In Search of Balance   by Roger Hild

I was originally going to call this, "In Praise of Balance," but that might be construed to mean I had found the `balance' I was singing the praises of. It is indeed unfortunate that I can not make the claim to have found the secret of perfect balance; all I can state at this point is that I have found the need to search for it. 

When I was a child in Grade 8 we use to play a lot of Ping-Pong at the school I was attending. All the extra paddles, balls, nets etc. were kept in a cupboard and it didn't take me long to discover I could get into that cupboard. One day I thought I had the idea for the perfect joke; I got into the cupboard and coloured all the balls green (same colour as the table). This joke didn't prove to be as funny as I thought it would. A few folks tried using the newly coloured balls but they proved to be much harder to see coming off the surface of the green table. In short order, I found myself in some degree of trouble suffering the consequence of having to replace the balls I had ruined. 

The humor in the above mentioned joke was due to the fact that I had removed the contrast, (white of the balls contrasting with the green of the table) and in so doing had created a degree of chaos. Contrast is such an important ingredient in life. It provides definition and clarity, not only for the things we see, but also for the events in our life. Contrast provides the means to learn some of the most important life lessons. It also provides the means for us to really enjoy and appreciate some of the blessings we have in our lives.  

Consider the phrase, "you never miss the water until the well runs dry." Anyone who has gone through a period of drought can appreciate that. How about some of the other things you are able to appreciate because you have experienced both sides of the fence. Maybe the reason that those who have always had everything handed to them on a silver platter (so to speak) have difficulty being grateful is because a bit of poverty makes it much easier to enjoy the blessing of plenty. Maybe those most able to enjoy the sounds of silence are those who have also had to endure an inescapable volume of noise. 

Does contrast play a necessary role in learning? Knowing how to use contrast effectively is part of the search for balance. For example, (and to bring this into a dog-training arena) does simply withholding a reward provide enough contrast to effectively teach the lesson? If I can make the lesson more `black and white,' is it likely the lesson will be learned more quickly and can I encourage better compliance?  If I'm headed north on one end of a longe line while my dog is headed south, the contrast will be pretty obvious to the dog and the lesson is quickly and clearly learned. 

Even while the debate about consequences, corrections vs. punishment etc. continues, I do not believe it is possible to achieve any degree of reliability without including elements of firmness, unwavering limits, consistency, and corrections (when earned). Even though there are those who would like to eliminate all life's negatives, it can not happen. Contrast and balance both demand the presence of negative if there is to be a positive. Energy cannot flow if there is no negative (often called "ground"). Yin does not exist apart from yang and every coin no matter how thin will have two sides and an edge on which to balance. 

The argument against correction often goes, "What if, in my quest for balance, I correct my dog and he doesn't like it; or what if it causes him pain, doesn't correcting my dog create the risk of fear and damage to our relationship?" It is my belief that the type of correction to be used depends on the circumstances surrounding its need. Harsh, ill-timed corrections given in the face of genuine confusion might create fear; if the dog is truly confused, the correction should be to simply help or aid the dog toward the successful completion of the sequence. If it is help (to correct a simple mistake) that is called for, then help him.  

Sometimes the problem isn't confusion but contention. The dog doesn't need help, at that moment, trying to understand the limit; he wants to know something about you and is testing you. As an example, maybe he is testing your resolve or your ability to take charge and be his leader. When dealing with contention, it is important to be decisive consistent and firm. Any type of correction must make the message, "Do it now!" very clear. Corrections given when confronted with contention work very well because they then go to the heart of  
the matter (the relationship) 

Here is an area where there is likely to be disagreements. Do dogs misbehave only because they do not understand what is expected of them or is it possible that even knowing what is expected, they choose to act in a contrary manner? I believe every limit and every command is a potential point of contention. This does not mean that I believe every dog will challenge every limit but rather the potential is there. The moment something becomes contentious, it therefore becomes a relationship issue.  

Anyway, that's one way of looking at things.