Over the past couple of days, I’ve been writing about the need for balance in training a dog. The need to provide both positive and negative consequences for the best long term results and reliability. I’ve also given purely positive trainers a bit of a bashing for their completely one-sided opinion – usually based upon little experience.
Now I’m going to give the less experienced trainers out there a bit of leeway as we turn our attention to the shortcomings of many balanced trainers.
Whilst we are on the subject of the negative side of training, the side that lets a dog know it is not making the right choices it is only fair that I share my observations of the simple mistakes us more balanced trainers can easily fall into so that if our content takes you down a different route you can be aware of the potential problems you could encounter and should be aware of.
The majority of my clients approach us having seen numerous trainers. Usually, they have tried both purely positive and more balanced approaches with little success and then we help them quickly and easily get the results they have been searching for.
Here is a quick rundown of the main things to avoid when choosing a balanced trainer.
If it doesn’t work, they go harder
I see this one time and time again. A trainer tries something with a dog, it doesn’t get the desired result and so they respond by getting firmer. If working the dog on a flat collar they immediately move to a half check, if on a half check to a full check and if on a full check they move to a prong and so on. Getting firmer each time an approach fails is exactly the same as trying to explain something to somebody who doesn’t speak your language and each time they don’t understand you say the same thing again but louder. This approach to training is not only unethical but also goes a long way to explaining why balanced trainers, as a community, get such a hard time.
At WKD we want to work with the dog. When we do apply pressure we are always trying to apply the least possible to get the desired result. When we try something and it doesn’t work instead of getting firmer, we get more technical. We have spent so much time observing owners that by simply tweaking the way they hold their hands, or move their feet or look to where they are heading we can completely change the result they are getting without having to escalate the pressure. Instead, we help them become more proficient. Of course, there are times when we have to increase the pressure but we don’t jump to that until we have first leveraged the owners ability and exhausted our bag of tricks at that level.
They show the owner what to do
One of the upsides of negative reinforcement is that it allows the handler to change the dog’s state of mind so that he/she becomes more receptive. One of the downsides of negative reinforcement is that it allows the handler to change the dog’s state of mind so that he/she becomes more receptive. HUH?
Well, the problem is, if a trainer affects this change in your dog rather than you doing it the day after your training session you will be back exactly where you were. If your trainer has demonstrated with your dog and made the change in the dog’s mindset then you cannot learn how to get the same result because the dog is already there. Sure you can experience what it feels like to have your dog engaged and receptive regardless of the environment but you won’t actually have learnt how to make the change happen. This actually happens with purely positive training too. Ever been to a trainer and it worked but failed again when you got home? This is why!
At WKD we never ever handle your dog to make the change. We ALWAYS help you to effect the change in your dog so that you have a very high chance of doing it again when we aren’t there. Dogs respond to skilled trainers very differently from how they behave with unskilled owners. A trainer showing you what to do with your dog gives a false and short-lasting sense of achievement. Teaching you quickly to be as skilled as us gives you a lifetime of control.
They blame you when it doesn’t work long term
The amount of clients I deal with where I have to rebuild confidence that has been damaged by a trainer is unbelievable. In fact, I spend as much time working with the owners’ mindset as I do with the dogs.
When you find that your trainer’s advice isn’t working you contact them for help but rather than actually helping they point out that you must be doing it wrong, blame you for the slip of behaviour and make you feel like a failure. This one actually occurs with both types of trainers too but I feel the result of such feedback affects clients more when it comes from a balanced trainer.
At WKD, we have already accepted your aren’t any good (tongue in cheek)! That’s why you’ve approached us in the first place. We know that you will go home and do things differently from what we showed you. We know you won’t remember everything we taught you. We know that you will hit a point when you think you’ve solved your issues and then it will all fall apart. Heck, whoever learnt to be great overnight? Especially with something as dynamic as handling a dog!
Instead of condemning you, blaming you, making you feel like a failure, we embrace the mistakes you will make and have put measures in place to ensure wherever possible you are kept on the right track and where you do slip we can easily get you on the road again. Through a mixture of online training, automated email contact and our free trainer support we aim to nudge you in the right direction just before you make a mistake and when you do we are there to support you.
Have you had a bad experience with a dog trainer? Let us know in the comments below