Rocky is a Moluccan Cockatoo who belongs to my friend, Lara.  Before I met Rocky I had a fairly healthy fear of large birds.  Those beaks and feet seem pretty dangerous to me.  They move fast and I have no idea what any of their body language means.  Are they happy, excited, annoyed, feeling homicidal?  I have no clue.


Hello Rocky!

After 25 years working with dogs I feel pretty confident that I can read canine body language quite accurately.  After years of close observation I see all those subtle signs that many others miss.  That slightly lowered head or ear flick screams out to me.  But birds?  Not so much.

Over the last several years I’ve had a handful of opportunities to work directly with Rocky.  I still have a very healthy respect for the power these birds possess.  And also for the fast changes in attitude and emotion they can display.

I’m learning that what I do so naturally with dogs can be the exact wrong thing to do with a bird.  My rapid fire marking & treating can make them nervous.  Quick movements put them on edge.  Simply figuring out the safest and most efficient way to present treats can be complicated.

I’m also learning that these animals are brilliant.  Not just smart, scary smart.  My ridiculous training plans are no match for their cognitive skills.  I need to up my game.

I regularly tell my students to keep their training sessions short and stop before the dog wants to stop.  And I think that’s very good advice, in general.  The idea of keeping sessions short and interesting is a valid one.

But here’s what I learned from Rocky…

Arbitrarily ending a session when the animal is highly engaged is punishing.  No matter what I think, if my animal is enjoying the session and wants to continue working I should respect that desire.

The last two times I worked with Rocky things were going well and I decided it was time for a break.  When I went back to begin a new session Rocky said “no thanks”.  He said it by sitting in a high perch and ignoring my offer to interact.  His behavior was clear.

Being a rather clueless primate it took this happening not once, but twice, for me to realize what was going on.  To anthropomorphize a bit, I was rude to Rocky.  I basically walked away in the middle of a conversation with him, then came back later and expected him to pick up again just because I was there.  That was definitely not in line with my desire for cooperative training.  To my credit at least it only took two of these experiences, highly aversive to me, until I figured it out.

The next time I worked with Rocky I decided to keep going until he showed signs of wanting the session to end.  I was working on teaching him to target a block of wood attached to the side of his cage with his foot.  I broke the behavior down and worked first on orienting his body to the block.  Then I started working on foot movement.  Within a few minutes he was regularly raising his left foot.  Then he stopped, turned towards me, slowly raised his foot and held it there while staring intently at me, for at least 30 seconds.

Rocky foot

If you look closely at this photo you will see his raised left foot.  

He stopped taking his pine nuts out of his dish (I provided his reinforcer by dropping them in a bowl) and just stood there, foot raised.  And I just stood there, staring back at him.  Never have I wished so much that an animal and I could share the same language, just for a minute or so.  Even though we were working so well together, the divide between us was so vast.  I felt like he was showing me “yes, I get that it’s the foot, now what?”  And I wanted so much to be able to say “touch the block of wood”.  How easy would that be?

But animal training is never that easy.  It’s always challenging to communicate with another species.  Heck, it’s challenging enough to communicate with the same species!  As I stared at Rocky in that moment I was at a loss.  He asked me a question and I had no answer.  I don’t remember an animal ever clearly asking me a question before.  I wonder if he thinks I’m stupid.

Here’s one of my early meetings with Rocky.  He’s a fun loving guy!

After spending time with the birds, and some other species as well, I’ve concluded that dogs are so incredibly easy to train.  They are still fun and challenging, but they are typically fairly straightforward and cooperative.  We don’t appreciate them nearly enough for meeting us more than halfway in our training efforts.

I have to thank my friend and fellow training geek Lara Joseph, owner of The Animal Behavior Center in Sylvania Ohio.  She has a wonderful facility and has been very generous in allowing me the opportunity to learn from her and work with her animals.

You can learn more about what Lara has to offer at:









Garbage Soup

Not a dog training blog, but a cooking one today for a change of pace!

Today was the right day to make garbage soup. Garbage soup consists of the leftovers in the fridge that are getting to the end of the lifespan and either need to be used asap or throw away.

Today was the right day for two reasons. First, the fridge definitely needed cleaned out. There were lots of bits of things squirreled away in the corners. And it’s time for a big grocery trip to restock basics. Second, the weather is perfect for soup today. Around 60 degrees with a nice breeze and a bit overcast. As summer comes on strong, soup weather will be gone until fall. So now might be the last big soup making of the season.

I’ve been making garbage soup for 40 years. The beauty of it is that there is no recipe. It’s completely based on what you have available. So it’s truly never the same soup twice. But there is a general plan that I follow depending on the ingredients I find in my fridge and pantry.

The general plan includes:

1. All the stuff in the bottom crisper drawer of my fridge. Usually onions, peppers, carrots, greens, mushrooms, and so on.

2. Beans. I use canned. If I was more energetic and thriftier I would use dried. Again, this depends on what I have in the cupboard. Usually black, garbanzo, lentils, white, kidney, and so on.

3. Canned or frozen veggies I want to use up.

4. Grains. Quinoa, rice, barley, couscous, sometimes pasta or potatoes instead.

5. Vegetable broth. When I’m feeling really energetic I make my own and freeze it. But store bought is fine. I also usually add a bit of tomato paste to the broth to give it a richer flavor.

6. Spices. Always garlic, sea salt, pepper. After that it depends on the direction the soup takes.

I never measure anything. That’s the true beauty of this! But somehow I always end up with about 10-12 servings. I usually put 4 single servings in the freezer for lunches or dinners on future lazy nights.


So here’s what I found today: Onions, peppers, kale, carrots, garlic, ginger, peas, garbanzo beans, veggie broth & barley.

Once I look everything over it helps me decide how to proceed. However, there’s no wrong way to approach this. Because I had garbanzo beans I thought I would go in a Mediterranean direction. I had several onions, red pepper, a chile pepper, and some garlic cloves that I chopped up and then sauteed in olive oil.

Unfortunately, I got involved in chopping the carrots and let those all burn :-{


Luckily I still had an another onion and some garlic left, along with more carrots, so I sauteed those again.


Then I added the chopped carrots (4) to the onions & garlic, along with enough veggie broth to cover. I covered with a lid and let it cook until the carrots start to get a bit tender.


Next I added the rest of a container of veggie broth and some tomato paste. This is where I also add the spices. I had some turmeric, ginger, cumin, coriander, and cayenne, so that took the whole thing in a more Indian direction.

