“Achieving a Balance” in training

Published in the BCSA Borderlines Magazine

Most of us want and even strive for a dog that exudes enjoyment when training and showing. What many of us ultimately look for is a partner that shows willingness and precision along with drive and desire. How do we achieve that balance between speed and yet keep the accuracy?

Back in the old days, training methods were designed for precision without much care for motivating the dog. Although some dogs performed well with this technique, many dogs didn’t appear to enjoy the work itself. Dog training is all about balancing between two ends of a scale.

Drive vs Precision
Training is all about learning how to balance building desire yet maintain an adequate amount of self-control to be accurate when performing skills. In general it is important for a training method to take into account the dog’s willingness and “want” for learning skills. Temperament often plays a role in how a trainer structures training sessions. Dogs that show a high work drive are typically easier to motivate but many times need more training in self-control skills. On the other hand, dogs that show lower drive often need more motivation and shorter sessions while training. With these dogs it might be more important to build the drive and desire before actual training of skills begins. The key in training is motivating your dog during sessions to build the drive you want. Regardless of the level of working desire your dog has, building or maintaining the drive and desire is an important component to take into consideration before you start working with your dog.

Dogs motivated beyond their threshold or capability become dogs that have a hard time focusing on a task. Some people call this “happy” and “high drive” – others call it frantic and stressed. Many times dogs like this seem to have a hard time remaining calm or unable to think while training.

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What to do with a highly excitable dog:
• Work on “rev/settle” games. Anytime your dog sees or hears excitement, have him turn to you for treats or a game of tug. After, have him lay down and settle emotionally. Reward periodically while he is in a down and in a calm state. If your dog notices an exciting event either reward for your dog looking back to you or release off the down and play. over time this game teaches your dog to focus on you during exciting events.
• Feed your dog half his meal before the training session and use low value treats such as kibble for food rewards during training.
• Keep praise low-key and brief and all petting should be calm and slow.

What happens when you have to much work and do not get enough time for fun? You as a person become sad, overworked and depressed. When you train without reward or motivation, your dog doesn’t have the joy in the work. Often dogs trained in this manner are ones who quit trying altogether or goes into a “shut down” mode. Other dogs become overly stressed and get completely hectic and scattered commonly sniffing or looking for enjoyment visiting other people. Either way, you tend to get a dog who responds only when he “has to” and who avoids tasks at all other times.

What to do to get more joy and drive:
• Lighten up when you train!
• Enjoy the time and the journey with your dog!
• Motivate your dog using games and reward with food and toys your dog really enjoys.
• Back away from your dog helps build drive coming towards you.
• If in doubt go back to foundations. Reviews of foundations often find holes in your dogs training or understanding.
• Train in shorter training sessions. Keep it short and sweet.

Achieving the balance between precision and desire is possible. It takes time and planning along with rewards and motivation. YES you too can have a dog that shows willingness and precision along with drive and desire.


Do you have a training question?  AskDebbyQ


2 thoughts on ““Achieving a Balance” in training”

  1. My issue is at dog shows/events. She gets very aggressive in her crate. Any dog coming near her, she sounds like she will tear them to pieces. Needless to say she has been excused from training class because of this. she dose not do this at home. So I really do not know how to fix. Tried covering the crate. Telling her no. Taking out for a walk. Any suggestions appreciated

  2. Picking areas with least traffic and covering is the key. First you need to cover every time. I even start this at home and areas where it is not needed. I assume your dog practices crate at home?

    To start, always cover. Even at home and even if not needed. Then after a few months, Barks, mumbles ect get dog covered.

    There are no exceptions or tests. This is something that will last most like for years but is worth the work so you can go back to classes.

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