I have been fortunate enough to have been surrounded by some of the best dog trainers out there. I don’t just mean a trainer better than me whom I happened to admire. I’ve bumped elbows and made friends with authorities in their field, people who compete in sports in a national and international level, people who are passionate and sometimes downright obsessed with dog training. And people who are right now on their way of becoming authorities in this field.
I’ve found that a lot of authors have some sort of agenda that they’re trying to pitch to their audience. These are the folks who advocate the use of discipline or “balanced approach” as they call it. I’ve also read books from people who advocate a “force free” approach and demonize anything that doesn’t fit that criteria.
As an instructor (at the moment) at one of the top dog training schools in the world I find myself defending and attacking all purists in the dog training industry. The defense comes when a “balanced student” mocks the use positive reinforcement. In these situations I tell my students that positive reinforcement is actually the preferred method to teach behaviors and that those “purely positive” fanatics actually have a point in suggesting a purely positive approach. I’m also very quick to point out the flaws of misinformation in the “purely positive” dogma when reaching a plateau.
I will also immediately jump at the so called “balanced” approach when it plants ignorance in the minds of the public. Sure, I wont hesitate to use punishment to address an issue long overdue, specially when the safety of the animal or owners are at stake. But I have learned to view dog training as an art, worthy of conscious analysis, where there isn’t such thing as “purely positive” or “balanced” methods, but simply an open minded approach.
I guess if there’s any agenda to push is that it’s OK to be Purely Positive and it’s ok to be Balanced. The dog and the situation will determine what’s best.
I have been guilty of being anti Purely Positive myself but I have to say that many dog trainers automatically shut down anything that resembles a "Purely Positive" approach. The problem with this mindset is that it limits your perspective and your critical thinking. Yes, you may be right that there is a better way but you want to at least see the whole picture that these trainers are seeing, evaluate what they're doing and are trying to accomplish. Then, and only after you've seen what they see, can you now say "We can try something else".
Is there a "war" between the "balanced" approach and the "Purely Positive/Force Free" approach? Sure there is. It's not a major, all out, violent one, but it is one that promotes bias and close mindedness. Some so-called "balanced" trainers are as stuck up and close-minded as the "Purely Positive" trainers they condemn. See how ironic that is?
I'm tired of defending the "balanced" approach and I'm tired of being labeled as one type of trainer or the other. I want to be a dog trainer for the sake of the dog! for the sake of the owner! not for the sake of a Facebook group, forum or Dog training association.
Now can we please pull our heads out of our asses, stop mocking each other, pointing fingers and accepting that we all could learn from each other? I'll start as I'm guilty of it myself.