the scary myths and misinformation that is out there. We are perpetual students in this game of dog training and we will always be open and sponges to training methods that will help to safely, humanely and effectively train and rehabilitate dogs. We will never let ego dictate what we do or get in the way of continuing to learn and hone our craft.

As a dog owner, I love my dogs. To tell you the truth, I love dogs more than I like most people. And I know many of you feel that same way. Which is why we do…and will continue to do…what is right by the dog.