There was some very sad looking kale in the fridge, so I cut the stem out and chopped that up.


I added some leftover peas and the kale. Sometimes I have swiss chard or broccoli or green beans as the green. Whatever I have.



And finally I added the garbanzo beans.


Once I mix it all together I will bring it to a boil, turn it to low, cover, and cook for 2-3 hours. Let it cool and put in the fridge/freezer. It’s really MUCH better when it’s reheated the next day.


Some of the variations I make include:

Mexican: using black beans, quinoa, salsa, peppers. Top with crumbled tortilla chips.

Chili: kidney beans, more tomato paste, beer, peppers. Also top with crumbled tortilla chips.

Italian: minestrone with kidney beans, pasta, zucchini or green beans.

French: lentils, potatoes, mushrooms, onions, garlic.

Cream: potato, broccoli, corn, carrot, cauliflower, whatever. Usually add onions, garlic, mushrooms, white beans. All cooked up and pureed in the Vitamix.

Any type of beans along with rice as the grain is quick and easy.

Hope you enjoyed this post and are inspired to make your own garbage soup. It’s fun & easy!

To borrow from the Beatles… But of course, I’m talking about dog training. Learning is a science, but not an exact one. Mainly because every new dog presents us with a new set of challenges. Sure, in the lab we can precisely control all extraneous variables, but not in the living room with the puppy.

So, I’ve got this great new puppy. Helo is very bright and seems to be thoughtful enough, until he’s not. Of course, he’s also 4 months old and that speaks for itself. It seems like I’m training him a lot. But if you added it up it’s likely 10 minutes a day split into 2 sessions, and then the little bits and pieces that happen as you go through the day. Even without that much time investment, he’s learning lots of things. I always forget between puppies how anxiety-provoking and overwhelming it is. What am I forgetting? What do I need to do today so he’s not ruined? Have I missed something vitally important?

I’ve done this a few times and I know what I’m doing, sort of. I’m not 100% convinced I’m the best puppy trainer on the planet, but I have a good idea of what he should learn and the basic order he should learn it in. And I’m confident that he will learn it all in time.

So today we had possibly the worst focus training session EVER. Ever. With any dog, even dogs I don’t own. Focus is my specialty. I know how to teach focus. I write books and teach classes on this stuff. WTF happened? My brilliant puppy jumped at my hands, offered his latest trick (take a nap), leaped up on a stool, then on the sofa, then back to jumping at my hands, over and over so quickly I could not get a moment to simply reinforce focus. I have a feeling I could have done better with a dog just off the street, not the baby that I’ve lovingly nurtured for months. Not the puppy with whom I’ve carefully laid such a thoughtful foundation. Gasp! He’s doing it wrong! Shock and disbelief!

I need to get ahold of myself. I can come back to this later. Time to move on to a different behavior. We’ve been working on foot targeting and introducing the dumbbell. The foot target session goes extremely well. We move from a foot on the furniture slider on the floor to being able to raise the slider, then switching from the slider to a paw pod. Very quick progress in a couple minutes. The dumbbell has been slow going. I can’t recall the last puppy I’ve had who didn’t have a pretty strong natural retrieve. Helo’s got a natural “chase it and run away with it” behavior. That’s not going to work for me. The shaped dumbbell is going very slowly, but today I got teeth on the bar!!!! Yay!!!! Teeth on the bar is a big giant step! A nice huge breakthrough!!!

So my morning training consisted of a crappy focus session. Clearly, I need to analyze and rethink my approach there. Nice progress on the foot target. And a breakthrough on the dumbbell. Not bad for a morning’s work at all. Have to always remember not to just focus on the errors, or give them more weight than they deserve. Sure, they’re not as much fun, but they are very instructive. The problems force me to be more thoughtful and creative. And that can only be good.

My Performance Fundamentals class at Fenzi Academy started Offered Focus this week as well. They are having the typical issues that I have seen and know how to fix. So I ask myself, if this was a student’s dog, what would you do? So easy to fix someone else’s problem! I shared my very bad training moment with them so they would feel better about their own struggles. Nobody is perfect, everybody makes mistakes, and we all struggle sometimes. Yet it still gets done and we get better. The dogs get trained, sometimes in spite of us!

It’s a good thing he’s so darn cute! That counts for a LOT some days.


It’s not often these days that I’m motivated to put in the time and effort to craft a blog post. I typically say everything I want on Facebook or in my books. But after the Facebook posts regarding the American Kennel Club’s fiasco stating their view on the use of shock collars (first they stated they were not a good choice on television, then retracted that by email) and the ensuing flame war of the past few days I feel like this topic requires a full blog.

So, first things first. If you are strongly in support of using shock collars on dogs there is no point in your reading this post. You will rabidly disagree with me on every point and be aggravated. If you have a more moderate view or are “on the fence” about their use then I invite you to listen to what I have to say and give me the opportunity to explain why I am so vehemently against their use.

This is truly a “hot button” topic with me (pun intended!) I feel very strongly that it is not only ethically wrong to use such a strong aversive device but it is also typically misused and causes more harm than good. Even when used “correctly” the possibility of undesired fallout is huge. So let me address some of the reasons I feel this way.

1. You can call it by whatever name you want (electronic collar or remote collar are common) but the fact remains it works by shocking the dog. Calling it an electronic collar suggests that it works similarly to a DVR or something. And calling it a remote device suggests that it works like a TV remote. No on both counts. It’s a shock collar, it provides an electrical shock and should be called what it truly is. Why quibble over the name if it is accurate? Unless there’s a reason to try and candy coat that fact.

2. If it didn’t hurt it wouldn’t work. Again, calling it discomfort sounds better than calling it pain. Talking about a tingle or a buzz or a nick sounds so mild and benign. But if it is truly so mild then why use it at all? If there are other, less unpleasant to the dog, ways to get the result, then why insist on using this one?

3. I saw this one on Facebook. “You can’t win field trials without it”. If winning field trials is more important to you than the well-being of a living creature then I don’t really know what else I can say.

4. People often say that good trainers use them properly. The problem with this is that everyone thinks he or she is a good trainer. I see people every single day who can’t get the timing of a clicker right. At least the worst thing that happens there is poor quality training. Bad timing on a shock collar can be extremely harmful. And they are widely available for anyone to buy.

5. The use of an aversive device does not build a bond of trust and cooperation between dog and trainer. Just the opposite. Would you truly trust someone who could possibly shock you at any moment?

6. The use of an aversive device suggests that the trainer doesn’t have a very large range of training options. It’s a pretty extreme choice. Why not try other, less unpleasant options first?

