Defining Dog Training

Dog training is not complicated, but it is complex. Below is an alphabetical glossary of some of the most common terms you may come across while working with a professional trainer, dog walker, veterinarian, or when researching solutions to common behavior problems. Have a word that isn’t listed here? Tell us in the comments, and we’ll define it for you!


At Pawgress, we believe that human education is critical to ensuring the success of any canine training program. The following glossary is not intended to endorse the use of a defined tool or technique, but rather to provide you with a broad understanding of the components that make up the language and practice of dog training.


Active Submission (appeasement)—an attention-seeking behavior where dogs show submissive body language to a higher ranking individual, such as another dog or human (see also: passive submission)


Activity Training—training focussed on teaching a dog how to perform a specific activity, such as agility, dock diving, flyball and lure coursing (see also: agility, Basic Manners / Obedience, Behavior Modification, Problem Solving)


Acquisition—the first of the four stages of learning, where a dog learns a cue through classical or operant conditioning (see also: automation, generalization, maintenance)


Agility—a sport where handlers guide dogs through a timed obstacle course


Alert Posture—a prelude to another emotion or behavior (play, fear, aggression, etc.), seen when a dog is indicating interest; body language signals include closed and relaxed mouth, straight out tail, raised ears, standing forward on toes (see also: active submission, defensive threat posture, offensive threat posture, passive submission)


Anestrus—the final stage of a female dog’s reproductive cycle, lasting 1-6 months, where the uterus is recovering following a true or false pregnancy and females are neither attracted or receptive to males (see also: diestrus, estrus, proestrus)


Automation—the second of the four stages of learning, where dogs learn how to perform a cue without being prompted or with a food lure (see also: acquisition, generalization, maintenance)


Backchaining—the process of teaching a sequence of steps in reverse order


Basic Manners / Obedience—training that is focussed on teaching a dog how to perform specific behaviors, such as sit, stay, down and recall (see also: Behavior Modification, Problem Solving, Socialization)


Behavior Adjustment Training (BAT)—a force free and reward-based training method that is used to prevent and rehabilitate (over)reactivity in dogs by pairing desensitization and counterconditioning with a functional reward; most commonly used to treat fear and aggression (see also: counterconditioning, desensitization, functional reward)


Behavior Modification—training that is focussed on the management or elimination of complex and/or dangerous behaviors, such as aggression and separation anxiety (see also: activity training, basic manners / obedience, problem solving)


Behavioral Threshold—the distance at which a dog experiences the effects of a stimulus; in other words, when its emotional state changes from one to another


Blocking—when a stimulus becomes irrelevant in the presence of a familiar stimulus (see also: overshadowing, salience)


Bordetella—an airborne and highly contagious upper respiratory infection, commonly referred to as “kennel cough”


Bribe—a reward that is presented to a dog in order to coerce it into compliance for a task or behavior (see also: food lure)


Canine Good Citizen (CGC)—a 10-step exam, created by the American Kennel Club (AKC), designed to recognize dogs with exemplary manners at home and in the community


Capturing—one of the three traditional methods used in teaching a dog to perform a specific behavior, waiting for it to happen and marking it (see also: food lure, shaping)


Choke Chain—a chain-link collar that “slips” or tightens around the neck when tension is applied; uses positive punishment and negative reinforcement techniques


Citronella Collar—a collar that uses positive punishment techniques to eliminate barking by emitting an uncomfortable spray when barking is picked up by a microphone (see also: E-Collar, flat collar, positive punishment)


Classical Conditioning—an associative learning process that occurs reflexively when two stimuli are repeatedly paired; commonly known from the example by Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov, who noticed that dogs salivate when presented with food and began repeatedly ringing a bell before delivering food to dogs, leading them to associate the ringing of bells with food, causing them to salivate when they heard the bell (see also: learning theory, operant conditioning)


Clicker—a small, handheld device used to mark a correct behavior through a consistent sound


Conditioned Reinforcer—a reward that a dog has been taught to enjoy, such as toys, a leash, the sound of clickers, and the words “good” or “yes” (see also: operant conditioning, unconditioned reinforcer)


