Aggression Training Part 3: The Balanced Perspective

January 03, 2019

Aggression Training Part 3: The Balanced Perspective

The whole idea of this blog started after talking to my best friend Shawn of Avalon Dog Training. I'll never forget the first day we met, when I brought by Saint Bernard in for a training consult. 

We were reminiscing about that day and she remembers me holding on this this 200lb dog for dear life, white knuckled on the leash, who could effortlessly pull me in any direction at any moment.

I remember her talking about using a "Halti/gentle leader" do avoid me having to be white knuckled like that. When she went to put one of her own halti's on Quinn, he immediately disapproved and snapped at her - the whole time she kept her cool and was able to calm him down effortlessly. 

I knew from that moment on I would be able to trust her with my dog, and my relationship with him.

Here is her interview: 

Tell me about yourself, and your dogs :)

I'm Shawn, 38yrs old, Mom of 2 and Professional Dog Trainer. I've been working in the dog industry since I was 16 volunteering for the SPCA in France.

My dogs are a part of my every day life. Full family members. I have more dogs than most, with a total of 7 dogs sharing our lives.

I built my business, Avalon Ranch Dog Adventure Camp, from the ground up in Prince George, BC. It was a successful dog social boarding and daycare facility for over 10yrs before I relocated in 2016 for the birth of my second child.

After my maternity leave I decided to focus my career on Rehab work. Helping families with "difficult dogs" achieve balance and understanding when faced with undesirable behaviours Is one the most rewarding job in the world. This is my passion.

What is your favourite breed and why?

My favourite breed would have to be German Coolies of course. They are a hard working breed from Australia who are exceptionally versatile and smart. They have been amazing ambassadors for my training and their breed. Their incredible social nature has made them an integral part of my social program for my rehab clients. They have helped many dogs learn social cues and proper dog etiquette, opening up doors and possibilities for my clients they never thought possible. After all, dogs speak fluent dog, they are better suited to help than any of us humans. I love Coolies for their unwavering dedication to anything their handler needs of them, from working sheep to helping rehab antisocial dogs.

What got you interested in dog training?

Back when I was 16, my mom was constantly in and out of hospitals for medical reasons. This left me alone a lot as we didn't have family in France. I decided to volunteer  for the SPCA. I started with cleaning kennels, and other cleaning duties, then over time started taking on more responsibilities such as animal intake, surrenders and dog walking.

The connection I made with these dogs from our walks, sharing in their love of satisfying their curious nature and natural instinct to explore nature left me deeply in love with their true honesty and loyalty in their relationships.

The moment I actually define as THE moment I knew I would work with dogs all my life was when I knew we could help these dogs have forever, unwavering, loving homes. It was so simple. Watch them in their natural environment, observe their own conversations with each other, acknowledge the instinctual, easy flowing conversations and balance they have with each other and their surroundings, learn it and apply it.

By that I mean these dogs that I was seeing come in as surrenders for this or that reason (all varying in severity from shoe chewing to biting), all different breeds, sizes, ages, gender, background. Once given the ability them to reconnect with their own basic needs and their own social communications were able to achieve the same goal of balance and emotional control to allow them to be adopted out successfully.

It's my job to provide them with what they need and in return they will happily accomplish any task asked of them. Isnt that the definition of balance? An even distribution of weight, enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady. I knew I wanted to help people understand the importance of investing as much effort into the relationship as we expect to receive back from our partner to achieve an upright and steady relationship. I'm a balance trainer. 

What are your certifications?

I'm a graduate of the Wonderdogs Dog Training school in Victoria BC. A BC secondary education accredited course. This was a 4 month long 30hr+ per week course. I also have a certification with the APDT. My life experience working with difficult dogs for the last 22 years has served as a priceless source of knowledge in my career. I'll always refer people to my past clients for references rather than to my certifications. My successful clients are the true testament to my abilities.

Why did you choose the training method you use today?

I chose to use what worked for the dog. Tomorrow I will also chose what works for the dog. These two things might not be the same thing each day. Each dog is different. Each day is different. Each situation is unique. Each and every one of them is going to call for a different approach. Being flexible. Listening to my dog. Moving. Bending. Flexing. That is what guides me in choosing the training method I use today.

What is your best success story?

That's a hard one. I celebrate every goal achieved with my clients as a best. It's the best for them, so it feels like the best for me. But some do stand out. Those ones are the ones that had to live in a micro managed isolated world, who finally get to enjoy all there is in this world. Seeing doors open, opportunities fly, and hearts burst with excitement on both sides of the leash is truly the best success story.

Why not all positive training?

I do not believe this world is a all positive world. I do not believe it is possible to achieve balance if we solely stay on one end of the spectrum. 

What is your best piece of advice for someone seeking out a trainer?

If you are in need of a trainer please speak with past clients. Meet with the trainer. Ask questions. Ask to meet their own dogs, they will tell you a lot more about the abilities of that trainer. Dogs never lie. I have met trainers with many many qualifications and certifications but who's own personal dogs were very limited in social skills and what they were able to do in their lives. Some behaviours being very undesirable. Those are things to consider when you are looking for guidance with your own training goals, of they cant help themselves there is little chance they will be able to help you.

What is your favourite training tool?

My favourite training tool is my relationship that is built between a dog and its handler (making the handler the training tool). It is always with you, you will always have it when you need it. It will never be lost forgotten or not worth it to your dog. You can take it anywhere your dog is welcome and it gets stronger with every day and every adventure you live together. 

What sets you apart from other trainers?

I'm not sure if I'm set apart from others. I'm my own person. I have my own life experiences I bring to the table that make me who I am. That makes me unique - same for everyone else. There is a saying in the dog training world. What can 2 trainers agree on? .....what the third is doing wrong! ;)

Whats your dog's favourite treat, and if you were on a stranded island would you eat it?

My dogs will eat anything. But their fav is raw meat of any kind. I guess if I was stranded on an island I would in fact eat it. Hopefully I could get a fire started to cook it but  if not I gotta do what I gotta do...generally speaking though I would trust to eat anything my dog would eat in a survival situation


Overall, I see a trend happening with all trainers that I have talked to. Its about a spectrum or a scale - positive on one end and "negative/punishment" on the other. I have found that positive trainers start one one polar end of the sliding scale slowly working their way down to punishment if neccesary, while balanced trainers start in the middle, and can quickly tell (sometimes even in a consult) what tools and methods will work for each dog.

Stay tuned for part 3 and 4, the comparison - where I interview dog owners that have experience with both methods.

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