Dog Training A-to-Z: Brief Glossary of Terms

Dog with ball in his mouth
A dog is more likely to do what he's asked if he's motivated by something he wants or likes. For instance, he's more likely to sit if you play fetch with him.


Habituate: To become accustomed to a specific situation through repeated exposures. A dog may alert at a noise, for instance, but after hearing the noise repeatedly, he may become indifferent to it and begin to ignore it. This type of learning occurs naturally and doesn’t require a structured training plan. (See also: sensitize.)


Interrupt: To turn a dog’s focus away from an unwanted behavior as an intervention to stop the unwanted behavior. From there, the dog can be redirected to an acceptable behavior. An interruption does not need to be loud or sudden; a slight shuffle of the feet or a quiet clap is ideal.


Learned helplessness: When a dog learns that no matter what he does he cannot escape from an aversive situation and gives up trying. Learned helplessness is a negative, detrimental emotional state that has been associated with anxiety and depression.

Low-stress handling: See fear-free or fearless vet visits.

Lure-based training: Using something that a dog is willing to follow (most commonly food) to guide the dog into a desired position (a sit, for example). Once the dog is in the desired position, the lure is used as a reward. A lure can be a treat held in the hand, food on the end of a spoon, a toy or any other object that a dog will follow as it is moved.


Management: Controlling the environment so that the dog doesn’t have an opportunity to rehearse an unwanted behavior. For example, a management strategy for a puppy who chews on furniture is to keep him in a gated, dog-proofed area away from furniture.

Mark: To use a specific signal at the moment a desired behavior occurs to indicate an acceptable behavior. (See also: marker.)

Marker: A stimulus that pinpoints the behavior the dog did to earn a reward. The most common markers are either a clicker or a specific word, such as “good” or “yes.” The marker should be used at the exact moment the behavior occurs. For example, when teaching a sit, the marker should be used as soon as the dog’s bottom touches the ground. The same marker should be consistently used by every member of the family or household and should always be immediately followed by a reward.

Motivated: When a dog’s behavior is influenced by something he wants and is willing to work for. A dog who is motivated by games of fetch is both willing to play the game and willing to do what he’s asked in order to get access to the game, such as sit before the ball is thrown.


Negative reinforcement: Use of an aversive or undesirable consequence to teach a specific behavior. An example is the use of a shock collar to prevent jumping or barking.


Operant conditioning: Increase or decrease in certain behaviors based on the associated consequences of the behavior. For instance, a dog may learn to be cautious of the cat after he gets swiped across the nose. Or the dog may learn that when he stalks the cat, a game of chase ensues. The quadrants of learning (positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, negative punishment) fall under the heading of operant conditioning.


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