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Why “Balanced Training” Can Lead to Mental Imbalance for Dogs
Presented by Dr. Karen Overall
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What we call something actually matters a lot, because it is our first exposure to how we are going to think about any issue. Being aware of the influence of labels is essential, because we are then far more likely to investigate the meaning behind the label. However, most people who want help for their dogs are busy, worried, scared and bothered by what they cannot do, do not know or may not understand. For them, an in-depth analysis of a label is a luxury. And, if they do not know that they really need to ask what the label means, their dog may be at risk.
This is the history of the labels that have been attached to dog training, especially that involving aversive practices and punishment. And this is the current situation with the latest trendy label: “balanced training,” a label that is the response from the community committed to aversive interventions to change behavior to “positive training.” It is a clever label because not only does it distract from the methods, it contains a value judgment implying that those who disagree or use other methods are “unbalanced.”
Only by measuring the effects of the intervention at the behavioral, physiological and neurochemical levels can we honestly compare methods, limitations and concerns. There are now data on pain, anxiety and effects for mental health for a number of species. This presentation will focus on how we use these data and approaches to develop a culture that uses only techniques that support – and not imbalance – a dog’s mental health.
Dr. Karen Overall received her BA, MA, and DVM degrees from the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and her Ph.D from the University of Wisconsin - Madison. She completed her residency in behavioral medicine at Penn, and is a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behavior. Dr. Overall has spent most of her teaching and research career at Penn, running the behavior clinic at Penn Vet for more than a dozen years before moving to the Medical School to concentrate on research. Her ongoing research focuses on neurobehavioral genetics of dogs and the development of normal and abnormal behaviors.
Dr. Overall has given hundreds of national and international presentations and short courses and is the author of over 100 scholarly publications, dozens of textbook chapters, of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals (1997) and Manual of Small Animal Clinical Behavioral Medicine (2012). She is also the editor-in- chief for Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research (Elsevier). In 2004, Dr. Overall was awarded the Cat Writer’s Association, Inc., Certificate of Excellence for The Social Cat column, Cat Fancy Magazine. In 2005 she was the North American Veterinary Conference (NAVC) Small Animal Speaker of the Year and in 2010 was named one of the The Bark’s 100 Best and Brightest.
In 2008, Dr. Overall was appointed by Pennsylvania Governor Rendell to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Canine Health Board. She also serves on the US Department of Defense’s Blue Ribbon panel on canine post-traumatic stress disorder.