Coprophagia—when a dog eats feces; causes can be behavioral, environmental or medical


Corona—a highly contagious intestinal disease that is most commonly contracted through contact with feces; symptoms can include loss of appetite, diarrhea, vomiting, anorexia, depression, rare fever


Counterconditioning—re-teaching a dog how to feel about a previously unpleasant stimulus (see also: Behavior Adjustment Training, desensitization)


Crate—a plastic or wire enclosure used for housetraining or sleeping; should not be used for punishment


Cue—verbal or nonverbal signals for dogs to perform an action, such as “sit”, “stay”, and “heel”


Cystitis—a bladder infection causing frequent and sometime painful urination with occasional blood


DA2PP / DHPP—a three to four round vaccine given to puppies at three to four week intervals, generally before before 16 weeks of age, including modified live viruses for protection against distemper, hepatitis (adenovirus type-2), parainfluenza, and parvovirus (see also: DHLPP, distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza, parvovirus, rabies)


Defensive Threat Posture—seen when a dog would prefer to remove itself from a fearful situation but is also demonstrating a potential willingness to protect itself through aggression; body language signals include raised hackles, tucked tail, lowered body, dilated pupils, ears and corner of mouth back, wrinkled nose; dogs in this position may growl, bite, urinate, and/or express their anal glands (see also: active submission, alert posture, offensive threat posture, passive submission)


Demodex—non-contagious, microscopic mites that are naturally occurring on the skin of all canines and can cause intense itchiness and hair loss (see also: fleas, mites, scabies, ticks)


Desensitization—the controlled exposure of a dog to a stimulus to reduce its stress response toward it (see also: Behavior Adjustment Training, counterconditioning, functional reward)


DHLPP—a three to four round vaccine given to puppies at three to four week intervals, generally before before 16 weeks of age, including modified live viruses for protection against distemper, hepatitis (adenovirus type-2), leptospirosis, parainfluenza, and parvovirus (see also: DA2PP, distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza, parvovirus, rabies)


Diestrus—the period of a female dog’s reproductive cycle that directly follows mating, where females can experience false pregnancies if not actually pregnant, identified by weight gain, milk production, and nesting behaviors; lasts approximately 57 days for a pregnant and 2-3 months for a non-pregnant female (see also: proestrus, estrus, anestrus)


Discrimination—one of the four Ds in proofing a behavior, teaching a dog to differentiate between multiple stimuli in the same environment, for example "stay" does not mean "come" (see also: distance, distractions, duration)


Disposition—a dog’s personality or mood (see also: temperament)


Distance—one of the four Ds in proofing a behavior, teaching a dog to respond to a cue regardless of the amount of space between a handler and dog or the dog and a distraction (see also: discrimination, distractions, duration)


Distemper—a highly contagious and airborne viral disease that can also be contracted through contact with infected bodily fluids, affecting the respiratory, gastrointestinal, nervous, and urogenital systems; symptoms include fever, redness of the eyes, lethargy, loss of appetite, anorexia, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, biting at imaginary objects, thickened paw pads; often fatal with no known cure


Distractions—one of the four Ds in proofing a behavior, teaching a dog to perform a cue regardless of the number of stimuli present in the training environment (see also: distance, discrimination, duration)


Drive—a dog’s motivations (i.e. defense, food, herding, play, prey, social)


Duration—one of the four D’s, the amount of time a dog can perform or hold a particular cue or behavior (see also: discrimination, distance, distractions)


E-Collar—a remote operated collar that utilizes positive punishment and negative reinforcement by emitting sounds, vibrations, sprays and electric shocks to cue or correct dogs from a distance


Emotional Support Dog—a companion dog whose presence alleviates a person’s anxieties, as determined by a medical professional; emotional support dogs are not trained to perform a specific task and are therefore not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) but are covered under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) (see also: service dog, therapy dog)


Estrus—the second part of a female dog’s reproductive cycle, lasting 9 days on average, in which she is ovulating and fertilization occurs; females begin accepting attracted males in this period; during proestrus and estrus, females are commonly referred to as being “in heat” or “in season” (see also: proestrus, diestrus, anestrus)


