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The need for balance in life – and dog training:

By Matt Wiggins
08.10.22
dog surving

I’ve been away for the last few days in Wales, taking a little time to recoup, regather and plan for the future.

It’s times like these that I get to reflect and then produce great content for our followers.

Yesterday, I went for a surfing lesson. It was tough. Why am I telling you this? Read on….

There are strong correlations between everyday life and succeeding in training your dog and one of those things is balance – not in terms of where I placed my feet on the surfboard but rather the balance between positive and negative feedback I received. Balance is critical to learning to completely remove one side of the learning process is unfair, detrimental and the biggest cause of failure in human and dog communication.

I left the sea weary, aching, a little despondent but with a wide beaming smile. It was tough, I was tossed around, the board hit me on my head, I swallowed copious amounts of saltwater and numerous other things I would choose not to experience again but I would go through it all again to get that feeling of finally cracking it, of finally standing up and feeling the power of the water pushing me effortlessly (kind of) towards the shore.

It got me thinking about the bigger picture. Swallowing saltwater was unpleasant to say the least BUT it was worth it for the end result.

I also thought long and hard about how it was actually the unpleasantness of falling off, of getting hit by the board, of not meeting my expectations that lead to my continued effort to tweak my approach, learn from my mistakes and get better. How far would I have gotten if none of these things had happened and the instructor simply kept reinforcing the very few things I was getting right? Not far, that’s how far.

Conversely, how far would I have gotten if I didn’t get any success? If all I had experienced was knockback after knockback? I’d have got straight out and given up.

Hopefully, you can see where I am going here.

Just because something is unpleasant doesn’t mean it’s horrible or that it shouldn’t be endured for a net positive gain. In fact, to completely remove negativity is not only detrimental but dangerous.

If you walked past a bush in Africa and heard a growl from deep inside, you would run, right? How come?
Because it is in our genetics to be afraid or avoid certain things to keep us safe and alive. The person who didn’t heed the warning from the bush didn’t get to pass their genetics on!

For dogs and humans, it is critical to learn from mistakes as well as from success. There is no exception to this rule. There are however lots of considerations to think over carefully to ensure you are training in an ethically correct manner.

If negative reinforcement and avoidance weren’t useful to any living being then we wouldn’t have developed systems to use such feedback to our benefit.

Now, back to my surfing analogy. I endured unpleasantness (at an acceptable level) to gain positively overall. Would your dog choose to do the same?

Would your dog choose to be trained in a balanced way to have;

Or, instead, would your dog choose to not experience the above in favour of being wrapped up in cotton wool, bound by a halti or harness, and generally not being trained for fear of upsetting him/her?

I think we all know the answer.

If you really want you and your dog to have the best life possible then get in touch and find out just how easy it is!

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