Understanding How a Dog Learns and Balanced Training
I have learned so much about positive dog training from Susan Garrett, Silvia Trkman and Laura Romanik. While this writing is not about the balanced training approach involving balancing positive reinforcement along with physical punishment or physical corrections when training a dog. The purpose of this page is to share what I believe is an excellent approach to balanced training with the types of activities you do with your dog to help them have a happy and motivated attitude and approach to the training and/or showing you do with your dog.
However, my belief in a balanced training program may in fact influence a choice in using a positive approach where dogs learn to make the right decisions because they get rewarded when they do. When they choose to make an incorrect choice rather than getting a jerk with a prong collar or a shock from an e-collar, the reward is with held. If the criteria is clear and consistent we are being fair to our dogs and this goes a long way to have a happy dog choosing to work with us and make the correct choices.
I disagree strongly with those that write that a positive approach is fine until we meet a problem or behavior issue with our dogs; then it is time they say to use the physical correction.
Yes, the type of training that Susan, Silvia and Laura use may take longer and may involve a little more understanding of how a dog learns, their approach DOES NOT INVOLVE negative reinforcement other than perhaps light and happy feedback of saying, “Opps.” When the trainer clearly understands what the behavior is they are trying to teach the dog, let the know understand what is being taught, and then use a scheduled of reinforcement, dogs learn to make the right choices and physical corrections ARE NOT NEEDED.
My goal when training my dogs is to have them understand what I am asking; be clear and consistent with my cues and verbal’s. Yes I use toys and treats, but there is not an overuse of treats. If done correctly, treats are systematical faded when the dog learns the behavior. When they are learning they get more treats and a happy, positive reward marker such as “YES.” But as they learn the desired behavior then the criteria for the receiving the reward increases.
I believe that it is difficult for dogs to stay motivated and have a good attitude about their sport even in herding if they are drilled and drilled, shut down for their excitement about their job and continually told “NO” or given negative reinforcement for their behavior in some way. Yes, it is hard to believe that dog that once loved to herd sheep looses their interest and drive. Perhaps not as hard to believe in obedience because I think we all agree that obedience, if not taught, properly with reinforcement and perhaps play, can quickly deteriorates into a robotic or lackluster performance of the activities. Certainly not pleasant to watch. But how beautiful when a dog happily works as a member of the team.
In addition to being committed to this type of positive training, I also feel strongly that a dog needs variety in his life and activities. Think of how you would feel if the only thing you ever did was go to the gym to work out. No vacations, no hikes, no play, no fun. So why is your dog different. I believe this diversity in my dogs activities helps them to stay fresh and be willing to work with me when training. Their day off for hikes or play is their time to be a dog and to sniff, run and play. However they have been trained to come when called and to stay within my sight. They also have been trained not to chase wild life or to be fearful of other people or dogs we may meet on the trail.
Listed below along with some videos are ways that I have always kept my dogs happy, motivated and having a good attitude about whatever training I ask of them.
- EXERCISE – swimming, hiking, leash walks, snow play
- NEW ADVENTURES
- BALANCE DISCS – not only works their minds but also builds strong bodies
Dogs were born to work. Most were bred to perform a purpose such as herding livestock, hunting or providing protection. Yet so many dogs today do not receive adequate exercise. The amount of exercise required for a dog to keep healthy, agile and to prevent destructive behaviors varies with the dog’s breed and size. However, most dogs benefit from some form of exercise such as leash walking, hiking, off leash opportunities, playing in the snow and swimming. Below are a few videos of my dogs exercising off leash in a safe environment. While daily opportunities for this type of exercise are desirable, I make sure my dogs have the opportunity to run and play for at least 30 minutes to an hour or two and be dogs at least 4 or 5 days a week.
When we travel to a show or on vacation, we might have to be a little more creative to find opportunities for play.