7. They are necessary in order to save a dog’s life. People often cite dogs running away or chasing prey as justification for their use. Again, there are a number of less drastic and unpleasant ways to train around these issues. Counterconditioning and systematic desensitization will work well for these problems.

8. If a shock collar is used to punish behavior then it doesn’t give the dog any information about what is appropriate, only what is not. For long-lasting behavior changes it is important to reinforce desired behaviors, not just punish undesired ones.

9. Just because a dog stops reacting doesn’t mean he has been properly trained. He could simply be overwhelmed and stressed, so he shuts down. That’s not training, that’s bordering on abuse.

10. It is often stated that shock collars are “just another tool in the toolbox”. And it is also stated that you have a woefully incomplete toolbox without one. But, as my friend Ken McCort says “I would prefer my dentist use novacaine rather than whiskey.” As we develop more sophisticated tools we leave the old ones behind.

11. Also, in our first book in the Dog Sport Skills series (with my co-author Denise Fenzi) we talk about the fact that we don’t want to add tools to an old outdated toolbox. We are now designing a better, more modern version that doesn’t include archaic devices like shock collars.

12. I don’t think that people who use these devices are evil. I’m sure they run the gamut from perfectly nice to perfectly awful just like the rest of the population. But I do think they are misguided and that they are making a very poor choice. I don’t believe that anyone has the right to shock another creature and I am mystified at how people justify this to themselves. It’s a hard line that should not be crossed.

13. I’ve often been told that I simply don’t understand how shock collars work and that if I did I would change my mind about them. I’ve been told that I’m overreacting. As a behavioral scientist I understand, better than most, exactly how they are intended to work. And, in my opinion, even when used as suggested they are still unacceptable.

14. I read this week that people who are against the use of shock collars are like PETA. They want to take away rights regarding animals. I don’t know what PETA’s agenda is but I doubt that mine is the same. My agenda, not at all hidden, is to make the use of these devices unnecessary and socially unacceptable. I want people to understand that they are dangerous and cause much damage. If I could make them illegal I would. If I ever get 3 wishes that will be my third wish! Right after a long healthy life and the money to enjoy it :-}

15. Dogs are sensitive and intelligent creatures. Using a painful stimulus in an attempt to alter their behavior is simply overkill. They are smart enough to respond well to positive training techniques. Anything more is not necessary.

16. Pain increases aggression. It can exacerbate an existing problem or even cause a problem where none existed before. The idea that a shock collar is an appropriate treatment for aggression is just ludicrous. That aggression can be focused on whoever the dog is looking at when he gets shocked (another dog or a child, for example).

17. We know how to do it better! There are so many really good positively based techniques available. Why not try those first? If you do those properly there will be no need for a shock collar.

I had an unusual childhood.  Not bad, just unusual.  Looking back now I have to say I wasn’t really well-socialized with people.  I was an only child with divorced parents.  Being that I attended Catholic schools in the early 1960s, that was NOT considered the norm.  I was the only one of my kind.  All around me were large families with outgoing offspring.  Combining my introverted nature with the knowledge of being very different led me to be even more self-isolated, I’m sure.  Plus, we lived out in the middle of nowhere with my grandparents.  So there were very few kids around to play with.  Those that were seemed to constantly be moving in and out.  They often lived in old “company” houses from the brick yard close by.  Looking back I realize just how poor they were.  We weren’t wealthy or even close, but we were stable and solidly lower middle class.  We had indoor plumbing and they didn’t.  My friends were often quite temporary in nature.  The constant was the animals.

We lived across the street from a fairly large horse farm.  I wasn’t allowed to go in and ride unless someone was there, so I spent a lot of my time on the outside of the fence, watching and waiting.  I would mentally will the horses to come to me.  And maybe use a carrot or apple as an enticement as well.  I learned to be very patient with animals.  I also learned that waiting quietly was often rewarded.  The horses would come to trust me and get closer and closer, even when I didn’t have a food offering for them.  I would sit and talk to them for hours.  I knew they couldn’t understand or talk back.  But they could still communicate with me.  I learned about their individual personalities.  They let me see who they were.  Some trusting and friendly, some nervous and shy, some defensive and aggressive.  There was a revolving door of horses over there, so I had plenty of new friends.  As I look back I now wonder if the owners were brokers.  The horses weren’t pets and didn’t stay all that long.

Caught one!

Caught one!

*Sorry this photo is so tiny.  Click on it to see a slightly bigger image.  

I never wanted the horses to actually talk to me in human language, that would be creepy.  I wanted to learn “horse”.  “Horse” was much more subtle and elegant than words.  “Horse” required the entire body in order to be spoken fluently.  It was about taking and giving space, turning forward, sideways, or backwards, making eye contact or not, moving slowly and carefully or quickly and deliberately.  There were a lot to learn to be fluent in “horse”.  Horses seemed to read body language and movement so well that they could tell what your intention was, even what kind of person you were, very very quickly.  I watched many adults in their interactions with the horses.  Horses took a liking to some, tolerated others, and violently objected to a few.  The horses didn’t need much information to make these decisions.  But they seemed to be correct in their assessments of who could be trusted and who could not.

If the horses didn’t like a person I would try to figure out why.  What was that person doing, or not doing?  The horses didn’t like loud and pushy.  That might force the issue and gain a measure of control in certain situations, but they certainly didn’t like it or give their best effort.  The horse would do the minimal required and get away from that person as quickly as possible.

They also didn’t like tentative and nervous.  Someone with fear of large animals also made the horses nervous. They wanted space from that person and would keep their distance if at all possible.  They seemed to take the nervous energy as an indication that there was danger close at hand.  Even as a kid I knew the advice “just don’t let him see that you’re afraid of him” was  idiotic.  The horses always knew, you couldn’t lie to them.

I also watched closely to see what those considered “good” with horses were doing.  Their movements were typically smooth and fluid.  They were calm and deliberate in their behavior.  Confident, but not overbearing.

Me and Patches

Me and Patches

*Again, sorry for the tiny picture.  Work off some very old, very small photos.  

Now, I talk to dogs.  Literally, all the time.  Do they understand?  I’m certain they pick up key words and phrases.  Combine those with my behavior and there is a lot of communication going on.  But the communication works because not only do I talk, I listen.  I pay attention.  I watch them.  I notice changes in behavior and typical actions.  I respond to their attempts at communication.

