What Is Balanced Dog Training?

balanced dog training

A quick Google search for the question ‘What is Balanced Dog Training?’ will quickly lead you to a variety of articles – most of which have a very common definition that sounds something like this one:  

”This term [balanced dog training] has quickly become a euphemism for training that uses both positive reinforcement along with physical punishment and/or physical corrections.” 

Not only is this description of balanced dog training inaccurate, it is designed to convince dog owners that a balanced training approach is somehow negative and not to be used with dogs.

What balanced dog training is not

To truly understand what balanced dog training actually is, it is first important to clearly define what it is not. 

Many in the dog training industry will quickly describe balanced training as any methodology or style of training that employs methods other than positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is the application of a pleasant stimuli or consequence as the result of a desired behavior. For example, while teaching a dog to sit, we may give them a treat as a result of sitting. Positive reinforcement is an effective method for teaching dogs, and is often one of the least stressful ways to allow them to acquire new behaviors.

Positive reinforcement can be employed in many ways while training dogs, but encompasses only one of the four quadrants of operant conditioning that are commonly used to train a variety of species of animals, including humans. Positive reinforcement allows us the opportunity to capture and reinforce behaviors that we want to reoccur in similar circumstances.

Balanced training is not a methodology that focuses on physical punishment and/or physical corrections as many in the industry would lead you to believe. Balanced dog training is not “any training that employs the use of aversives or other training tools”, as Force Free trainers often explain. Balanced training is not punishment-centric to achieve goals and objectives. 

Good balanced dog trainers understand that building a proper relationship with a dog is paramount for lasting learning to occur, and as such, these trainers employ a variety of methods to achieve their training goals.

Accurately defining what balanced dog training is

Balanced dog training emphasizes the understanding that there is considerable value in all four quadrants of operant conditioning. This style of training focuses on consequences of behavior with the understanding that some of those consequences are desirable (in the case of good behavior), and that some are unpleasant (in the case of unwanted behavior). 

Why is it important to understand all quadrants of operant conditioning? Since every dog is different, it provides more opportunities to provide effective training solutions for an even wider range of dogs with a multitude of training and behavioral problems.

Balanced dog trainers understand that the use of ALL tools can have consequences in our quest for doing what is best for the dog. Many trainers often overlook common tools, such as leashes, hands and treats, as important components of delivering a balanced training approach. By not focusing on the whole picture, inexperienced dog trainers and those pushing the Force Free agenda often overlook the unintended consequences of mismanaging some of the basic tools.

The practices employed by knowledgeable, well-rounded dog trainers are open to the use of all quadrants and a variety of training tools that will serve to provide solutions-oriented results, while building strong relationships with dogs. Balanced dog trainers are well versed in using these techniques and tools appropriately under the guidelines of Cynopraxis LIMA (Least Intrusive Minimally Aversive) principles. When referring to Cynopraxis LIMA, I am specifically referring to the original version outlined and created by Steven R. Lindsay, not the version hijacked and modified by the Force Free movement.

Why a balanced dog training approach is important

The approach of balanced dog trainers affords us the opportunity to use all quadrants of operant conditioning to achieve training goals and modify unwanted behaviors. This is what professional dog trainers are overwhelmingly faced with when listening to clients. A balanced dog training approach offers more options for owners to create better relationships and more consistently manage their dog’s behavior.

Most pet owners do not have the skill or time to raise their dogs “perfectly” – meaning that despite our best efforts, inappropriate behaviors occur and are often unintentionally reinforced by owners, other pets, or the environment.  As such, the approach by the Purely Positive community of “ignoring mistakes and only reward for good behavior” is a strategy that is doomed to fail. Once inappropriate behaviors are reinforced, intentionally or not, there will often need to be an undesirable consequence that motivates the dog to stop continuing to engage in that behavior. Balanced dog training strategies are going to give us the skill to end these behaviors quickly and effectively.

Dealing with severe behavioral issues in a safe and effective way requires lots of skill and resources. To provide a second chance for many dogs suffering with severe behavioral issues, it is important that we have as many tools and resources available to us as possible. We frequently work with dogs in shelters and rescues, who are there due to issues such as aggression toward humans or other dogs, fighting, excessive barking, and a myriad of other complex issues. We find similar circumstances with pet owners who feel hopeless in resolving their dog’s behavior. Fortunately, we have had a tremendous amount of success in effectively resolving these problems and creating healthy relationships between dogs and their owners by understanding that each situation is unique and employing balanced dog training techniques and strategies to achieve results.

If employed properly, balanced dog training develops more control, and as such, allows for more freedom for many dogs. Freedom is incredibly important to all dogs and offers opportunities for necessary physical activity and mental stimulation. This approach also allows for play and engagement in other activities that are necessary for a well-balanced dog.

Balanced dog training creates better human-dog relationships. Dogs appreciate great leaders, just as humans do. When expectations and outcomes are clear, it creates an environment for clearer communication. Clearer communication will lead to improved relationships with less frustration and conflict on both sides. Many Purely Positive trainers often lead with “Aversives will ruin your relationship!” – I would argue that if aversives are ruining your relationship with your dog, you’re doing it wrong, or your relationship wasn’t very good to start with.

In conclusion

In the world of dog training – just as in many situations in life – there are multiple ways to solve an issue. Some solutions will be successful; some will not. 

However, the moment that you begin restricting or reducing your available options, you limit the potential solutions you can provide. This can frequently result in poorer outcomes for dogs and their families. A balanced dog training philosophy – utilizing all four quadrants of operant conditioning – keeps all options available to a trainer. The skill of a balanced dog trainer is to use their expertise to assess the dog in front of them, and then determine the best course of action to achieve the desired outcome.

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