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Balanced Dog Training

Rewards vs. Reinforcement

Rewarding a dog for good behavior might include giving a treat, having a game with a toy, praising them or anything else that your dog loves doing. Positive reinforcement is the act of giving something to a dog that he or she wants in order to make it more likely that the behavior will occur again.

How Does Rewards Differ From Reinforcement?

The difference comes from the intent. You might reward your dog because you want to give them a biscuit, and that has no connection with wanting more of a particular behavior

If you use positive reinforcement, your intent is to increase the likelihood of a behavior happening again. When your dog walks nicely on the leash, you might give him a biscuit to reinforce that behavior because you’d like him to always walk on a loose leash

Train the dog in front of you not your past dog

Balanced Dog Training

Punishment vs. Aversive

Some people call punishment and aversive training the same thing. But there is a difference between the two. Something can be very aversive and still not mean that the behavior stops. You may have got very drunk at a party and then had an awful hangover, but you continue to enjoy a drink. Getting drunk wasn’t done with the intent to feel so ill that you would never touch alcohol again. On the other hand, punishment is something aversive that you do on purpose. The intent is to stop or interrupt a behavior.

Now, punishment sounds horrible, but while we don’t advocate its use, there is a whole spectrum from telling your dog ‘no,’ right through to causing physical harm. However, there are several issues with using punishment when training your dog, including:

Why Balanced Dog Training Is Not Ideal

  • Not knowing how your dog will react until you’ve used the punishment. What is a severe punishment to one dog might simply be annoying to another.
  • Punishment only tells your dog what not to do; we need to focus on training what they should be doing instead.
  • Punishment has the potential to damage the relationship you have with your dog.


Balanced Dog Training

Balanced Dog Training vs. Positive Training

If we compare balanced dog training to positive training, we can see that it all comes down to whether you are using punishment. A positive trainer will look at the dog’s environment, set them up for success, and in doing so, avoid using punishment. However, a balanced dog trainer might start off using positive training and then switch to punishment if those methods are proving too take too much time to train. 

A dog who chews shoes? The positive trainer might, first of all, put the shoes away and then provide great toys for the dog to chew. In balanced dog training the trainer might instead tell the dog 'No!' every time they approach the shoes and then offer them a toy to play with.

Balanced Dog Training V.S Alpha Dog Training

Another method of training is ‘Aplha Dog Training’.  It comes from the idea that dogs are pack animals, just like their wolf ancestors. That means that you need to be the leader in everything you do for your dog to respect you and do as you say.

The problem is the scientist who discovered ‘alpha theory’, David Mech,  has said that’s he was incorrect. That means there is no alpha in the wolf pack and definitely none in the family group that includes our dogs.

Any Combination Of Adverse + Positive Training Equals Balanced Dog Training

Did you know that world-renowned trainer Ken Ramirez trained butterflies to fly on cue from one point to another? And if that isn’t amazing enough, Ramirez trained the butterflies according to their color. He trained the red butterflies to fly to one location and then the blue butterflies to another.

So, if we can train these types of animals without punishment, we can also teach our dogs without resorting to techniques that cause them stress and discomfort.  After all, you can’t fit an e collar onto a butterfly!

Excuses For Balanced Dog Training

Sometimes trainers will come up with a whole host of reasons why they need to use balanced dog training. 

Dog Jumping Up

A dog jumping up is not only a pain with the risk of dirty paws and hair all over your clothes, but it can also be dangerous when their target is a child or older person. One technique that a trainer using balanced dog training might suggest is the use of spatial pressure.

Balanced Dog Training: Spatial Pressure Method

Have you ever had someone come up to you who got just a little too close? You probably felt uncomfortable so you moved away. Dogs are just the same, and like us, that personal space they like to keep around themselves varies between individuals.

If a dog is jumping up, then using spatial pressure is about getting into the dog’s space before they get the opportunity to jump up. This, in turn, causes the dog to back off and so they don’t jump up.

Does It Work?

Yes, it can. But the problem here is that the dog backs up and doesn’t jump up because they feel uncomfortable with a person being that close to them. The dog still doesn’t understand how to greet a person politely, only to back away when they feel uneasy. This is where balanced dog training fails, it only tells the dog what not to do and never what to do instead.

Jumping dogs can be dangerous

Dog Is Barking Too Much

A barking dog can be incredibly annoying. That means that it’s really important to get the situation under control before you get a neighbor complaining.

Balanced Dog Training: Disruptor Method

A balanced trainer who uses balanced dog training methods might recommend something that interrupts the barking. This might be a spray bottle, noisemakers such as a container filled with pebbles, or a collar that emits a high pitch frequency when your dog begins to bark. 