For example, our next door neighbors are getting new siding and windows (I’m very jealous!)  The side of their garage is close to the deck off our living room.  There is a large sliding glass door there.  Star (youngest BC) started barking hysterically one day.  I walk over, look, and see a worker walking on the neighbor’s garage roof.  I tell Star “thank you for telling me” and I really meant that.  It was a good call on her part.  If someone is on the roof or on my balcony I’d like to be warned.  I also told her very calmly “it’s fine, they’re supposed to be there” petted her, and walked away.  They’ve been there for 3-4 days since and she hasn’t made a sound.  Did she understand what I said?  I think she got the message.  I was calm, my tone was soothing, my actions were relaxed.  There was nothing to worry about.  She got that.

Star talks to me, a lot.  She seems to be convinced that I need careful observation and monitoring at all times.  I really do believe that she was a nurse in a former life.  If I get upset, she leaps into action immediately, gets right in my face, and starts licking me.  This makes me laugh, and then we’re both happy.  Star is very clearly telling me “calm down, everything is fine”.  And she’s right.  She’s so sensitive that even if I raise my voice slightly or change my tone, she’s on it.  Why is she so concerned about how I feel?  I have no idea.

I'm Star and I'm here to help.

I’m Star and I’m here to help.

Zen is totally oblivious to my moods.  His communication with me consists of sitting across the room staring at me and mentally willing me to “throw the ball”.  Sometimes it works.  He’s probably convinced that he has supernatural powers and controls my mind.

Throw it again, and again, and again....

Throw it again, and again, and again….

Is it any wonder I became a behavioral psychologist?

I am just wrapping up my first online puppy class at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy  I have spent 12 weeks with a wonderful group of pups and trainers.  I am sad to see them move on because I will miss them.  But I am so proud of how far they have come.  And I am very excited about their futures.  

And now I am reflecting on future classes and revisions.  In looking over my lesson plans I feel like I have pinpointed where all pups need to start.  And it’s not necessarily what people think it should be.  We start with concepts, not behaviors.  Concepts are general ideas.  They need to be learned through repetition and generalization of related skills.  

The five concepts are:  focus, impulse control, recalls, being operant, and interactive play.  

1)  Focus:  Focus is so much more than attention or eye contact.  In particular, we want offered focus.  Offered focus is valuable.  It becomes a default.  If my dog doesn’t know what to do or how to act, he looks to me.  This makes everything else so much easier.  A focused dog is ready and willing to work with you.  He has learned how important you are in his universe.  And he knows that cooperating with you is always in his best interests.  

2)  Impulse control:  In particular, we want to instill self-control.  It’s not external.  If I have to physically hold my dog back from something he wants, or verbally remind him constantly to leave something alone, that’s not self-initiated.  A dog with impulse control learns the general concept of looking to us for permission when he encounters something he wants.  He learns to think before he acts.  You can leave your sandwich on the table, walk out of the room, and expect it to be there when you return.  Now that’s a useful skill!

3)  Recalls:  This is a year long process.  If you spend a year consistently reinforcing your recalls (in a variety of ways) while increasing the challenges, you should have 15 years of reliability.  There will be some bumpy spots in adolescence.  But the biggest problem is that trainers take it for granted too soon and don’t push their dogs to a higher standard.  They have a “barely there” recall that is fragile and won’t hold up in difficult situations.  An excellent recall needs to be built over time with repetition.      

4)  Being operant:  This concept can be one of the most difficult (for the trainers).  An operant dog learns that his behavior is directly tied to consequences.  In particular, he learns that trying new things pays off.  In the context of a training session we encourage our pups to try out lots of new behaviors and we pay generously (free shaping).  This concept is very useful in the future when we want to develop new behaviors.  We have dogs that are eager and happy to offer.  

5)  Interactive play:  Positive reinforcement trainers are often considered “cookie pushers”.  And sometimes that is true.  Food is quick and easy and it almost always works.  But there is a world full of other possible reinforcers out there.  And interactive play of all sorts can be extremely useful in later training.  Tug, fetch, and chase are some common examples.  Personal play (without toys or other objects) can have excellent carryover to the performance ring in the future.  These ways of interacting with our pups need to be developed and nurtured.  But they are well worth the effort.

Within each concepts there are a variety of exercises and skills to be learned and practiced.  All of this should come before you teach a sit, down, or any other specific behavior.  All your subsequent training will be so much easier if you have these 5 concepts in place first.

*To learn more about these concepts check out my book ‘The Focused Puppy’ available through Clean Run Productions  

Here’s a trailer for my puppy classes!  I’m having fun with iMovie!  





I had a GREAT day yesterday at Posidog in Columbus Ohio.  They hosted a Cynosport Rally trial, actually 3 trials in one day.  I was in the ring with Zen and Star 16 times.  Yes 16!  Would have been 18 if I hadn’t gotten a speeding ticket on the way there.  Total speed trap.  Anyway, it was a nice, relaxed, enjoyable trial atmosphere.  Chad and Sarah are always great hosts.  And they each have a lovely young dog that we got to meet.  Kristen did a great job keeping things organized.  And Morgan kept us fed with vegan food, including vegan cinnamon rolls!  That was the first cinnamon roll I’ve had since becoming vegetarian.  It was so awesome!  So with all that, even if my dogs did horribly, it would have been an excellent day.  The speeding ticket was a small price to pay for such a great day.  The other price was being stiff and sore and very very tired.  But again, a small price.

But of course, this blog is really about dogs.  Zen and Star both did a very nice job.  Showing eight times in one day would be hard on most any dog.  But they were both rockstars!  

Zen is always ready.  No matter what, no matter when.  When we were in Virginia at Laurie Williams’ place we ended up in the ring doing rally at midnight.  And Zen was just as up and happy as when the day started.  He really is the energizer bunny of dogs.  Zen can barely contain his enthusiasm and excitement for working.  His attitude is always fantastic, but his accuracy can suffer for it.  It’s a struggle to keep him “contained” enough so that he is thinking clearly and not just reacting and overreacting.  

You can see in this video how hard he works to do exactly what I’m asking.  It’s a struggle for him.  More traditional trainers feel that Zen needs to be taught a lesson about control.  They would “crack down” on him to get more precision and less attitude.  I want both precision and great attitude, but if I have to sacrifice something, I want to preserve attitude at all costs.  That’s what makes Zen who he is and I have to work within that framework.  I have worked on impulse control with Zen his entire life, and I will continue to do so for the rest I’m sure.  He doesn’t need the enthusiasm taken out of him.  He needs continued lessons that show him that controlling himself leads to getting what he wants.  

