A photo of a black and rust doberman, named Apollo who is written about in this blog post

Trust, Training, and Transformation: A Tribute to Apollo


In the ever-evolving landscape of dog training, various methodologies emerge, each offering a unique perspective on building a bond between dogs and their owners. Among these, “balanced training” stands out not just for its effectiveness but for its holistic approach to canine understanding. Central to this method are tools like prong and e-collars, which, when used rightly, foster more than just obedience; they build trust and understanding. My first Doberman, Apollo, was the catalyst behind my journey into balanced training. Despite my prior experience raising well-mannered dogs, Apollo’s unique challenges made me realize that sometimes, more than just treats and love are needed. As we delve further, I’ll share how Apollo transformed my perspective on dog training.

The Foundation of Dog Training: Trust

At the heart of any meaningful relationship lies trust. It is the silent, intangible bond that forms the bedrock of mutual respect and understanding. In the realm of dog training, trust isn’t just beneficial—it’s paramount.

Why is this so?

Imagine for a moment a dog that’s apprehensive, unsure of its surroundings, or fearful of its owner. In such a state, any learning is hampered, and training sessions can even exacerbate underlying anxieties. But when a dog trusts its owner, it’s more receptive to learning, more eager to please, and more resilient in the face of challenges. This trust ensures that even during corrections, the dog understands that its well-being is never at risk.

Furthermore, trust is reciprocal. While we train our dogs to trust us, we too learn to trust them. We trust them to behave in certain ways, to respond to our cues, and to share our living spaces harmoniously. This mutual trust creates a synergistic bond, where both dog and owner understand and predict each other’s behavior, leading to smoother and more effective training sessions.

In essence, trust isn’t just the foundation of dog training—it’s the lifeblood of the beautiful relationship we cultivate with our canine companions.

Demystifying Balanced Training: Unlocking the Secrets of Optimal Performance

At its simplest, the term “balanced training” might bring to mind a blend of rewards and corrections in dog training. However, it’s so much more profound and nuanced than that. Balanced training is a holistic approach that seeks to foster a deep and meaningful connection between dog and owner. It’s not just about getting a dog to sit, stay, or come; it’s about understanding the motivations behind their behaviors and creating channels of effective communication.

Let’s take, for instance, the commands and corrections. While these are vital components, the core of balanced training transcends mere obedience. It’s about reaching a place of mutual understanding. When a dog understands what is expected of them and why, and when an owner can predict and comprehend a dog’s behavior, there’s a harmony that emerges, which is the essence of balanced training.

My journey with Apollo brings this concept to life. Despite being one of the most obedient dogs I’d owned up until that point, Apollo had his challenges. Particularly, his aggressive behaviour when he saw another dog was a matter of tremendous concern. I sought out expert trainers, hoping to find a solution. They provided tools and techniques to “train” him – which led to his impeccable obedience, and while they did have an impact, the real transformation began when our relationship shifted from mere training to genuine communication. When Apollo and I truly started to “speak” to each other, understanding each other’s cues and emotions, the aggressive behaviors began to diminish. It wasn’t just about teaching him commands; it was about building trust, understanding his triggers, and letting him know that I was there to guide and protect him (not the other way around).

In essence, balanced training is a dance of communication. It respects the individuality of each dog and recognizes that successful training is rooted not just in obedience but in understanding and connection.

The Role of Prong and E-Collars in Balanced Training

In balanced training, the tools employed play a crucial role in enhancing communication between the dog and the owner. Among these tools, prong collars and e-collars are particularly notable.

Prong Collars: Contrary to popular belief, prong collars aren’t about inflicting pain. When used appropriately, they’re about providing  distinct but gentle pressure which the dog learns quickly that they are in control of. My first experience with a prong collar was with Apollo. Almost immediately, our walks transformed. The constant pulling diminished, and instead, he began looking to me for direction and guidance.

E-Collars: Modern e-collars offer consistency like no other tool. They communicate clear signals to the dog, whether it’s a gentle tickle or a more defined tap, depending on the settings. In my journey with Apollo, the e-collar became an invaluable communication bridge. The consistent feedback it provided meant Apollo always knew what was expected, and in return, I gained a clearer understanding of his responses.

It’s vital, however, to debunk a couple of prevailing myths. First, prong collars, when properly fitted and used, don’t hurt the dog. They provide a gentle correction akin to a mother dog’s corrective nip. Second, modern e-collars aren’t about “shocking” dogs into submission. Instead, they’re about providing consistent, clear communication.

In essence, these tools, when understood and used with care, aren’t merely about obedience. They’re pivotal in building a relationship of mutual understanding and respect.

Establishing Trust: Unleashing the Power of Balanced Training Tools

Delving into the world of balanced training, especially with tools like prong collars and e-collars, demands both understanding and empathy. It’s about leveraging these tools not just as mechanisms of control, but as mediums of clear communication.

Discovering the E-Collar’s Potential: My initial foray into using the e-collar with Apollo was a journey of discovery. Before any form of communication could commence, it was essential to determine Apollo’s “working level.” This level, just barely perceptible to him, was the starting point. It’s like turning the volume knob of a speaker, ensuring it’s just loud enough for someone in the room to hear, but not so loud that it’s jarring.

In the early stages, coupled with the use of food as a positive reinforcement (though, with Apollo, I didn’t integrate food), the e-collar served as a gentle nudge. A whisper, reminding Apollo to “check in” with me. This act of checking in, a natural canine behavior, got accentuated and became a cornerstone of our training. Each time he felt that gentle tap, his eyes would look for me, seeking direction or confirmation.