The theory here is that the dog learns that barking causes those aversive things to happen, so there is a consequence to their behavior. Balanced dog training might call these things a disruptor. But, if they are being used to reduce the likelihood of barking happening in the future, they are a punishment.

When dogs bark, it’s because of an emotion they’re feeling, and one part of how they express that is to bark. So, when you just stop the barking, the dog is still feeling the emotion. Even though the barking might stop, your dog is still not coping with that situation. This is when you need to work out how to help your dog to cope by changing that emotional response.

Frank The Barking Jack Russell

Frank loved to spend his days barking. Just about everything seemed to cause him to react. A bird overhead, a bike going past, a noise in the distance were all causes to break out into a crescendo of high-pitched barking. Alex, Franks' owner, worked from home, and his productivity was taking a huge nosedive since adopted Frank.
Frank was already taken on two good walks every day, so he was getting plenty of exercise. However, Alex was also allowing Frank free access to the yard, and it was during this unsupervised time, the noise problem was happening. The key to helping Frank to be quieter was to keep him busy during yard time. Alex set up a sandpit to hide toys in and then scattered some treats into the grass for Frank to search out. They also practiced their obedience training which was a great way of teaching Frank how to focus on Alex even with the birds going overhead! Once Frank had his outside time, he returned to the house, tired out and ready for a snooze.

Leash Correction (Pop)

Some balanced trainers use a leash correction to teach a dog how to walk on a loose leash. As the dog moves out of position and begins to pull, the trainer gives a short sharp pop on the leash. The theory is that the dog will connect the leash pop with being out of position and so pull less often. Once the dog is walking with a loose leash, then they’re rewarded.

Pop's Used To Teach "Leave It"?

Another time balanced dog trainers use a leash correction is when teaching a leave-it cue. Imagine your dog has a habit of hovering up any food refuse they find on a walk. Not only is that really unpleasant, but it might also result in your dog getting an upset stomach.

A balanced trainer may teach the leave it by using a leash ‘pop.’ As the dog goes towards something they shouldn’t have, the trainer gives the leash correction. Feeling the discomfort, the dog backs away and is then praised for leaving.

A Positive Method To Teach "Leave It"

An alternative way to teach leave it involves allowing your dog to work out what’s required without using a leash pop.

Show your dog a tasty treat and, in a friendly way, encourage them to take it.

Now hold the treat in your hand but with your fist tightly closed.

Your dog will probably try nudging or licking your hand but don’t respond to these. Simply patiently wait without saying anything.

Watch closely for the moment your dog backs off from your hand, even very slightly or for a second.

With that small gap between your hand and your dog’s nose, you can now open your hand and offer the treat along with lots of praise.

Keep repeating until your dog instantly backs off when you present your closed fist

Now you can add in your cue word ‘leave’ as your dog backs away from the treat. There’s no need to say it as a threat or harshly. Just use a gentle tone and open your hand once they back off, accompanied by lots of praise

Practice lots in short, regular sessions and in different locations

Now you can use your leave-it cue as your dog goes to grab something they shouldn’t have. Remember to give lots of praise as they back away and reward with a tasty treat or a game.

Should You Use A Pop For Management?

Management Is Not Training

If you’re finding that your dog can’t walk on a loose leash in a particular situation, then it might be tempting to use a leash pop to remind your dog that they shouldn’t be pulling. But instead, you could take the view that the lack of a loose leash just tells you that your dog doesn’t yet know how to perform that skill in that situation. 

A Pop In Case Of Emergency

All trainers and owners will use the leash to pull their dog away from danger in an emergency. So, if your dog suddenly pulls towards the traffic because they’ve seen a cat on the other side of the road, then you’re going to pull on the leash to keep them safe. But these types of situations should be the exceptions rather than something that happens on a daily basis.

A Pop Is Never "Positive"?

Balanced dog trainers are not worried about a leash pop being negative  because you can play with a toy at the same time which ‘makes it positive’. However, the purpose of a leash pop is to stop a dog from pulling. And if we’re doing something with the intent of reducing the likelihood of a behavior happening, then it must be a punishment. That then means that it cannot be part of a positive approach to training.

Balanced Dog Training Can Cause

Learned Helplessness

Punishment can sometimes lead to learned helplessness. A dog who is in a state of learned helplessness may look as if they’re coping. However, when you take a closer look at their body language, it becomes obvious that’s not what’s happening. They may have already been punished for backing off or growling when they were just trying to communicate how worried they were. Now they begin to shut down emotionally and go into a state of learned helplessness just to be able to cope with the situation.