Star, on the other hand, has totally different issues.  She is much more serious about her work, but she can also be more environmentally sensitive and reactive.  She gets worried and nervous rather easily.  So with Star, my job is to help her feel confident and happy.  That’s when she can do her best.  

Star needs to feel safe and secure, then she can let loose and focus on working.  My job is to keep her attitude up by being there for her.  She needs to know that I am confident and relaxed because she is very, very sensitive to my moods.  She takes a bad mood very personally.  Everything about the show environment needs to be good for her.  So, indirectly, the cinnamon rolls helped Star.  Because I was in such a good mood yesterday, she was as well.  She’s my little mirror.  

The day ended well.  Zen and Star each got 2 perfect scores of 210.  They each got four first places, two seconds, and two thirds.  All that was evenly matched so we calculated their average points for the day as a tiebreaker.  They were exactly the same (206.5)!  What are the odds of that?  Two dogs with totally different personalities.  Zen has more training and ring experience, but Star tends to be a bit more careful and precise.  They each blew a bonus exercise as well.  So they are equal in the outcome, but they are not even close to being the same.

In the online puppy class I’m teaching now ( one of the main ideas I’m trying to convey to students is that you need to know your dog and tailor your training accordingly.  It’s important to be clear and honest in your assessment.  Yes, all puppies are wonderful, but they are not perfect.  They will have weaknesses.  Some will find impulse control exercises more difficult (Zen); while others will need to become more confident and outgoing (Star).  Neither one is better than the other; but they definitely need a different focus in training.  It’s fun to practice the stuff that your dog is already good at, or has a tendency to like.  But that typically doesn’t help them overcome their major challenges.  It’s hard to keep at exercises where you struggle, but that’s what it takes to improve.  

Zen and Star were trained using the same basic methodology (positive clicker) but their specific exercises and lessons needed to be tailored to what they needed.  The goal was not to change their basic personalities, that is not possible.  The goal was to help each one reach his and her potential as a companion and performance dog.  Treating them exactly the same way would not have been good for either one.  They need to be respected as the individuals they are.  

And that’s my goal in puppy class as well.  Sometimes people don’t want to see, or can’t see, their pup’s weaknesses as clearly as someone with an outside view.  That is probably something that takes lots of experience with lots of pups.   But telling someone their pup has a weak area isn’t a criticism, it’s an observation designed to help inform future training.  

I am preparing to teach Rally as an online class as well.  This is an exciting time to be a teacher.  I am LOVING the experience of online teaching!  As one of the other instructors said to me in discussing this “it’s what we do anyway”.  Meaning we enjoy spending time watching videos of dog training and talking about them.  We do that for fun, for free, all the time.  (Don’t tell Denise I said the “free” part!)  

It is amazing to me how effective online coaching can be.  It is also surprising to me how well I feel like I know all the teams in my class.  I get to see them change from one video to the next.  It’s a very gratifying feeling for an instructor to get such immediate feedback on how well you’re doing your job.  

So this has been a somewhat meandering blog, tied together only by the thoughts running through my head.  Today I’m feeling grateful for rally, cinnamon rolls, puppies, and online classes!  




What do you think of when you hear the word balanced?  I think of something or someone that is stable, strong, coordinated, and steady.  When training our dogs we do consider balance,  but balance in the dog, not the training techniques.  We want our dogs to be well-rounded.  To have equal amounts of drive and control.  We want dogs to work with energy, excitement, and enthusiasm.  But we also want them to respond promptly and correctly to cues.


This is Baby Star on her balance board.

The balance between drive and control is a fundamental one.  It is a goal we are constantly striving towards.  Please note, first of all, that I am using drive as it is commonly used in dog trainer lingo.  The scientific view of drives is that they are not terribly useful for an understanding of behavior.  But if you say “drive” to a dog trainer,  we typically have a shared understanding of an internal force motivating the dog to act.  Some sort of internal push, often coming from the dog’s genetic inheritance.  Types of dogs, and specific lines of dogs, are purposely bred to maintain or enhance some of these tendencies.  Border Collies with a drive to herd or retrievers with an innate desire to pick up and carry stuff are examples of this.  Even within breeds however, some dogs have much stronger natural drives than others.  Not every pup from a litter of exceptional parents will be a great herding dog or retriever.  But the genetic possibilities are there.  So we would expect the drive to come naturally and be present without any outside interference.  That’s nature.

We can, however, enhance or diminish or divert the drive that is naturally present.  We can offer appropriate outlets for the drive and shape it in desired ways.  We can help our dogs learn how to control their natural desires and tendencies.  Dogs with “too much drive” can be difficult to impossible to live with.  They are likely restless and frustrated and looking for an outlet for that internal push they constantly feel.  Without an outlet they divert or displace that energy, often in inappropriate ways.  They often have a high need for action or sensation seeking that is not satisfied.  This can lead to all sorts of behavioral issues such as excessive barking, chewing, destruction, anxiety, hyperactivity, and so on.  These are the problems that lead people to rehome their dogs or take them to a shelter.

However, because that desire for activity can be diverted into appropriate channels, those of us with performance dogs like this type of dog.  This dog has the desire and energy to do stuff with you.  No matter what the sport, this dog is likely to be a willing partner in order to be active.   Herding dogs are very good performance partners because they have been bred for generations to work all day.  Granted, their work involved moving livestock.  But even without livestock they can learn to participate in agility, obedience, rally, disc, and so on.  This type of activity uses up that desire to do things, at least temporarily (it always comes back!)  Of course, those hardwired herding behaviors can then be problematic.  You can end up with a dog that wants to arc or circle instead of going straight out on a go out or retrieve.  That arc is built in for circling the herd or flock.  But we don’t want it in obedience.  You can get a dog that wants to nip at your legs to make you move faster in agility.  Again, that is hard wired to keep the livestock moving.  But clearly we don’t want that either.  So we get the drive to work, but we get some of the deeply ingrained behavior patterns that we might not want as well.

