By Courtney Emken
co-written by Bart Emken, CPDT-KA & Jen Larson, KPA-CTP
Recently, we’ve been hearing a lot about so-called “balanced” trainers, and we wanted to address why these dog trainers are the farthest thing from bringing “balance” into your dog’s life. We know a great deal about dog training and dog behavior, and we can say with absolute certainty that “balanced” trainers are not what they claim to be.
Don’t Believe The Hype: “Balanced” Is No Better Than Aversive
It’s a shame that a pleasant word like “balanced” is being used to trick people into believing that these trainers are knowledgeable or well-rounded. What “balanced” really means is that a trainer doesn’t understand positive methods well enough to adequately use those techniques to train your dog, and must resort to aversive techniques when they fall short.
These trainers argue that positive training doesn’t work for all dogs, which is 100% FALSE. Positive training is built on using rewards to incentivize behavior. This method has been proven effective time and time again, even for the most reactive of dogs.
The majority of professionals in the canine community agree on dominance theory being ineffective and false, including:
The past 40 years of study in canine behavior has thoroughly dismantled dominance theory, and every trainer should know this. “Balanced” trainers are either unaware of this research, or simply choose to ignore it to the detriment of any dogs that they attempt to train.
Dominance theory was built on the assumption that dogs will act like wolves. While dogs may be descendants of wolves, they behave and socialize much differently. That’s like assuming you can treat a mountain lion like a house cat… pretty silly right?
Aversive Corrections Counteract Positive Reinforcement
When a trainer says they’re “balanced,” they’re basically telling you: “I will hurt your dog when I can’t get them to do what I want.” The reason behind the shift towards reward-based training is that aversive styles are not only unscientific, but they damage our relationship with our dogs as well.
It’s important for trainers to build a foundation of trust with their client’s dog. We do this through continual positive reinforcement for good behavior. Soon the dog will want to behave for you. Punishment just makes a dog trust that you’re going to hurt them if they don’t obey.
Now ask yourself: is that the kind of relationship that I want with my dog?
Even if the majority of your training is positive (a claim most “balanced” trainers make), every time you or your trainer harshly punishes your dog, you destroy what progress you made. They won’t see you as a source of positivity, but rather as someone to be frightened of.
Harsh Corrections Put You, Trainers, and Dogs at Risk
Due to the popularity of the-dog-trainer-who-shall-not-be-named, dominance theory and aversive methods have re-surged in popularity. While his shows may sell lots of books, maintain a decent sized following, and make good money for those with a financial stake in that brand— they’ve HURT their core audience by putting many more dogs and people in danger by proliferating ineffective techniques and theories.
As an example, we’d like to share this helpful video in which a certified trainer dissects a dangerous situation, that was entirely avoidable, involving our least favorite dog trainer and a poor lab he provoked into defending herself:
Without proper understanding of dog body language and cues, he puts himself in a dangerous situation that could’ve been completely avoided. Resource guarding is actually completely remediable through positive training. There’s no need to “dominate” a dog into submission.
How To Spot a “Balanced” Trainer
Some trainers won’t mention that they practice aversive techniques upfront. Here’s some troubling signs that might indicate that you need to find a new trainer:
- Citing “The Dog Whisperer” as inspiration, motivation, or–I hate to even use this word in the same sentence as this show–education
- Using outdated terms like “alpha,” “dominant,” or “pack mentality”
- Admitting to using tools like: prong collars, shock collars, or e-collars
Just because these practices appear on TV doesn’t mean that they’re helpful or effective. If you want to watch a real dog trainer on TV, then we’d recommend checking out Victoria Stilwell. Her show is all about positive dog training, and she’s one of the most respected trainers in the world.
We strongly urge you to reconsider training with someone who says they’re “balanced.” At DogBoy’s we only use positive reward-based training methods and we’re able to handle all dogs without ever resorting to violence. Your trainer should be able to do the same.
Please contact us if you want more information about how to properly apply positive training techniques or would like to bring your dog in for a visit. We’re also more than happy to make recommendations about trustworthy trainers and facilities in your area.
Dog Training by Ronny Olsson
Mister Jack by Bad Apple Photography
GRRRR by Smerical