Kizzy, the Afghan

Kizzy was an Afghan Hound who was terrified of men. She'd had a successful show career as a puppy but then had two poor experiences with male judges who handled her roughly when she hadn't stood still to be examined. This then caused Kizzy to become worried around all men that she didn't know. From being an outgoing and lively dog proudly showing off in the ring, Kizzy would walk with her head and tail held low despite all of her owner’s encouragement. With the best of intentions, Ann, Kizzy’s owner, decided that the best way for her to get over the fear was to enter lots of shows where there were male judges. The logic being that Kizzy would eventually realize that nothing awful would happen. In theory, this seems to make sense, but it just created even more problems. With Kizzy sank into a state of learned helplessness, she allowed the judges to examine her, but there was no improvement in her confidence levels. At the age of eight months, her show career came to an abrupt end.

How to help a dog who has become shut down

In the example above, Kizzy needed to learn that unknown men could be the source of good things rather than stress out about them. This then meant using a process called counter conditioning

Technique Of Counter Conditioning

This technique works by pairing whatever is causing the anxiety with something the dog likes, such as food. Over time, the scary thing becomes a predictor of good things happening. In Kizzy’s case, unknown men meant the arrival of delicious treats.

Ann began the counter conditioning in the park. There she was able to give Kizzy treats as unknown men passed at a distance. Over time she moved closer to the pathways, which meant the men were getting closer but were still not interacting with Kizzy. 

The next step was for the treat feeding to come from the unknown men, and for this, Ann asked for help from other members of her local training club. The male handlers would feed Kizzy but not touch her. Finally, two months later, Ann asked them to stroke Kizzy before giving her a treat.

Four months after Kizzy shutting down with learned helplessness, she was back in the show ring. Confident, happy, and back winning the red rosettes!

Are Some Dogs More Sensitive Than Others?

You might wonder if some dogs are more sensitive and so more likely to shut down than others.  Two things might cause a dog to be more sensitive: their temperament and their breed

Individual Temperament

A dog’s temperament can pass from their parents, and is influenced by their life experiences. That means that if you’re going to see a puppy, it’s essential that you get to meet Mum and ideally other relatives as well. If the adult dogs are reluctant to say hello and seem sensitive to the arrival of new people, then the pups are likely to grow up to be the same.

Sometimes sensitivity can develop because of experiences that the dog has, especially when they’re young. If, for example, an adult dog comes rushing over to a pup and scares them, the puppy may become sensitive to other dogs approaching, even as an adult dog. 

Breed of Dog

Both fear and anxiety effect sensitivity in a dog. Additionally, we know that a dog’s genetic makeup can play a part in how fearful they may be. The University of Helsinki asked 13,700 owners to assess their dog’s reactions to different situations. The results found that the Shetland Sheepdog and the Miniature Schnauzer were two of the most fearful breeds. The results suggested that there is a genetic component to anxiety, just as there is in humans.

How To Correct A Dog

We’ve already mentioned the problems associated with using balanced dog training. So, this is where we, the humans, must take responsibility when our dogs go wrong. If the behavior that we taught the dog isn’t reliable enough, then that comes down to the human end of the leash. When we think about situations in this way, we can see that the need to correct a dog disappears. 

Correct With More Training

If a dog doesn’t respond to a cue, that tells us that we need to do more training to help our dog understand what’s required. If a dog doesn’t come back when called because they’re having too much fun running around with their doggy friends, then that simply means that we need to set up training sessions to practice this behavior. 

We can do this by recalling our dog when there is just one other dog around who is older, steadier, and has a good recall.  Then you can increase the difficulty so our dog has the skills to come back when called, even when playing with dogs that are more exciting. But it is important for our dogs to have time without us nagging them.

Correct A Dog With More Trainig

You Hit Your Dog!

We’re not perfect, and it’s possible that out of complete frustration, you hit your dog out of rage. While this is never an effective way of managing a situation, we don’t always make great decisions when in extremely frustrating situations.

When this has happened, it’s important to take the time to think back over what happened. Then you can ensure that you never put yourself and your dog into the situation again. Management can help that. So, if your dog wouldn’t come back when called, they need to be on a leash or a long line while you work on their recall. 

Accidentally Hurting Your Dog

We’re not perfect, and it’s possible that out of complete frustration, you hit your dog out of rage. While this is never an effective way of managing a situation, we don’t always make great decisions when in extremely frustrating situations.

How To Recover After Hitting Your Dog

You now need to give both yourself and your dog, time to get over what’s happened. When a situation like this happens, adrenaline is released into the body, both yours and your dog’s. This is the hormone that prepares your body to cope with a stressful situation. The adrenalin explains the jittery and lightheaded feeling you can get when your body leaps into survival mode. So, both you and your dog need some quiet time to allow the stress to subside.

