In creating this blog series, and speaking to multiple trainers in one area in particular, I came across Luna's story - and the trainers that she worked with.
The "balanced" trainer in Luna's Story was featured in part 3 of this series.
I also interviewed a trainer on the "all positive" side of this situation (not the trainer themself, but their Protégé) - the only "trainer" who truly considered themselves all positive.
I have decided NOT to feature this trainer, due to the comments highlighted in one of the questions below, and because I dont think they truly represent the all positive side of this argument or even dog training in general.
For a great perspective on "all positive training" please see Part one of this series.
Tell me about your dog!
We found Luna on kijiji when searching for a puppy. We fell in love with her instantly and she was part of the family a few weeks later. She's part border collie, part Australian shepherd. She has TONS of energy and is very smart.
What made you seek out the advice of a trainer?
We wanted to make sure Luna got the best possible training, but neither of us have any experience training dogs. She was having issues reacting to other dogs, cyclists or people walking by when we would take her for walks.
Which training method did you start with and why?
We started with the "All positive" approach. We searched for dog trainers in our area on google and only one option popped up. We had called another woman with a similar approach 5 times but they never got back to us, so we tried the one we found online.
Why did you switch methods?
Not only did the "all positive" approach not help Luna, it was actually making her issues far worse.
The approach the trainer took was to try to guide the dog to 'choose' you and behave how you wanted them to just because you wanted them to. She was constantly rewarded with treats when she followed commands, which Luna figured out quite quickly. She learned the commands no problem, but would only do them if she knew you had a treat for her. If she knew you didn't, she wouldn't follow commands.
The approach does not instill any respect for you in the dog, nor does it show the dog that you're in control or that you are the alpha. If the dog is making all the choices, the dog feels that they are the alpha, not you, and so she'll do what she wants.
Her reactivity to other dogs worsened. When we took her to class and she reacted with barking and lunging at the other dogs, the "All positive" trainer separated her from the group by putting up a makeshift fence so she couldn't see the other dogs and encouraged me to give her treats to help her "get comfortable". But she was basically telling me to reward her for the behavior she was displaying. When it didn't improve after a few minutes, she covered the fence with a blanket to further isolate her.
It was managing bad behavior, not training her in how to socialize properly with other dogs. It was clear that this approach would not work with her. Maybe with a happy go lucky pup that doesn't have any alpha tendencies and just wants to please you, but not with a dog that needs actual training.
After this situation and three other private sessions spread over a 6 week period, the trainer told me that Luna would never be a happy friendly family dog as it was "just not who she is" and that she'd not be able to handle other dogs being around and that we'd have to essentially keep her isolated. She told us to use essential oils to curb her aggression. She told us to think of Luna as though she was autistic. The fact that she was saying this when Luna was only 5 months old was incredibly frustrating and disheartening, not to mention a little infuriating to be honest.
When Luna started showing other aggressive tendencies like being food-aggressive and protective and growling anytime we tried to correct her, I was basically at the end of my rope. I wanted to do all these fun family things with a dog like I'd always dreamed and the trainer was basically telling me that these things would never happen with her and that I'd have to put in a ton of work just to isolate her from the world and keep her from hurting someone. There was no effort in the approach to correct any of her negative behaviors, it was all managing and isolation. It was heartbreaking because I'd wanted to have a dog ever since I was little and this was not the experience that I'd wanted. I was ready to re-home her, because I was putting in tons of work every single day and it felt like she was just getting worse with this 'all positive' approach.
My husband was adamant that we not give up on her. Then he saw a post on Facebook from another trainer about training classes, and sent them a message. This new trainer, who uses the more balanced approach, offered to come and meet with us and Luna and get an idea of what we were dealing with and have a discussion about if she could be helped. Before we'd even met her he told her that Luna was 7 months old, and she immediately told us that she was not a lost cause and that there was LOTS we could do to help her.
When she came to meet us the next day, she had Luna behaving better within 10 minutes of meeting her! After hearing what she had to say about Luna (which was FAR more positive than the first trainer had ever been), we hired her. After three sessions in the first week and a half after hiring her, Luna had made HUGE strides forward in her behavior. Her socialization has improved, her manners with new people have improved and she's not pulling at the end of her leash barking at every passer by anymore. She still has a lot to learn but it's clear that she's improving.
In the end, what was your preferred method and why?
In my opinion, balanced training is the only way to go. The dog needs to respect you and recognize the pecking order in the household. If you're giving the dog all the choices and hoping for the best, the dog won't respect you or feel like you're in charge. Why would a dog choose to follow a leader who won't make decisions or enforce rules? You don't let your kids make all the decisions, so it makes no sense to let your new puppy make all their decisions. Managing a dogs issues or keeping them in isolation is not training. Dousing a scarf in essentials oils hoping it will calm them down is not training. Teaching the dog to respect you and follow commands IS proper training.
Is there a moment in your dog's training so far that you are super proud of?
I was able to take her for a training walk at a very busy local event recently, which was one of the things that the 'all positive' (#irony) trainer had told us she would never be able to do. This was after just 3 weeks with our new trainer. I can now take her for walks without it feeling like she's going to pull my arm out of its socket. She's still learning, but can walk past other dogs without lunging and barking, even if the other dog is misbehaving.
If you could give one piece of advice to other aggressive dog owners, what would it be?
Get help from a certified trainer with real qualifications and experience, and take the balanced approach. An aggressive dog needs to be trained properly and consistently and it needs to know that you are the alpha, not them. That doesn't mean yelling or scolding, but being firm, direct and confident.
Whats your dog's favourite treat and if you were stranded on an island would you eat it?
Luna's favourite treat is cooked chicken breast, which is handy because stranded on an island, I would definitely eat cooked chicken breast. Did anyone happen to be stranded with BBQ sauce?
I have to say that this particular post was an emotional rollercoaster, and leaves me with a lot of thoughts and feelings not only on positive vs balanced trainers, but trainers in general. Stay tuned for the final part of this series - "The Result"
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Well folks! It's been a journey.
When I embarked on this adventure of comparing all positive vs. balanced dog trainers, I expected to find vast differences, competition, and even drama between trainers.
What I actually found was the opposite...