Flat Collar—nylon or leather collars that buckle around a dog’s neck


Fleas—small, dark, flightless parasites that live by consuming the blood of their hosts and are often treated with oral or topical preventative medicines (see also: demodex, mites, scabies, ticks)


Flooding—a high-risk and very stressful technique, where a dog is forced to stay in the presence of a stimulus until the stress response is eliminated


Food Lure—one of the three traditional methods used in teaching a dog to perform a specific behavior, using food to guide the dog into position (see also: capturing, shaping)


Foxtail—a dangerous plant with barbed seed heads that are commonly swallowed or get lodged in a dog’s fur, eyes, ears, nose, paws, and in the anus, which can lead to serious and potentially fatal infections


Functional Reward—giving a dog what it wants in a particular situation, such as distance from a stressor while on leash (see also: Behavior Adjustment Training, counterconditioning, desensitization)


Generalization—the third of the four stages of learning, where a dog learns how to perform a cue in different settings and with different people (see also: acquisition, automation, maintenance)


Giardia—an intestinal parasite found in humans that can be contracted by dogs ingesting a contaminated substance, such as feces or water; can affect dogs of any age and is diagnosed by examining a stool sample; symptoms include soft and stinky diarrhea, sometimes with excessive mucus; treated with outpatient prescription drugs


Habituation—when a dog learns not to respond to an environmental stimulus


Harness—a walking device that fits around the body of a dog, rather than its neck, often with leash clips in the front, along the dog’s chest (designed to turn a pulling dog around), or on its back (engaging the opposition reflex)


Head Halter—a walking device straps around a dog’s mouth and head, similar to those that horses wear, allowing handlers an increased level of control over a pulling dog, as the device is designed to turn a pulling dog away from stimuli


Heartworm—a potentially life-threatening intestinal parasite that is contracted through ingestion of a contaminated substance and diagnosed by examining a stool sample; can affect dogs of any age and can be transferred to humans; symptoms include anemia, coughing, fainting, high blood pressure, and irregular breathing or heartbeats; typically treated with inpatient and outpatient medication or surgery; monthly oral preventive medication is commonly used (see also: hookworm, roundworm, tapeworm, whipworm)


Heel—a cue where a dog is positioned to the side of and walks in sync with his handler while also focusing on his handler’s face


Hepatitis (Adenovirus)—a potentially life-threatening viral infection, mainly affecting the liver and kidneys, that is contracted through contact with the virus; symptoms can include fever, anorexia, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, swollen lymph nodes, inflammation of the eye; can affect dogs of any ag; treated with inpatient blood and fluid therapy and intravenous (IV) nutritional support


Hookworm—a potentially life-threatening parasite that is contracted through mosquito bites and diagnosed by examining a stool sample; can affect dogs of any age and can be transferred to humans; symptoms include lack of appetite, constipation, coughing, dark stools, diarrhea and pale coloring of the ears, lips and nostrils; typically treated with inpatient and outpatient medication (see also: heartworm, roundworm, tapeworm, whipworm)


Learned Irrelevance—when a dog learns not to respond to a particular cue, most commonly seen with “come”


Learning Theory—scientific and conceptual framework governing how animals learn (see also: classical conditioning, operant conditioning)


Leptospirosis—a potentially life-threatening bacterial infection, mainly affecting the liver and kidneys, that is contracted through penetration of the skin and spread through the bloodstream, in addition to ingestion of a contaminated substance (food, soil, water, urine); symptoms can include fever, stiff or sore muscles, lack of appetite, shivering, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, runny nose, coughing, swollen lymph nodes, depression, and increased thirst and urination; can affect dogs of any age and can be transmitted to humans; treated with hospitalization, often including antibiotics, fluid therapy and a blood transfusion


Limited Admission Shelter—a privately funded animal shelter, commonly referred to as “no-kill”, at which animals are typically not euthanized due to space or length of stay; these shelters are not required by law to accept any animal that comes to their door nor do they provide municipal animal control services (see also: open admission shelter, rescue groups)


