Many of us have learned that a balanced approach to life is best. In a balanced state we are much happier, more confident and mentally and physically healthier.
The same can be said for dog training. The B.A.L.A.N.C.E.D approach looks at each dog as an individual. It is not a cookie cutter style of training where one training method fits all dogs (which really never does). It allows for the art as well as the science of training.
Training is broken down into small components. When the dog shows he can do the individual parts of an exercise they are then put together to form the whole exercise.
Some exercises such as retrieving are arranged in a step -by- step method, so each step builds the foundation for the next level. This building block approach allows the handler to focus on that particular segment of the exercise the dog is having an issue with and prevents the dog from becoming confused about what is wrong.
For example, the recall is comprised of heel position with focus, stay, recall, front, finish, heel position with focus. If the dog is not fronting straight the trainer merely works on fronting games to improve that piece of the exercise without making the dog do the whole exercise over and over.
Dogs must have the physical ability do what we ask of them. Some are more naturally athletic than others but all need to know how to use their bodies to perform their jobs.
Dogs are taught body awareness through backing, side passing, bending, down and drop exercises and balanced jumping. These are done on command so the handler can control the dog’s body.
This body awareness gives dogs the ability to use their bodies correctly leading to more precision in obedience and rally and safer runs in agility and safer obstacle negotiation in tracking. This ability becomes fun in the sport of musical freestyle (dancing with your dog) and it also has a secondary benefit of muscle conditioning.
The dog and handler are a team but every team has a captain. The leader makes the decision when and how to play. Leaders provide structure and rules that are clear and fair but motivating and fun.
One example is the “Yours Mine” game. Dogs enjoy the game of tug but only under rules clearly defined by the handler. The game also teaches the dog to turn on and off on command. Leadership helps build a trusting relationship between dog and handler.
This is a two way street. The handler must always be aware of their dog’s mood, stress level, and physical well being. The handler should be aware, as they are training, when a dog is confused in the learning process or making the wrong choices willfully.
Trainers must learn to read a dog’s body language, as even the most subtle changes may indicate something meaningful in the training environment.
For the dog awareness means focus on the handler. This means focus despite what is going on around him so as not to miss cues. Focus means checking in with the handler for permission to proceed with a behavior or to maintain position.
For example, dogs are taught a relaxed focused down exercise. The dog is taught the down stay. In this relaxed position they are allowed to look around and gather information about their environment but may not respond to it. When they check in with the trainer they are rewarded. If they choose to respond to the environment without permission from the trainer they are corrected by being placed back into the down position. They learn that focus on the handler is much more rewarding
The needs of the dog must be met in order for training to proceed. While it is obvious the dog’s physical requirements must be met, good trainers meet their dogs’ mental needs.
This means finding a teaching strategy that best serves the dog’s learning style. There is no “one way” to train a dog. If there were we would all do it and never meet with failure.
If one way does not work a good trainer is open minded to find other techniques that may be more successful for the dog. For some dogs shaping a behavior may be easier to teach and for others showing them how to do the behavior may be better.
Best said “Sit Always Means Sit”. Dogs learn faster when a handler means what she says.
Dogs become very stressed when handlers provide ambiguous training. Inconsistency really means the dog never learns the right answers thus encouraging them to attempt more wrong than right behaviors, frustrating both dog and trainer.
Consistency makes learning fair for the dog.
Dogs, whether home companions or competition prospects, from the time they are born, should be exposed to as many experiences as possible.
Socialization both to people and other dogs is a must. This exposure must always be done in a positive manner, especially when dogs are young.
The competition dog must learn to work under the most distracting conditions so these early experiences are most helpful. Serious trainers continue these experiences for the dog in the form of proofing. Trainers should provide unique, fun and interesting opportunities under which the dog learns to work.
These proofing experiences build the dog’s confidence and actually make showing a less stressful endeavor for the dog.
I define desire as the dog’s willingness to work with its handler.
Desire is nurtured in the dog by fair and rewarding training. We find what is motivating to the dog, not what we think should be motivating. We incorporate the dog’s natural behaviors into the training plan.
Finally we, as the trainer, must be a conduit for everything our dogs want.