Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Seminars! And "balanced" trainers!

I believe that it is important for a professional in any field to learn, especially in the beginning of the career. Hence, in the past, I attended many workshops and seminars, and worked with many dogs at many places in different ways, and it’s all listed on my website. I enjoyed every minute of it. Well, almost. I remember one seminar I absolutely hated, but I still learned – what NOT to do. Generally though, there is nothing better than to meet professional dog people, friends and colleagues, and talk nothing but dog for three days straight, and learn from the best.
Said that, I have not attended anything since 2007, when I drove to Ottawa for an aggression seminar with Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz and Kellie Snider. So am ripe for it, and luckily this year are a few great events happening.
I am already signed up for a “Dogs in the Park” workshop that takes place in Guelph in April. Information is at It’s relationship stuff with Suzanne Clothier and totally up my alley.
A month later, also in Guelph, is a dog-dog aggression seminar that sounds very interesting. Info is at I won’t attend, but if I were a humane society or rescue group or animal control, I might send a representative – and then run a once-a-month, mandatory and nominal-fee based, mini-seminar for new dog parents. Just thinking.
And then, again about a month later, is the CAPPDT conference in my old stomping grounds Calgary, organized by my friend Tammy Brooks, who also organized the 2005 conference, which was fantastic. The conference page on their website wasn’t up yet the other day, but I can tell you that Karen Pryor will be there, and Steve White and other fabulous and positive dog experts.
I know the line-up cause it was announced at the CAPPDT yahoo group - and the discussion that followed kept me entertained for a few days afterwards. You see, neither P in CAPPDT stands for Positive, but for Professional and Pet. Hence, the membership includes all kinds of trainers, and a few vocally complained that this year’s conference caters to clicker trainers, and not to the ones that have a more balanced approach.
“Balanced”, in case you’re wondering, is a euphemism for traditional style control and punishment training, including the use of various choke-type, prong and shock collars to correct unwanted behaviors, combined with rewarding obedience with praise, or a food treat if you deal with a progressive "balanced" trainer.
Balanced trainers justify punishments with the claim that nature teaches that way, and therefore it is necessary for a balanced dog and relationship.
Are they wrong when they say that nature works with both punitive and rewarding consequences, and that both are crucial aspects of learning? I mean, we do learn by trial and error, don’t we? If we make a mistake and it hurts we won’t make that mistake again, in theory anyway. A dog quilted by a porcupine avoids the porcupine in the future. Avoid! The key word and my point. A dog who receives a punishment from his person will avoid! What? His person, the training facility, wanting to learn, dogs that were in the vicinity, and possibly a number of other details humans aren’t even aware of. Avoidance in the future is the natural consequence of experienced discomfort or pain. My dogs trying to avoid me, and the space where they live and learn, is not my relationship goal.
That “balance” I don’t want. I am glad to be imbalanced. And I am glad that Mike isn’t a balanced spouse. And also that the CAPPDT’s line-up of speakers is imbalanced, just wish they wouldn’t, almost apologetically, be defending it in their yahoo group. What’s wrong with taking a stand for the imbalanced purely positive approach? “Balanced” is the method taught by the majority of trainers since the last 60 years or so. It’s what most owners already know and apply. The last thing we need is a conference that teaches more of that.
And the CAPPDT doesn’t – not this year anyway. I am glad about that and depending on how my year unfolds, I might attend. Would love to hear Steve White again.


  1. Hi Silvia

    Great post, I'm glad you're not balanced too! Since you're on the topic and you asked the question "What's wrong with taking a stand for the imbalanced purely positive approach?" I'd like to ask you and your readers the same question. While walking in PPP and around HRM lately I have noticed way too many dogs with prong and shock collars on. The dogs I have observed in the park have been off leash, well behaved and socializing well with other dogs and people. I'm so tempted to ask their owners why they have such a collar on their dog and my question is, would it be out of line to do so? I just feel it is so unnecessary and it bothers me so much to see these devices being used. I wonder is it just a matter of people not being aware of the harm they cause? What would you do Silvia? How would you handle the situation?

    Not comfortable with my own silence in regards to this.

  2. Good question, Marjorie, and complex why so many people use those tools. Of course because they are told to and see it on TV, and also because their dogs might only behave well because of the conditioned association of the aversive tool around their neck.
    I do not believe that most people are aware of the damage they do, and do believe that most people are open minded enough to change. At least that is my experience with my clients. But I also believe that most, when addressed in a park setting and without having asked for advice, are rather jaded and react, well, assertively or aggressively.
    Said that, I can't always keep my mouth shut, even though I know that I don't make a difference in people that have closed ears and mind.

  3. I agree that the approach has to be a thoughtful one. I don't ever believe you can get anywhere by shaming, but by being open, interested and educating. I was hoping to start a conversation by commenting on how well behaved their companion is and see if it will open a way for discussion about the need for the collar. I'll give it a try next time...

  4. Thanks. I am glad that you don't think I am Balanced. Wouldn't have it any other way;=)
    I am glad that you are not Balanced either:-)

  5. One way to open the discussion on metal collars in off-leash parks is to talk about the danger of playing dogs getting their teeth caught in the metal. There have been cases of dogs being choked to death, teeth being ripped out, and people almost losing their finger trying to grab a prong collar. It may not be a direct discussion of their other use of these collars, but it can at least allow the owner to see that it's not needed during off-leash play.

    As for shock collars in dog parks, I don't allow my dog to interact with those dogs because if they shock is applied I don't want my dog associated with it. That has happened, and the result was that dog aggressively at my dog numerous times afterward (and I use that as an example). It's true that most people are defensive about it, but appealing to safety is one tactic.

    I did once say to someone who replied that they needed the prong collar to control their dog (off-leash?), that if that was the case maybe their dog didn't belong in an off-leash park. It worked, she took the collar off - and everything was fine.

    It's an ongoing battle.