What Is A Balanced Training Approach?

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Juniper Sage, a blue-eyed sable merle Rough Collie, role plays as a sphinx PC: @roughandborder (Instagram)

A New Instructor

I met Morgan through Reddit. Then we met again in a Facebook group when she submitted a picture and information about her sable merle Rough Collie puppy for a post I was working on, “How Smart Are Rough Collies?” Juniper is very smart, so Morgan had to be even smarter! We finally met in person at a local park, and I was immediately impressed by Morgan’s dedication to being the best possible trainer for June. Her task was not easy, as Juniper had the highest drive of any Collie puppy I’ve ever seen. She had deliberately chosen the most active puppy out of the litter, and we later joked that she had gotten a Border Collie.

 

Three happy and dirty sable Collies sit side by side at a dog park, with the one in the middle being a blue-eyed puppy
Sir Gustav, Juniper Sage as a baby, and Yoshi PC: Cheyanne Ramos

 

Morgan and I have continued to see each other at our local monthly Collie gatherings, and I seem to pick up some new tidbit of information every time we speak. And June? I have watched her change from a crazy-eyed, whirling dervish of a puppy to a responsive, well-behaved, well-rounded and happy dog. Juniper was never easy, and another family likely would not have known how to handle her and may have rehomed her. But Morgan and Michael persevered, and for a time their schedules and lives revolved around her.

They got June settled to the point they were able to bring home a second puppy, a lovely Border Collie, to join her and their crew of cats. Indigo Moon is one of the calmest puppies I have ever met. Talk about standing breed stereotypes on their head! I am excited to see how these two Collie cousins will develop together, and I know that Morgan with her balanced training methods will do her best to enable them to excel.

 

Closeup of a smiling Morgan cradling a blue-eyed Border Collie puppy
Morgan and Indigo PC: @roughandborder

 

I have successfully used balanced training methods for years, particularly after rescuing Freckles, an Australian Shepherd/Great Pyrenees mix who came with some reactivity issues. Without such tools as a head halter, martingale collar, and electronic collar, it is doubtful we would have been able to help Freckles and keep her around. Corrective tools were a game-changer. Now, we have been able to fade the use of the head halter and e-collar until she rarely needs them.

As someone who runs a blog about Collies, it would be logical to assume that I am a Collie expert. But like most assumptions, that would be wrong. What I am is a writer who loves dogs in general and Collies in particular, who very much enjoys telling stories about them. In the practical aspects, I’m still learning, and always will be. In the dog training arena, I feel lacking. So to make up for this deficit, I turn to others like Morgan who implement their knowledge better than I do and confidently approach the topic of training.  – Emily Sowulewski

 

Freckles the Australian Shepherd mix and Yoshi the sable and white Rough Collie lie side by side in a sunny glade
Freckles the Aussie mix and Yoshi the Rough Collie PC: Cheyanne Ramos

 

What Is A Balanced Training Approach?

This question has come up a lot recently, and it seems to have a different definition for everyone. That makes it difficult to encapsulate what philosophies this style of training embodies. I don’t claim to be an expert by any means, just an open-minded owner seeking the best possible life for my dog and my family. This is what balanced training looks like to me, but it might look different to others.

 

Morgan, a girl in a flowered blouse, stands with her arm around her sable merle Rough Collie Juniper, who is sitting upright on a bench. Both of them are overlooking a lake.
Morgan and her Rough Collie Juniper Sage PC: @roughandborder

 

What I’ve absorbed from so many wonderful trainers, balanced or otherwise, is that balanced training usually includes tools of some sort. Prong collars, e-collars, place mats, and so on: each one is introduced slowly with literally hundreds of positive repetitions. It also encourages the mentality of “teach the dog in front of you,” meaning every dog requires their own approach based on their personality, temperament, issues, etc. Some dogs might find a prong collar aversive. Some dogs are so biddable and calm that an e-collar is unnecessary. But typically, balanced training becomes necessary when positive only is not enough for a pushy, aggressive, or reactive dog. It’s for the dog that needs a strong “no.”

 

Juniper sits outside in profile staring off into the distance, displaying a pink buckle collar and e-collar
Juniper modeling her collars PC: @roughandborder

 

Each dog needs their own unique curriculum, while each owner has their own set of ethics they adhere to, as well as varying degrees of effort they will put in to train. (It is also okay for a dog to not fit your needs and lifestyle, and vice versa.)

I’ve also heard there should be several “yeses!” for every “no.” Set them up for success. Make it fair. Don’t correct a dog if you haven’t taught them the behavior you want. Training begins with tons of positive repetitions that are later layered over very low level e-collar pressure, and eventually the e-collar is used mostly for occasional reminders or emergencies. (This means more freedoms for our dogs to be dogs: the end goal!)

 

Morgan holds up a remote with a handprint and pawprint printed on it while Juniper runs and plays in the background
Used correctly, an e-collar with remote can be a great training tool PC: @roughandborder

 

Most balanced board and trains also follow a strict structure in the house, like respecting thresholds, following in heel, spending relaxing time on place, removing privileges like free roam or couch access. But this is only scaffolding, which can slowly be peeled back as the dog internalizes these new habits. Structure can also come into play when a dog starts slipping on their obedience mindset and needs a reset to get back on track.

 

Juniper lies outside on a raised dog bed for airflow
June relaxes on place PC: @roughandborder

 

Balanced training can also be more beneficial for the owners themselves, time-wise. Yes, I could teach my dog to not be reactive by using treats and avoiding triggers, but it could take years to come to a calm end goal. Struggling owners, who might cry every day, who might be ready to give up, need results faster than that. They need help now, and they realistically don’t have time to go super slow for their dogs. I was one of those people. Without the quicker results of balanced training, I might have given up along the way. Many other dogs have been euthanized or abandoned for their problem behaviors, so balanced training is the more humane approach in these cases for sure. I really admire that the balanced idea also considers the human in the equation, too.

 

Michael, Morgan's husband, works with June as she walks atop a doggy balance beam
Michael, Morgan’s husband, works with Juniper PC: @roughandborder

 

My own paradigm will grow, evolve, and widen as my own training skills grow within it, I’m sure. I am so thankful to have found this mode of training! I feel it was truly best for Juniper’s anxiety and over-arousal. I can’t wait to keep learning about the nature of dogs and how to improve myself and the lives of the dogs around me.

 

Morgan and Juniper sit posed before a palm tree
Morgan and June PC: @roughandborder

 

About the Author

Morgan owns and trains her Rough Collie Juniper in Jacksonville, Florida. She started to delve into different training methods when her adolescent puppy began pushing the boundaries and developing reactivity, and found great success with balanced training methods. She does what she can to lessen the stigma about balanced training tools by showing others how helpful and humane they can be. You can connect with Morgan and keep up with the adventures of Juniper Sage and Indigo Moon on their Instagram, @roughandborder.

Further reading: Think Like Your Dog and Enjoy the Rewards by Dianna M. Young and Robert H. Mottram