Maintenance—the last of the four stages of learning, where a dog has perfected a cue and now practices to retain knowledge of the behavior (see also: acquisition, automation, generalization)


Martingale—a collar or harness that “slips” or tightens when there is tension; uses positive punishment and negative reinforcement techniques


Mites—highly contagious skin parasite that cause excessive scratching and may appear as dandruff (see also: demodex, fleas, scabies, ticks)


Negative Punishment—one of the four quadrants of operant conditioning, when something good is removed (negative) from a dog’s learning environment in order to stop (punishment) a behavior (see also: classical conditioning, learning theory, negative reinforcement, operant conditioning, positive punishment, positive reinforcement)


Negative Reinforcement—one of the four quadrants of operant conditioning, when something unpleasant is removed (negative) from a dog’s learning environment in order to strengthen (reinforcement) a behavior (see also: classical conditioning, learning theory, negative punishment, operant conditioning, positive punishment, positive reinforcement)


No Free Lunch Policy—a rule that is commonly used as a relationship or leadership building exercise, requiring a dog to earn everything it wants (i.e. nothing in life is free)


No Response / Reward Marker—a handler’s indication to a dog that it did not perform a cue or behavior correctly (i.e. saying “eh eh”) and that a reward is not coming


Offensive Threat Posture—seen when a dog is willing to attack aggressively; body language signals include raised hackles, raised and stiff tail, ears and corner of mouth forward, wrinkled nose, standing forward on toes; dogs in this position may growl, bark, and/or bite (see also: active submission, alert posture, defensive threat posture, passive submission)


Open Admission Shelter—as publicly funded municipalities, commonly referred to as “the pound,” open admission shelters are required by law to accept any animal that comes in their door and provide animal control services for a defined area; these shelters use adoptions and animal transfers with rescue groups, foster homes and limited admission shelters to rehome animals; when no other option is available, animals will be euthanized in order to make space for others (see also: limited admission shelter, rescue groups)


Operant Conditioning—type of learning in which behavior is modified by rewards and/or punishment, such as giving a dog food when he correctly sits following a verbal or nonverbal cue (see also: classical conditioning, learning theory, negative punishment, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, positive reinforcement)


Opposition Reflex—an instinctive response when a dog feels pulling and must pull in the opposite direction


Orienting Reflex—a dog’s immediate response to a change in its environment


Overshadowing—when a stimulus goes unnoticed due to a more salient stimulus (see also: blocking, salience)


Parainfluenza—a potentially life-threatening and highly contagious viral infection; symptoms include anorexia, coughing, fever, and sneezing; can affect dogs of all ages


Parvo—a potentially life-threatening and highly contagious acute intestinal virus that is contracted through contact of a contaminated substance, such as feces; symptoms include fever, dehydration, lethargy, vomiting, weight loss, and a very bloody diarrhea; can affect dogs of all ages, though, puppies and elderly dogs are more susceptible


Passive Submission (deference)—when a dog shows submissive body language in order to divert—rather than earn (see also: active submission)—the attention of a higher ranking individual, such as another dog or human


Pattern Training—incorporating a dog’s understanding of basic obedience into his normal, daily routines


Perceptual Learning—when a dog learns whether or not an event in his life is relevant


Positive Punishment—one of the four quadrants of operant conditioning, when something unpleasant is added (positive) to a dog’s learning environment in order to stop (punishment) a behavior (see also: classical conditioning, learning theory, negative punishment, negative reinforcement, operant conditioning, positive reinforcement)


Positive Reinforcement—one of the four quadrants of operant conditioning, when something good is added (positive) to a dog’s learning environment in order to strengthen (reinforcement) a behavior (see also: classical conditioning, learning theory, negative punishment, negative reinforcement, operant conditioning, positive punishment)


Premack Principle—commonly referred to as “Grandma’s Law,” it states that dogs will perform a less desirable behavior in order to earn a more rewarding one or as grandma says, “You have to eat your vegetables in order to get dessert”


Principle of Parsimony—account for the simplest explanation, unless there is evidence of the contrary


