Dog Training Glossary: What Do Dog Training Terms Mean?

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If you’ve ever taken dog training classes, the meaning of these words and expressions may not be obvious.  This article should help.

By Laura Pakis, Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Cynologist

If you’ve ever taken dog training classes, you know there are specific expressions; give your dog a job, be the leader, alpha dog, socialization…  The meaning of these words and expressions may not be obvious.   It can get more complicated when the techniques used to change a dog’s behavior are called positive punishment and negative rewards!? With this article, I will define some of the vernacular used in dog training so that any layperson could understand the terms.  A little perspective on understanding the dog and its training can clarify and improve a client’s relationship with their dog.


A dog’s actions, manners, or actives.  Behaviors can be modified and changed.  They are the response to some stimuli. Behaviors include barking, jumping, running away or towards something, growling…


The aspects of a dog’s personality generally thought to be innate. These can be classified in many ways, but the dog’s activity level, mood, attention span, curiosity, drives, adaptability, or ability to change/ be trained, social tendencies, and fight or flight response are more common measures of temperament.  A dog’s temperament shapes a dog’s behavior but does not determine the behavior.


The combination of all the attributes; behavioral, temperamental, emotional, and mental; that create a unique individual.  Dogs have a combination of 6 personalities:  overconfident, fearful, hyperactive, sluggish, reserved, and outgoing.  Every dog has an individual personality that may or may not represent his breed, so training for the breed may not always be the best training method.


Taking something by force or aggression to establish superiority over resources such as food, preferred resting spots, mates, etc. A dog with a dominant temperament will always be dominant but can be trained to control its dominance.


Being the highest ranked or most dominant individual. Alpha dog gets privileges first, eats first, controls play, and sleeps on higher ground than others.  The alpha dog is not necessarily the leader; it is the dog that gets its way by force.


A person who can motivate a dog to achieve a common goal that the leader determines.  The best leaders are patient, firm but fair, have a clear goal they want to achieve, and know the steps it takes to achieve the goal.  If you are inconsistent or show inappropriate amounts of affection or force to your dog, it will instinctively take on the leader’s role and not respect you.


A positive feeling of approval as well as specific actions and conduct.  Respect translates into the reliability of commands.  It is shown in the dog that sees its owner as its leader and performs commands whenever given.


The process in which a dog learns its world and the human world.  Socializing is more than allowing dogs to play together.  It involves exposing the dog positively to various sights, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes and teaching the proper response from the dog.  It is important to note that a dog that is not continually exposed to new things regresses social development.


The action of teaching a dog a particular skill or type of behavior.  It is an ongoing process of educating the dog that begins at its birth and continues throughout its life.  Think about what you learned in high school.  Unless your current job requires you to use those subjects, your knowledge gets rusty.  Same with a dog, you must actively use the commands, or the dog will not be reliable.

Negative rewards

Something removed from a situation to increase the chance of the behavior being exhibited again, i.e., constant stimulation on an electronic collar removed when the dog behaves appropriately.  To use negative reinforcement, the trainer must control the “Bad Thing” that is being taken away.

Positive punishment

Something that is applied to a situation to decrease the chance of the behavior being exhibited again, i.e., a dog’s barking punished with a starling squirt of water.  Punishers suppress behaviors.  Positive punishment is used to train a dog not to do something.


The process in which relatively permanent changes in behavior are produced through experience and memories.  This requires using the proper training method based on the dog’s personality and temperament.  There are 3 phases of learning for a dog; the learning phase when the dog learns to understand what a command means, the reinforcement phase when the dog “re-learns” the command in different settings, and the proofing phase, the dog reliability in every type of environment.  The good news is your dog will never forget what it learns.  The bad news is without consistent use. It will be less reliable.


A difficult, dexterous, or clever act designed to amuse. Tricks develop a stronger relationship between the dog and the human.  Tricks provide entertainment and engage the dog’s mind, which can alleviate behavior issues caused by boredom.


A charge given with authority for a dog to perform a certain behavior such as heel, sit, down, and come.  Commands consistent and fair become one of the easiest ways to build confidence and respect with a dog since they show you as a leader.


The act of the dog obeying the person giving the command.  This requires the dog to see the person as a leader and is the dog’s way of showing its respect.  Dog obedience is a mental exercise for your dog which can help prevent behavior issues.  Dogs do not figure out basic obedience on their own; they must be trained.

“Giving your dog a job”

A popular term to explain a dog’s need for mental exercise.    Exercises that involve the thinking process, and not just the body, are perfect for a dog.  Commands, tricks, and problem-solving toys and games provide mental stimulation to diminish boredom, which (in a dog) can manifest itself in such destructive behaviors as digging, shredding things, and self-mutilation.

“Setting Boundaries”

Dogs need clearly defined limits.  They cannot cope with inconsistencies, such as being allowed on the couch with the family and being corrected for being on the couch when company comes over.  Teaching dogs words like UP and OFF for such actions helps define a dog’s boundaries as to what is and isn’t appropriate.


The action of putting oral or physical restraint on a dog.  This action is used when a dog fails to follow a command or doesn’t perform an exercise correctly.  This can be a verbal NO, pressure from a head collar such as a gentle leader, stim on an electronic collar, pop on leash from a training collar, etc.


A positive gesture to connect with the way the dog is reacting.  It can be a sweet, high pitched bubbly voice, petting the dog, and even a smile. It informs the dog he has done a good job. Too many dog owners believe a treat is the same as praise and, in the process, lose out to food in their relationship with their dog.


A way of regulating behavior that is directed toward a goal. All dogs need motivation – petting, praise, attention, toys, games, food, or playing with other dogs.  It is a way to let the dog know it is doing the right thing or headed in the right direction.


To strengthen or support an existing feeling, idea, or habit, typically in the form of a food treat, toy, and/or praise.  It is often necessary to use a technique called “shaping,” which means reinforcing something close to the desired response and then gradually requiring more from the dog before he gets it.


An action or event that occurs after a behavior. It can affect how often that behavior will occur again in the future.  Most training revolves around establishing consequences for the dog’s behavior. A consequence does not need to be negative.  It can be a correction or reinforcement.  In either case, the consequence needs to match the behavior to be effective.

Final thoughts

It is important to know when and how to use each term given the situation, your goals and needs, and your dog’s personality and temperament.  Doing so can change your dog’s behavior, resulting in a happier and better-trained canine.

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