Make sure your dog has a comfy bed in an area of the room where nothing will disturb them. With your dog settled, you can then think back to the circumstances that led to you hurting your dog. Consider each step or trigger and then how you can prevent that from ever happening again.

Yelling At Your Dog

It can be easy to get into a routine of yelling at your dog, but if you have to keep doing it, it’s not getting the result you’re looking for. Again, in this situation, you need to think about what’s causing the problem

If your dog is barking at people walking past the gate, then bring them back inside. If they are destructive, make sure you tidy away any tempting items and provide them with chews they can get their teeth stuck into.

Convince Your Spouse To Stop Yelling At The Dog?

But what if it’s not you that’s shouting at the dog, but it’s your husband or wife, or any other member of the family? The person who is yelling often seems to think that whoever is making the most noise is the boss. They might even be convinced that it works because the dog cowers when they are shouting at them. Some people equate this with the dog knowing that they did something wrong. 

The problem with yelling is that it doesn’t show your dog what they need to do instead. When they’re busy chewing your trainer and get yelled at to stop, what should they do instead?  We know that young dogs need to chew; it helps to ease the pain in their gums when their adult teeth are coming through. Then older dogs might chew because they’re bored or worried when left home alone.

Now you can work out why the problem is happening to begin with and address it, which means there’s no longer a need to yell.

Is Yelling Abuse?

For some of our pets, it can be. For dogs who are more sensitive, being yelled at can be very difficult for them to cope with. And for those pets who couldn’t care less about you shouting at them, well, yelling isn’t going to have any effect on them anyway!

Balanced Dog Training Equipment

Electric Collars Verse Shock Collars

You might see some trainers promote the use of e collars while others mention the dangers of using shock collars. Which then probably makes you wonder if they’re the same thing or if they work differently.

The truth is that they are precisely the same thing. The term e collar is generally considered more acceptable to pet owners even though these devices can cause immense pain and stress for your dog. 

Sweden, Germany, and Austria have banned e collars due to the welfare issues associated with their use. A position statement from the European Society of Veterinary Clinical Ethology states:

Punishment is bad according to most vet organizations.

Shock Collars For Small Dogs

Sometimes people think that different types of dogs are difficult to train, and people apply this to small dogs. In reality, the smaller the dog, the easier it is to make excuses for not training them until the problem becomes a big one.

It’s easy to pick up a dog that weighs a few pounds and get them out of trouble. It’s no big deal when they pull on the leash because it doesn’t cause the owner any real discomfort. And when they run up to bigger dogs barking, everyone laughs at the ‘big dog in a little dog body.’

However, the issue is that at some point, a dog that hasn’t been trained becomes a problem. And that’s when the owner or trainer may feel justified in using a shock collar

Small Dogs Are Not Harder To Train

Thankfully, small dogs are just as capable as larger dogs of learning polite manners without resorting to the use of a shock collar.

Shock Collars For Large Dogs

Just as there can be perceptions about small dogs, large dogs can suffer from the same problem.  Some owners can feel that they need to dominate their dogs to gain control and that the best way of ensuring compliance is through a shock collar.

Remember earlier on, we spoke about how zoos use positive training to teach large animals such as elephants to offer their feet for nail care and stand still for blood draws? Well, that pretty much blows the argument for e collars and large dogs out of the window! Larger dogs no more need a shock collar than any other size or breed of dog.

Shock Collars For Puppies

Young dogs, just like babies, are learning all about the world. They need gentle guidance to learn how to behave in a way that’s acceptable to society. In the first year of their life, adolescent dogs experience what’s called fear periods.  During these times, the youngster is very sensitive to experiences that cause them to become worried.

A single scary event, such as you shocking your dog with an e collar, may be enough to traumatize the puppy and have a life-long effect on their future behavior. 

Prong Collars Verse Pinch Collars

Prong Collars

Sometimes also called a pinch collar, the prong collar has metal prongs or plastic spikes on its inside. That then means that when the dog is wearing the collar the points sit directly on your dog’s neck. If your dog pulls against you when out for a walk, the collar tightens, meaning that the prongs push into your dog’s skin causing pain and discomfort. 

The discomfort caused by the prong collar can be enough to stop a dog from pulling on the leash. However, the pain and discomfort create a significant welfare issue.

What Are Prong Collars Used For?

The most common use of a prong collar is for teaching a dog not to pull on the leash. However, some trainers may also use them to correct a dog if they move when told to stay and for teaching the ‘leave it’ cue. 