Some dogs, on the other hand, do not seem to have the drive to do much at all.  They are typically more easy going and laid back.  They seem to have missed whatever hardwired behaviors their breed should have.  Or they may be a breed or type that is simply meant to be a companion animal.  They make good pets, which is incredibly important.  They don’t come with too much hard wired baggage, so they are relatively easy to manage.  But they also don’t have a lot of  energy to put into dog sports and activities, especially when those activities are not highly rewarding or engaging.  Their baseline state is low energy.  Trying to make a dog that has this genetic inheritance into a high-level performance dog is going to be very challenging.  It can be done, to a point.  But it will require a great understanding and skillful use of reinforcement to build the “want to” into the dog and the enjoyment into the activity.  Often, this is the nice family pet that someone decides to try out on their first attempt at a dog sport.  An inexperienced trainer and a dog without much drive don’t seem likely to have a lot of performance potential.  They have a hard road ahead.  If they get the right instructor they may find success.  But the wrong instructor can make both dog and owner miserable, and often turn the owner off to the idea of dog sports.  The problem is a lack of innate motivation and desire to seek activity.  If a punishing or aversive approach is used to try to coerce the dog to perform then the desire decreases even further.  If a trainer has only ever worked with highly driven dogs, then he or she may struggle greatly when trying to work with dogs without that drive.

The less internally motivated dog requires a very sophisticated understanding of how to use reinforcers appropriately.  Reinforcement is a far cry from “throw cookies at the dog” though I must admit that “tossing cookies” is very common in my training of puppies and young dogs.  But it is used with a clear understanding of what I want to accomplish and how I will fade out those external rewards as training progresses.   My Papillon, Copper, was a serious little soul.  He was bred to be a lap dog, and excelled at that.  Many Papillons have a very strong desire for activity, but not Copper.  I learned from  him that “if it ain’t fun, it ain’t done”.  Coercion, or even a hint of negativity, led to a shut down.  Copper was so sensitive that he would leave me and go jump in someone’s lap if he felt the least bit of pressure!  Once when we were working on weave poles in the back yard (his least favorite obstacle which was entirely my fault) he want to the furthest corner of the yard and sat with his back to me.

Copper 05 Nationals jump

Talk about clear communication!  Luckily for both of us, I listened to him and respected what he was telling me.  I found a variety of ways to pair fun stuff with obedience and agility.  We worked on rituals at the show site that made him feel secure and comfortable so that he could work his best.  I was careful to  only ask as much of him as he was capable of giving.  I worked hard to build his confidence and enjoyment.  And it worked.  He worked his little heart out for me and earned a MACH and a UD within 2 weeks of each other.  And I allowed him to retire early to live the lap dog life he truly loved.  Training this type of dog can never be accomplished with stress, pressure or force.  You have to truly understand the dog and break down your goals into tiny little pieces so you can build success on success.  This is how you add balance to a low drive dog, by strengthening his weak areas, building his confidence, and helping him achieve realistic goals.

Dogs with high drive present their own set of challenges.  Since they are eager, often desperate for something to do, they seem like ideal candidates for performance work and dog sports.  They are, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy.  Zen my Border Collie, desperately wants to work.  He will do anything, anytime, anywhere. He never gets tired and he never wants to quit.  Sounds perfect, right?  Not always.  Zen is a whole handful of dog!  He throws himself into activities 10,000%.  But he doesn’t always think before he acts.  In fact, he usually acts first, thinks later.  He’s having a fantastic time, but he may not be doing exactly what I want.  His goal is to do it harder, faster, more.  Subtlety and finesse are not in his vocabulary (if dogs had vocabulary!)  So how to put balance into Zen’s life?  Do I want to diminish his drive?  Absolutely not!  I love his joy for activity and his unbridled enthusiasm.  But I do want to add more control and thoughtfulness to his work.  I want to channel his desire to work in appropriate ways.

Picture 6122 A

A dog like Zen would likely withstand quite a bit of force or pressure and still keep working.  Since working is reinforcing in itself, it’s unlikely I would be able to kill his drive with aversives.  Even so, I still don’t want to train that way.  Zen is a totally different challenge than Copper, but one I still approach with primarily positive techniques.  Just because I could “get away” with aversives in training Zen doesn’t mean that I want to.  My pride in my training is based on doing it without force, undue stress, or pressure.  So achieving goals with aversives holds no allure for me at all.  It would be a very hollow victory.  Zen challenges me to be smarter.  And it is hard, maybe impossible, to be smarter than a Border Collie!  He challenges me to think of new ways to add control and precision to his work.  And I’m up for that challenge :-}


Zen adds his own unique style and flair to everything he does!

So the mythical ideal dog would be a balance between Copper and Zen.  He would be thoughtful and sensitive, yet driven and enthusiastic.  What is the likelihood I will ever get that package genetically?  Probably pretty low.  A few people I know have gotten that gift.  The perfect dog falls into their laps.  But most dogs fall to once side of the scale or the other.  They are easy to control but lack drive; or they have tons of drive but lack control.  They make us work if we want to participate in dog sports and activities with them.  But that work is what makes us better trainers.  An easy perfect dogs sounds nice, but where’s the challenge in that?  We likely all know someone that stumbled into a great dog even though they’re not much of a trainer.  Do we respect that person’s abilities?  Not really.  We are astounded by the raw talent and potential of the dog.

So maybe we shouldn’t wish for or hope for the perfect dog.  Maybe we should work on balancing the dog that is right in front of us right now.

So I’ve been having a “discussion” on Facebook with a self-proclaimed balanced trainer about my last blog. And following my policy of being honest and telling the truth on my blog here goes.

She brought up some interesting points and arguments.  Unfortunately, they were laced with prejudiced judgments about me and the value of my goals with my dogs.  It turned out that it was really not possible for me to have a true conversation with this trainer as she threw so many statements and questions at me that it would take months to thoroughly explore them in a thoughtful and intelligent way.  I am very willing to discuss with people who are open and honest and interested.  But when someone engages you with the sole intention of making you “wrong” there’s not much to be gained from that.

Early in our exchange she asked me about my goals for my dogs.  I gave what I considered a complete and thoughtful response.  My main goal is to have my dogs work with me as willing and enthusiastic training partners.  Ribbons, awards, and titles all follow as possible side effects of that main goal.  But my need for external validation of my training abilities is minimal.  From that the balanced trainer determined that I have “given up” on obedience competition because it is too hard.  She feels sorry for me for letting my dogs down in this way.  She believes I have given up on competition because I was not very successful at it.  But she does state that its a shame because I seem to be a talented trainer.  That’s a lot of assumption!  This person only “knows” me from a few postings.  Yet she has made some very negative and specific judgments about me and about my choices for the dog sports and venues I choose.

I found her main analogy very interesting.  Apparently, competition obedience is like the Olympics while rally is like going to  Curves.  Judy goes to Curves regularly and thinks it has been very helpful to her, so she doesn’t really get the analogy either.  I’m thinking it is supposed mean that one is easy and the other hard.  And apparently, the Olympics is a worthy and important goal, but not working out at Curves?  OK.