I love new adventures and enjoy them even more with my dogs. Our new adventures involve going to new places and photographing my dogs enjoying their exploration of these new environments. For us we frequently travel north to Flagstaff, Arizona and explore new trails with opportunities for off leash running in a safe environment. In the fall we enjoy trails among the beautiful changing Aspen trees; in the winter we head north often as soon as the snow falls; sometimes there is is dusting of snow and other times I need snow shoes. In the summer we hike in the cool forest and sometimes find a lake or stream for swimming.
To change up the environment when hiking we might hike the trails in reverse. Sometimes I find places to explore off of trials with no trail and only bush wacking.
When we go to new places I talk with the local people to find places the dogs and I can hike and perhaps even find off leash hiking places. In California there are several lovely places for dogs to run and play on the beach. My very favorite is an isolated beach in Sonoma County that a friend at a winery told me about when the local Russian River was dangerous with algae blooms and high bacteria counts in the summer of 2015. The best way to find these treasures is to talk with the locals.
When training in obedience we go to new locations and add to the training challenge with new and different site pictures behind and around the ring.
I have written much about the use of balance discs with my dogs which you can find on this web site. I started Myst on a balance disc when she was 12 weeks old and have continued to learn more about how to use discs for building strength, coordination, proprioception and to help prevent injuries. We have room in our house where the dogs love to go at the end of the day for their work on the balance discs or learning new tricks. See the video, “Two Cool Border Collies Go to the Gym" on our home page.
The teaching of tricks and the use of balance discs is an excellent way to help your dog use their mind and bodies and to quickly calm their high or excessive energy. I love doing this at the end of the day as an indoor opportunity to interact and enjoy Kaffee and Myst. I have found that 20 minutes in their doggie gym quiets their minds and helps them to be ready for a quite restful evening. This is perfect also for rainy days, or when the weather is too hot or cold to train or hike outside. Again, I have some fun videos of Myst’s tricks. See one of my favorites below.
Obedience: PLAY > WORK> PLAY
This past summer I spent 5 months trying to help Myst and myself find the joy in heelwork. We learned a great deal from watching Kamal Fernandez train his dogs with PLAY>WORK>PLAY.
See my writings and videos below of our work. We also incorporated balance discs into our outdoor training.
My dogs go for their herding work once a week. As I mentioned I do use a professional trainer to teach and show them in trials. Herding is very challenging to learn without having sheep to practice with. Sheep for herding are 100 miles round trip for us. Also as I mentioned I did not want Kaffee at his age doing a lot of running since I know this would quickly limit the time he can enjoy herding at his age.
Myst loves to run and has trouble keeping her feet still and being patient. You will see this in her videos below. Dawna Sims has done an amazing job with Myst with her consistent and patient training.
Although we no longer compete in agility, I often do jumping grids with my dogs or work with the stride regulator to get more accurate take off points for the obedience jumps. Sometimes I will put the jumps low at 8-12 inches and let Kaffee and Myst run a few agility obstacles. Kaffee still loves to go in the agility ring as he did when he was very young.
What a Week of our Balanced Training Might Look Like – however it is always different. In the summer we do a lot of hiking and little training. In the winter when there is snow, we head north to the snow and no training. I love how my dogs attitude is so happy the following day from a fun day of hiking or playing on trails.
a.m. obedience and perhaps some jumping grids. Always play > work > play
p.m. short hike behind our house or stretching and work on the balance discs
a.m. herding lessons
p.m. stretching and work on the balance discs
a.m. off leash hike for 1-2 hours
p.m. stretching and tug fun
a.m. obedience training
p.m. short hike behind our house
a.m. obedience training
p.m. stretching, tricks and balance disc work
Off leash hike for several hours with friends and other dogs
a.m. obedience training
p.m. stretching and balance discs
1. Myst's first AKC herding trial: Pre-trial sheep and her title
2. Myst's first competitive GEESE run in ASC of AZ. Out of 13 dogs she won her class
3. Obedience: PLAY > WORK > PLAY
4. Obedience: Building the joy into heel work and exercises with PLAY > WORK > PLAY
5. Incorporating Balance Discs Into Training
6. Balance Discs for Strength and Staying Fit
7. Tricks, Building Core Strength and Staying Fit
8. Exercise and Fun in the Snow