The Power of Dual Communication – Prong Collar & E-Collar: When the e-collar’s gentle communication was paired with the prong collar, a profound transformation occurred. The prong collar’s distinct guidance, combined with the e-collar’s consistent reminder, created a crystal-clear channel of conversation. Apollo began to shift his focus. No longer were the distractions of the world his primary concern; now, it was our shared dialogue. His eyes, more often than not, would be on me, trying to understand, to anticipate, and to connect.

The beauty of this method was evident in our walks. As the outside world buzzed with distractions, Apollo found solace and guidance in our silent, tool-assisted conversation. He wasn’t being pulled away from the world; he was being grounded in our bond, ensuring his reactions to his surroundings were balanced and in harmony with our shared understanding.

When utilized thoughtfully and correctly, these tools evolve beyond their basic functions. They transform into catalysts, fostering trust, understanding, and deep connection. In my journey with Apollo, they were not mere instruments for behaviour correction; they were conduits that cultivated a bond rooted in mutual respect and understanding.

Two-Way Street of Dog Training: Humans Need Learning too!

Often, when we embark on the journey of dog training, the spotlight is primarily on the canine. However, this dynamic, especially in a balanced training approach, is much more reciprocal than it initially appears. While we teach our dogs commands and cues, we too are students, constantly learning and adapting.

Training isn’t merely about imparting knowledge to our dogs; it’s also about the invaluable lessons they teach us in return. As we guide them through commands or navigate behavioral challenges, we become attuned to their subtle cues, body language, and even the smallest changes in demeanor. These lessons are not about obedience but about understanding our dogs at a fundamental level.

For instance, while I worked with Apollo using the e-collar or prong collar, I was not just teaching him; I was learning his language. Every response to the tool, be it a tilt of his head, a pause, or a glance in my direction, was a lesson in Apollo’s communication. These reactions taught me about his thresholds, his comforts, and most importantly, his trust in our relationship.

Furthermore, the balanced approach is holistic. It doesn’t just teach us how to make our dogs sit or stay. It educates us on why they might react a certain way in specific situations, or why certain triggers elicit specific responses. This not only deepens our bond with our furry companions but ensures that we can preemptively address potential issues, making for a smoother coexistence.

In this shared journey of learning, we discover that training is indeed a two-way street. Both dog and owner evolve, not just as trainer and trainee, but as partners in an enriching relationship built on mutual respect and understanding.

Ensuring Safety and Comfort

A foundational aspect of balanced training, or any form of dog training for that matter, is the assurance of safety and comfort for our canine companions. Even the most effective training tools can become counterproductive if not used correctly. This isn’t just about the method of use but also about the fit and positioning of the tools.

For e-collars, its efficacy is largely contingent upon its fit. The collar should be snug enough that it doesn’t dangle or hang off the dog’s neck, akin to how a watch should fit comfortably on a human wrist. It should be tight enough that slipping a finger underneath requires effort, but not so tight that it causes discomfort. More than this, it shouldn’t freely rotate around the dog’s neck, as a conventional flat collar might. A well-fitted e-collar ensures consistent communication, minimizing potential discomfort or chafing, and maximizing its training potential.

Prong collars, when fitted properly, have a similar snugness. They shouldn’t be hanging off the dog’s neck. Instead, they should sit securely without moving freely. The size of the prong links is also crucial for effectiveness and comfort. For dogs under 60lbs, the 2.25mm link size is optimal, while dogs over 60lbs are best suited to the 3mm size. For our smaller canine companions weighing less than 20lbs, micro prong collars of 1.5mm are available. It might be surprising to some, but even small dogs can benefit immensely from prong collars when used correctly. Their design ensures even pressure distribution around the neck and offers protection to the trachea, making them not just tools for obedience, but instruments that align with dog psychology.

Remember, the goal of these tools isn’t to control through discomfort but to communicate effectively, ensuring our dogs are both safe and at ease during training.

The Long-Term Benefits of a Trust-Based Approach

Reflecting on my journey with Apollo elucidates this profound transformation. Apollo’s story wasn’t just about managing aggressive reactions or achieving basic obedience. It was about cultivating a bond wherein he felt secure, understood, and above all, trusted in our shared understanding.

Before the integration of the prong collar and e-collar, our walks were a testament to the strain and unease of our relationship. Every dog we crossed paths with was a potential trigger, transforming our outings into a game of stealth and avoidance. But as we embarked on our balanced training journey, employing these tools not as mere corrective measures but as avenues of communication, a shift began.

The e-collar, especially, played a pivotal role. Not only did it reinforce the training techniques we’d previously learned, but its consistent feedback bridged the communication gap between us. No longer were there misinterpretations or missed cues. Each gentle tap from the e-collar became a language in itself, a reminder for Apollo to check in, a reaffirmation of our bond.

Final Thoughts

Our journey with our canine companions is rarely a simple one. But in every challenge, in every hurdle, there’s an opportunity to learn, grow, and deepen the bond we share. Apollo’s story, though tragically short, was a testament to this. In the brief span of his life, he brought to light the profound significance of balancing trust and training, reshaping not just our relationship but also my very philosophy and approach as a dog trainer.

The essence of balanced dog training isn’t just about obedience or correction; it’s about crafting a bond that transcends the limitations of spoken language, where trust becomes the ultimate cornerstone. Every tool, every technique becomes a bridge, a means to communicate and understand. The result is a relationship that is not merely transactional but is deeply rooted in mutual respect, understanding, and unwavering trust.

As Apollo’s journey intertwined with mine, the lessons he imparted shaped me. Though his time on this Earth was unexpectedly short, the legacy he left behind was immense. He transformed me into the dog trainer I am today, making me recognize the value of patience, perseverance, and above all, the importance of trust.

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