None of that really bothers me.  I am way past the point in my life where someone else’s opinion of me matters.  What I find much more interesting are the numerous conflicting statements she has made.  She stated that she would love to minimize or avoid aversives; but then says she is willing to cause her dogs discomfort to reach her goals.  She states that one of her dogs really dislikes retrieving and then states that she uses an ear pinch; yet apparently she sees no connection between those two things.  And she states that her dogs have fun and love to show; but that one of her dogs requires very severe scruff shakes as corrections for poor heeling.  Hmmm.  She wants “proof” that positively trained dogs can earn high scores.  But when told that a certain trainer with two totally positively trained OTCH/Sch3 dogs is doing a seminar in her area says that she wouldn’t attend unless said trainer’s students were also earning OTCHs.  OK.

At that point I realized we were not having a productive discussion.  I’m not sure exactly what the point of the exchange was from her end.  My guess is that she wanted to catch me in lies and inconsistencies and prove me wrong so that she can feel justified in how she is training.  Honestly, that isn’t necessary.  If she’s comfortable with what she’s doing then good for her.  Have at it.  But apparently she’s not or she wouldn’t need to “talk” to me.  Karen Pryor says quite a bit about being a “change maker” and the stages people go through in the process.  Some of that seems to fit here.  This whole exchange has been very unpleasant, but I think it indicates that I’m on the right track.  If something I write makes people that uncomfortable there must be a reason.

Unfortunately this online exchange ended in rudeness both towards me and towards others posting on the thread.  That’s too bad.  It did nothing to bring either of us closer to understanding the perspective of the other.  It’s not my goal or responsibility to change the minds of people that don’t want to be changed.  That really isn’t my intention.  I’m speaking to those with a small growing doubt or feeling of unease about what they are doing to their dogs.  I’m speaking to those who have a hope that there can be a better way, even if they don’t see it in those around them.  If I can help at least one person “cross over” to more positive methods then I’ve done what I set out to do.  I am not here to argue with anyone.  I’m here to provide information and support to those that want to change.

That reminds me of the one joke I know about psychologists!

Question:  “How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb?” Answer:  “Just one, but the lightbulb has to really want to change!” :-}

People can train their dogs any way they want.  This is the United States of American and I don’t have the right to tell anyone else what to do.  How I wish I did, but I don’t :-}.  But I do have the right to state my views loudly and often, and that is just what I intend to do.  If you disagree fine, disagree.  If you think I’m full of BS, fine, ignore me.  But don’t waste my time with nonsense disguised as discussion.  I am open to any honest exchange on dog training any time, but not to personal insult or hidden agendas.

I started to say that this picture has nothing to do with this post but I was wrong.  I pulled it up just to have a nice dog picture to attach, but then I realized that it actually does apply.  Part of our discussion was about her need to use a shock collar on her young dog so that he could have freedom to run.  She stated that she felt puppies needed to free run and she couldn’t possibly take 3-6 months to teach a good recall first.  I stated that a big part of my definition of success in training is to  have my dogs under exquisite verbal control without the use of pain or threat of pain, or even the need for external devices like leashes, to gain compliance.  So here are my dogs enjoying their freedom at a lovely park.  There were actually a number of other people and dogs around, yet my dogs chose to hang out with me and to do what I asked them to do.  To me, that is all the evidence I need that my training methods work, and work very well at that!


This is my opinion, based on my experiences with dogs over the past 20 years and my understanding of behavioral science (which is pretty damn good!)  So if you strongly disagree with me, write your own blog about it.

Among dog trainers we seem to have been divided into camps based on our underlying philosophy and the techniques we typically choose.  One camp, the one that I’m proud to be part of, is focused on the use of positive reinforcement as a primary training tool.  Note that I did not say purely positive.  I am not that and never claimed to be.  I would label myself as primarily positive reinforcement.  Another camp has claimed the name of “balanced” trainers, implying that those focused primarily on positively reinforcement are apparently “unbalanced”.  If you didn’t know any better you would probably guess that balanced is good and unbalanced is bad, but you would be very very wrong.  It’s a problem of definition.  Then there are those referred to as “traditional” trainers that use a variety of 0ld-fashioned methods, often not at all supported by behavior science.  But I’ll leave them out of this for now and focus on the distinctions between “primarily positive reinforcement” and “balanced”.

The term “unbalanced” certainly sounds bad.  Maybe I have a mental illness or am unstable?  I imagine that too many pomegranate martinis or too many glasses of pinot noir might have the effect of making me “unbalanced”!  But not my training method.  I certainly don’t feel lopsided when I train.  I feel like I have a full arsenal of methods and techniques at my disposal and am very confident that my lean towards positive reinforcement gives me everything I need in training.

So what is the opposite of primarily positive reinforcement?  Before we can discuss that we all need to be using the same language, the language of learning theory.  Here’s a short and simple tutorial on the proper terminology of learning theory.  There are 5 possible consequences to a behavior.  Positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, negative punishment, and nothing (no consequence one way or the other).  Positive means adding something and negative means taking something away.  They have nothing at all to do with value judgments of good and bad.  These are used as if they were mathematical terms (addition and subtraction).  Reinforcement is intended to increase the behavior it follows and punishment is intended to decrease the behavior it follows.  Note this says “intended”.  Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.  By combining these terms we get the 4 quadrants that people often talk about:  positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, negative punishment.  If you put the definitions together then you get the following.  Positive reinforcement means adding something with the intention of increasing behavior.  Negative reinforcement means taking something away with the intention of increasing behavior.  Positive punishment means adding something to decrease behavior.  Negative punishment means taking something away to decrease behavior.  And no consequence would lead to extinction, the decrease and eventual loss of a behavior.  People often leave that out because it doesn’t fit nicely into the 4 quadrant model.

So if I train by primarily positive reinforcement then what are the other options?  Negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative punishment are left.  Negative reinforcement is always a tricky one.  Most trainers don’t really understand it and even my students, after an entire semester of study, don’t always get it right.  I’ve seen it defined and described incorrectly in many books, blogs, and posts.  Another way to think is negative reinforcement is “escape/avoidance training”.  Your dog can escape from or avoid something unpleasant if he does what you want.  The problem with negative reinforcement is that first there must be an aversive applied so that it can then be taken away.  This is the process behind using an ear pinch to train a retrieve.  The ear pinch is applied, and when the dog does what the trainer wants (opens his mouth and takes the dumbbell) the pinch is released.  The dog learns that taking the dumbbell makes the pain go away.  So in the future he is more likely to take the dumbbell when it is presented to escape or avoid the ear pinch.  But he also learns that his trainer is willing to use pain to get what he wants.  If I were a dog, I would not ever totally trust someone willing to hurt me like that.  Plus, the dumbbell is now paired with a painful stimulus (the ear pinch).  In classical conditioning we have just created an unpleasant emotional response to the dumbbell.  So negative reinforcement can lead to two big problems.  First, the trainer must do something unpleasant to the dog and second, the dog associates the behavior with the unpleasant thing.