Are Prong Collars Good or Bad?

It’s difficult to justify using a training tool that’s designed to inflict pain, and there are no two ways around it, that’s the aim of a prong collar. 

Positive Dog Training Equipment

Since positive dog trainers consider considered prong collars to be cruel, where does that leave the owner of a large and powerful dog? The prong collar may have been the thing that allowed them to get out on a walk each day.


Many owners find that head collars are a good alternative to the prong collar. They provide a good level of control even over powerful dogs and are most effective when paired with the dog also wearing a harness. Then a leash can be used that has a clip at both ends, one to the harness and one to the head collar. This makes it much easier to keep a loose leash and prevents tension on the head collar.

Some dogs can find the sensation of wearing a headcollar to be a little strange, to begin with. So, it’s important to spend some time helping your dog become used to this new feeling before going out for a walk for the first time. One of the best ways of doing this is by luring your dog to push his nose through the loop by holding a treat on the other side. It won’t take many repetitions before your dog becomes excited when they see the head collar coming out!

Front Clip Harness

Some dogs do find it very difficult to get used to the sensation of a head collar. The front clip harness, which most dogs accept without a problem, could be the next best option.

Most harnesses position the leash ring towards the rear, which means that a dog who hasn’t been trained to walk on a loose leash can pull into it by dropping their shoulders and forcing their way forward. When the ring is on the front of the harness, they can no longer pull in that way.

T.V & Balanced Dog Training

Online shows encouraging adverse training and its impact on the world. We all know that tv and online shows are there to entertain, but most dog training is, to be honest, quite boring to watch. A skilled trainer will make sure that the dog is set up for success. They will take things slowly so that there are lots of opportunities to reward the dog and ensure understanding.

So, to encourage viewing numbers, some ‘celebrity trainers’ make the process much more dramatic than it needs to be. Even though research tells us that using training methods based on punishment and pain harms our dogs physically, as well as causing a permanent effect on their mental health, we still see these techniques being used on tv and online shows.

That same research also suggests that when aversive training methods and equipment such as prong collars are used, then it jeopardizes the bond you have with your dog. It breaks trust and creates opportunities for more fearful and sometimes even aggressive behavior in dogs.

Verdict On Balanced Dog Training

When there are highly effective alternative methods available, there really is no justification for inflicting pain and stress on our dogs in the name of training.

3 thoughts on “Balanced Dog Training”

  1. Austin Dog Training Pros

    This is a great article that highlights the importance of using balanced training methods with our dogs. I believe that the right amount of rewards and punishment is essential to train dogs effectively.

  2. Elizabeth Johnson

    Sorry, but what I’ve been told by positive only dog trainers and what my eyes and my experience with dogs are telling me don’t match up.

    To never ever correct a dog for misbehaving is asking for trouble. Whether you believe dogs are pack animals or not, they DO follow a hierarchy. Dogs crave calm, consistent leadership and if they don’t get this from their owners, they will assume the role of leader themselves and they will be in a state of constant stress.

    One of my dog walking clients has two dogs- a senior Belgian Malinois/German Shepherd cross and a five-month old Labradoodle. The Labradoodle puppy used to be a seriously mouthy, jumpy puppy. There was one time, though, when she was jumping and mouthing in the older dog’s face and what did the older dog do? She corrected the puppy using gradually increasing levels of intensity. She first growled, then she showed her teeth, then she finally snarled and snapped at the puppy multiple times. The surprised puppy flattened out on the ground. She was one of the sorriest looking puppies I had ever seen. It was only for a couple seconds, though. She quickly got up and the two dogs moved on, interacting with each other as if nothing happened.

    I can tell you this, though: After the older dog’s disciplinary measure, the puppy respected her space and never got up in her face again, while they still enjoy playing with each other outside.

    What about when your dog is a serious leash puller? Have you ever considered why they become this way? Do you know where leash reactivity comes from? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMZBkbBDgEY

    So, jerking the dog with the leash to get her to stop chasing a rabbit or running out into the street is okay, but jerking the leash when the dog is pulling in general isn’t? Have you considered that a dog that pulls on the leash is distracted beyond the point of being trustworthy enough to come when called if he was off-leash?

    What’s the whole point of training a dog at all? Is it not to teach them how to experience the highest level of freedom possible in the safest way possible?

    The only way you can teach a dog to respond reliably to your commands is to use both positive reinforcement AND discipline. My goal with every dog I train is to make the chances as high as possible that he will obey a command the FIRST time, EVERY time. Good things happen to the dog when he obeys, BUT obeying is not optional; one day the dog’s life could depend on it!

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