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Balanced vs. force free training


When some folks compare dog training methods, there's a tendency to only look at the training itself and not at the outcome. And not at the dog's overall life.


For the life of this industry, the desired standard for a dog to reach was on and off leash obedience/control. A goal, as a trainer, was to develop your skills enough that that standard was your norm for your clients. Many of the more successful training approaches (such as the Koehler method), became so because of the consistent success that trainers had at reaching that well-established standard.


As rewards-based methods started becoming popular, there was a very evident problem with it; it only worked to a point. That 'point' differed between dogs, but it was normally related to consistency in compliance around distractions and novelty.


Many rewards-based trainers of that day would then advise the use of compulsion when you reach that 'point'. Unfortunately, this was often done in a haphazard way, and often attributed to some hierarchical problem. This was the origin of 'balanced' training, and it's still how many force free trainers see it today, despite it's epic growth and change.


After a while, it became crystal clear that the same standard, the same goal posts, were not realistic for most dogs trained without some degree of compulsion.


Dogs trained without force certainly loved training. But the reliability just wasn't there with the same consistency (or at all).


So, instead of figuring out ways to incorporate rewards and compulsion together to fix the deficits in both (like the majority of the industry), a handful of trainers decided to move the goal posts.


No longer is reliability and control the standard.


The most basic behaviours, such as a loose leash heel, is a routine struggle. So, instead of even trying to get it, dogs are put on a harness, a long leash, and allowed to do whatever they want under the guise of 'improved welfare'. Because isn't it better for their mental health to have a sniffari instead of being forced to walk at heel like a robot?


And I cannot argue against that standard if it's what people really want. Not all dogs need, and not all owners even want to get to the point of off leash control. And their standards are not my business.


But when people like that then tell people like me that their methods are 'better', we're going to have problems. ESPECIALLY when those that have different standards weasel their way into politics and try to dictate how we all have to train (and therefore what standards we attain).


And now that brings me to my point: balanced trainers are not attached to any particular method or tool. We're attached to the results that those methods/tools produce.


Those results are not about turning dogs into robots, or destroying their inner dogness. It's about FREEDOM.


Dogs with reliable obedience get way more freedom and inclusion than dogs without. None of my dogs would be able to roam my 40acre farm, hunting for rodents off leash, without having gone through a few moments of stress and discomfort in training.


If I could ask ANY dog if that stress was worth it for the freedom to practice species-specific and breed-specific behaviours regularly, I would hazard a guess that there'd be a unanimous HECK YES.


Yet, somehow, dogs whose TRAINING involved stress yet whose LIFE involves freedom are viewed as abused. As having compromised welfare.


People see the short moments of control, of heeling with a dog on a loose leash through a crowded street, at contextual calmness, and think 'my god, when is that poor dog allowed to be a dog!? You're so cruel!'.


It seems hard for people to fathom that you can have both. You can have a dog that walks nicely on leash as a default or on cue, and you can give that same dog freedom to be a dog. And I'd argue that in order for both the person and the dog to be their happiest and most fulfilled, there needs to be a balance between control and freedom.


Ironically, it's the dogs whose training avoids stress - but whose life cannot due to constant restraint and management - that are somehow viewed as 'happier'.


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