Problem Solving—training that is focused on the prevention or elimination of nuisance behaviors, such as barking, chewing, and house training


Proestrus—the first part of a female reproductive cycle, lasting approximately nine days, identified by a swollen vulva and mild vaginal discharge; males are typically attracted to unreceptive females during this period (see also: estrus, diestrus, anestrus)


Prong / Pinch Collar—a metal device that is designed to fit high around a dog’s neck and will “pinch” when tension is applied; uses positive punishment and negative reinforcement techniques by teaching a dog how to avoid pain


Proofing—practicing a behavior in a variety of situations with a variety of people with varying levels of distraction in order to help a dog generalize the behavior


Rabies—a life-threatening and highly contagious viral infection that is contracted through a bite from a contaminated mammal and affects the brain and central nervous system; symptoms can include fever, foaming of the mouth, irritability, paralysis, seizures, changes in behavior, and lack of muscular coordination


Rescue Groups—volunteer organizations that take care of pets, often from animal shelters, and adopt them into suitable homes (see also: limited admission shelter, open admission shelter)


Roundworm—an intestinal parasite that is contracted through ingestion of a contaminated substance (frequently food, water, vomit, and feces) and diagnosed by examining a stool sample; can affect dogs of any age and can be transferred to humans; symptoms include abdominal pain and swelling, anorexia, coughing, lethargy, and vomiting; treated with outpatient medication (see also: heartworm, hookworm, tapeworm, whipworm)


Salience—the degree at which a stimulus is more noticeable, important or prominent than another


Scabies—also known as mange, a highly contagious condition caused by microscopic mites that burrow beneath the skin, causing intense scratching, hair loss, and skin rash; can be transmitted to humans (see also: demodex, fleas, mites, ticks)


Scentwork—training that teaches a dog how to alert a handler once it has located a scent (see also: Activity Training)


Service Dog—an assistance dog that is trained to help people with specific disabilities (i.e. seeing eye dog, PTSD, diabetes, etc.); service dogs are granted legal access to accompany their handlers everywhere they go by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (see also: emotional support dog, therapy dog)


Shaping—one of the three traditional methods used in teaching a dog to perform a specific behavior, by marking and rewarding incremental and successive steps (see also: capturing, food lure)


Slip Collar—a collar that “slips” or tightens around the neck when tension is applied; uses positive punishment and negative reinforcement techniques


Socialization—desensitizing a dog to the things with which it will regularly be exposed so that it does not react


Specialized Training—teaching a dog how to earn certifications, such as the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) or therapy certifications (see also: Canine Good Citizen, service dog, therapy dog)


Tapeworm—an intestinal parasite that is contracted through ingestion of a contaminated substance (frequently fleas, rodents and birds) and diagnosed by examining a stool sample; can affect dogs of any age and can be transferred to humans; symptoms include itchiness of the anus and small white fragments in the stool; treated with outpatient medication (see also: heartworm, hookworm, roundworm, whipworm)


Temperament—a genetic behavioral predisposition (see also: disposition)


Therapy Dog—a dog that provides comfort, not necessarily service or assistance, to people; therapy dogs are not protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (see also: emotional support dog, service dog)


Thorndike’s Law of Effect—demonstrating the importance of timing in training, the law states that responses which are followed closely by a reward are more likely to occur in the future and responses which are followed closely by a correction are less likely to occur in the future


Ticks—parasites that attach by mouth to the skin of a host in order to suck blood, sometimes transmitting serious diseases like Lyme disease (see also demodex, fleas, mites, scabies)


Unconditioned Reinforcer—a reward that is natural for a dog to enjoy, such as food, water, air, sex, and the avoidance of pain (see also: conditioned reinforcer)


Whale Eye—when a dog its eyes widely to shows the whites, usually to signify stress


Whipworm—an intestinal parasite that is contracted through contact of contaminated substances, such as feces, food, water, or flesh and diagnosed by examining a stool sample; can affect dogs of any age and can be transferred to humans; symptoms include anemia, dehydration, diarrhea, and weight loss, which are treated with outpatient medication (see also: heartworm, hookworm, roundworm, tapeworm)

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