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Myths about “balanced” training

I love learning about dogs, behavior, and especially, dog behavior. I'm thankful for the social networking revolution, which makes it possible for me to collaborate,...

Casey Lomonaco  |  Feb 22nd 2011


I love learning about dogs, behavior, and especially, dog behavior. I’m thankful for the social networking revolution, which makes it possible for me to collaborate, learn from, and share ideas with a diverse group of training professionals from around the world. This fascinating group of people represent a wide variety of experience levels, techniques and methodologies. Some of these individuals would identify themselves as primarily “positive reinforcement” trainers, others have a more traditional approach to training and behavior modification in dogs. In many ways, positive reinforcement trainers are the “left wing” or “liberal” faction of dog training, and traditional or “balanced” trainers are the right wing, conservative faction.

Unfortunately, the divide is often very political. Names and accusations are hurled back and forth across party lines – “treat slinging weenie!” “Animal abuser!” “Our dogs are more reliable!” “Your dogs look shut down!” Respect generally does not cross the party line.

I fall firmly in the positive reinforcement camp. I spend nearly all my time on the Dogster Guide to Behavior and Training trying to bust just a few of the many pervasive myths about the style of training I choose, a list which includes:

  • clicker trained dogs are fat
  • it’s all about the food
  • clicker trained dogs only work for food
  • clicker trained dogs are not reliable
  • clicker training works for “tricks” but not “behavior mod”
  • clicker training does not work for “real” dogs (“real” is generally defined by the people using this term to indicate very “gamey” and “drivey” dogs including Belgian Malinois, German Shepherd Dogs, Doberman Pinschers, etc.)

But as a crossover trainer, I didn’t always live in the R+ (positive reinforcement) camp; my toolbox was once quite different in composition and included prong collars, verbal and physical corrections, etc. I think that often, R+ trainers try to win converts via means which may in fact put people on the defensive and make them, therefore, less open to learning. Here are a few myths about traditional training – still not my method of preference, but nonetheless, I do believe honesty is the best policy.

TRADITIONAL TRAINING = ANIMAL ABUSE

PEOPLE WHO CHOOSE TRADITIONAL TRAINING DON’T LOVE THEIR DOGS

EVERYONE KNOWS POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT WORKS WELL!