Recently a friend of mine who works at a dog rescue center asked me what balanced dog training is. This got my mind racing through the many instances where customers have asked me the same question. To help many of you know this important dog training program I am going to define balanced dog training in this article and look at its historical background.

On the surface, we will define balanced dog training as a dog training method that uses both rewards and punishment. To modify a dog behavior the trainer rewards the dog for good ones and subject it to aversive consequences when it exhibits the unwanted behavior.  This way the dog learns quickly to repeat the good behavior which is rewarded and avoid the bad behavior that results in unpleasant consequences.

This may sound straight forward but believe me, it’s not. It is quite complex. To understand balanced dog training better, let’s look at its historical background. In the olden days, the punishment was a mainstay in dog training. Back then many people had complete faith in the bible verse” spare the rod spoil the child”. This was not only in training children but pets too. Dog trainers believed that by instilling fear in the dogs, human owners could get the dogs to behave in the way they wanted.

Trainers achieved considerable success with this method because dogs like other animals are motivated to avoid stressful and uncomfortable situations. However, this method proved to be quite problematic. For one it took longer to train dogs as they had to keep guessing what situations would lead to punishment. Dogs also began associating some desirable behavior with punishment and this often led to erratic behavior even after training. Some dogs developed aggression during training and this made the whole process even difficult.  All these side effects of this method of dog training made many dog trainers start considering other available options.

In the early 1980s, studies showed the success of the use of rewards to train marine and exotic mammals. This inspired many dog trainers to start considering the use of rewards as the mainstay of dog training.  This proved a success among earlier adopters as the use of rewards exclusively proved to be an easy method to capture and reinforce desirable behavior among dogs. Soon books were written on the use of rewards exclusively to train dogs and how this method made it easy to train dogs. Many dog owners were soon flocking to trainers known to use this method and ignoring those that still used punishment. This was an obvious reaction because no one wants to see his dog punished for not following the rules.

However, soon dog trainers begin to realize that the use of rewards only was not an ideal dog training method. Many dog trainers and especially those tasked with retraining problematic dogs or those rescued from the streets found out that it was impossible to use rewards to discourage bad behavior. While rewards achieved more in encouraging good behavior but did not discourage bad behavior in dogs. As a result, a dog trained using this method only simply added good behavior to the bad behavior it had learned earlier and when situations permitted they would simply exhibit that undesirable behavior.

Over the past two decades, dog trainers have realized the importance of employing the balanced training method that merges rewards and aversive pressure to help dogs learn good behavior and avoid undesirable behavior. This means that enriching the reward methods with some rich doses of aversive treatment to get your dog to adopt new better behavior’s. Rewards make your dong want to repeat the good behaviors but for it to refrain from the bad ones you have to use some form of punishment. However, this is not the form of punishment used in the 1930s and 40s to train dogs. You don’t want to create psychological and emotional problems during training. Instead, the focus is to help the dog you are training identify the undesirable behaviors and avoid them.

Modern balanced dog training is deliberate in every sense of the word. The training starts by focusing on the rewards of good behavior. Here rewards are used to condition the dog to exhibit good behavior more. Treats, encouraging words and lots of other rewards are used. Once your dog learns all the desirable behavior and doing them becomes second nature, the use of some form of unpleasant consequences is slowly, deliberately and carefully introduced to tame the bad behavior. This is done carefully to make sure that the dogs understand what is happening and does not develop any other problems due to misinterpretation of the punishment.

The most significant aspect of balanced training is to make sure that before any tool is used to correct the dog, the dog has an opportunity to learn about the tool.  In most cases, the training collar and leash are the commonly used tools. The dog gets an opportunity to wear them and get accustomed to how they work. Then slowly corrective pressure is applied when the dog exhibits an unwanted behavior. This makes it easy for the dog to associate the corrective pressure with the unwanted behavior you are trying to correct.

Once the dog reaches this stage an experienced trainer will now begin to pair the aversive pressure with some rewards. If your dog had two options in a given situation and it chooses good behavior over the undesirable once, then you reward the dog. The dog will now consistently choose the behavior that brings rewards over those that result in punishment.  Slowly the dog becomes more obedient and the use of the corrective pressure is slowly withdrawn.

This may sound technical for an average dog owner. This is because good dog training is quite technical. You have to know when to use punishment and how much to be administered and when not to use it. This is why it is always advisable that you work with a professional dog trainer if you have never trained a dog before. For problematic dogs using a reliable dog trainer who knows how to apply the balanced dog training method is your best bet.