Go ahead!  Try an ear pinch on  your cat and let me know how your retrieve training works.  Dogs are too tolerant sometimes.

Then we move to punishment.  Remember, punishment is designed to decrease behavior, so if you are focused on things you want to decrease or stop, and you are primarily approaching training from that perspective, you would indeed be primarily punishment.  Positive punishment is adding something unpleasant to decrease a behavior.  So if a dog is giving another dog a warning growl and you pop on the leash (let’s say attached to a pinch collar) you have just applied positive punishment.  Again, there are going to be problems.  First, you just tried to decrease an important bit of information that your dog gave you (he felt threatened or worried enough to growl).  By punishing the growl you may well eliminate it, and your dog will now go directly to physical attack in the future.  Great.  Plus, you again classically conditioned an aversive with a behavior.  Seeing other dogs leads your dog to be corrected.  Since he was already leery of other dogs, or else he would not have growled, your added correction convinced him that other dogs really are bad.  They cause him to get in trouble.  So you may have punished out the warning signs, but you just made the problem much, much worse through the use of positive punishment.  If there were a sarcasm font I would use it here when I say “Great job!”  The rule in training is to never make things worse, and in this scenario, you did.

Negative punishment isn’t quite as bad, though it can certainly be misused as well.  In negative punishment you take away something to decrease behavior.  The ultimate negative punishment for humans is jail.  Taking away something (freedom) in order to decrease behavior (crime).  Sarcasm font again “We all know how well THAT works!”  But sometimes very short time-outs can be useful in training.  These are not, however, the same as using environmental control and management to prevent unwanted behaviors.  For example, crating a puppy when you’re not home and can’t watch him so he doesn’t have accidents and chew things up.  These techniques come first as a way to avoid the situation that leads to the unwanted behavior.  Punishment comes after the behavior (remember, it’s a consequence not an antecedent).

Bear sleeping

In the above photo the crate is being used as management, not negative punishment.

Being “balanced” actually suggests that you are equally likely to use both reinforcement and punishment in their positive and negative forms.  And therein lies a big part of the problem.  Punishment has a host of serious side effects, even when done “correctly”.  It has a much stronger likelihood of unintended unpleasant fallout than does reinforcement.  That’s not to say that you can’t go horribly wrong with reinforcement based training, people can and do.  But their mistakes are typically less stressful to the dog and less serious in nature.  Too many cookies might lead to a fat dog.  Too many leash corrections might lead to a collapsed trachea.  The damage to the relationship between human and dog is much more likely with punishment than reinforcement.  I am definitely not saying we should let our dogs run wild and free so they can enjoy their lives without human intervention.  Dogs need to be trained to get along in human society.  I am saying that it can be done with minimal to no use of negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative punishment.

My goal is to be a good enough trainer that I minimize the need for aversives in training.  If I say that I need to use aversives then I am advertising my failing as a trainer.  If I am educated, aware, and proactive, my dog should not “need” me to introduce unpleasant events in training.  Trainers often punish because they don’t know the other options or how to use them effectively.  For example, if someone says “so what should I do, throw cookies at the dog?” that indicates a clear lack of understanding of the sophisticated and complex use of reinforcement.  People punish because that is how they learned and it has worked well enough for them in the past.

Even if it works, which punishment can, that doesn’t mean it’s the most effective or efficient method, and it definitely doesn’t mean that, ethically, it is the right thing to do.  The means-end argument suggests that “the ends justify the means”.  But that can lead you down a bad road very very quickly.  So saying “I used punishment and it worked” should not be justification for the punishment.  Shooting the dog (ala Karen Pryor) would work too, but we don’t recommend it.

I also hear people say that punishment used “correctly” is more effective and humane than reinforcement used “incorrectly”.  I disagree quite strongly.  If a father physically abuses his child and the child now obeys, would you say that the abuse was justified and appropriate?  It must have been correct because it worked, right?  Of course not!  We know that’s ridiculous because abuse can never be justified by the outcome.  While I’m not saying all punishment (or negative reinforcement) is abusive, there is quite a bit that crosses the line.  Granted, the line between abuse and punishment is a fuzzy one, and that is a big part of this problem.  One person’s punishment is another’s abuse.  In his book Willpower (a great book that I highly recommend) Roy Baumeister talks about a “bright line”.  A clear and obvious rule to follow.  We don’t have a “bright line” to distinguish punishment from abuse.

I must be very sensitive.  It bothers me at a gut level to see dogs that are stressed, shut down, anxious, or fearful.  But this clearly does not bother everyone.  Some argue it is simply part of the training process, or it is just what the dog must learn.  Or that life is going to be unpleasant sometimes, so the dogs need to learn to deal with it.  Poor dogs.  I can’t help them and I really want to.  It sometimes makes me really hate people.  Especially people who have information and knowledge about modern training, but choose to use old-fashioned harsh methods anyway.  If you really don’t know better, but you learn, grow and change, that’s fabulous.  But if you simply argue that anything different from the way you’ve always done it is wrong, that’s a problem.

So back to “balance”.  If my dog could, at any moment, be subjected to reinforcement or punishment, I’m pretty sure I know which he would choose.  I worry about the inconsistency that underlies the concept of “balance”.  My dog never knows what might be next.  There could be cookies and toys and games or  there could be leash pops, ear pinches, or a shock collar.  Imagine spending your life in an uncertain state.  Today might be a good day where you get reinforced with things you love.  Or it could be the day you get punished.  You just never know which is coming next.  To me, that sounds like the perfect recipe for stress, instability and lack of “balance” in the dog.  Lots of uncertainty and conflict.

I want my dogs to be stable, happy, and confident.  I want them to find me a source of consistency and security.  If I alternate between reinforcement and punishment they can never be 100% trusting of me.  So “balance” in training can actually have a very bad outcome for the dog.  Don’t be fooled because it sounds reasonable!  When people feel the need to make up new definitions of words so they sound more acceptable, you can guess there’s an underlying problem with what they’re doing, and they’re trying to find a way to make it sound better.