Dog training

Dog training

Dog training is the process of teaching skills or behaviours to a dog. This can include teaching a dog to respond to certain commands, or helping the dog learn coping skills for stressful environments. Dog training often includes operant conditioning, classical conditioning, or non-associative learning to achieve the dog performing a desired behaviour or skill. A person who trains dog is said to be a dog trainer.

There are many methods of dog training and many objectives, from basic obedience training to specialized areas including law enforcement, military, search and rescue, hunting, working with livestock, assistance to people with disabilities, entertainment, dog sports, detection dogs and protecting people or property.

As pack animals, wild dogs have natural instincts that favor cooperation with their fellow dogs. Many domestic dogs, either through instinct or breeding, can correctly interpret and respond to signals given by a human handler.


Training Controversy

There is much controversy about what is the most effective way to train a dog. Some dog trainers, such as Victoria Stilwell, are said to be 'positive trainers' as they mostly use positive reinforcement to elicit, motivate, and change behaviours. An opposing camp comes from 'traditional' trainers, such as William Koehler and Diane Baumann, encourage the use of punishment, often physically painful punishment, in order to train dogs. Similarly, there are dominance trainers, such as Cesar Milan, who believe all animals have an innate desire to dominate others, and that this dominating behaviour needs to be punished.

In reality, many trainers use all quadrants of operant conditioning in their training, and so use both reinforcement and punishment throughout their training. The difference is mostly in the scale, as positive trainers tend to employ more reward based principles first, while traditional and dominance trainers are more likely to punish unwanted behaviours first.

Basic training

Most dogs live with people who want them to behave in ways that make them pleasant to be around, keep them safe, and provides for the safety of other humans and pets.[citation needed] Dogs do not figure out basic obedience on their own. The fundamental rule that must be remembered is that one should never apply human standards of society onto the dog with the assumption that the dog will understand.

The hardest part[citation needed] of training is communicating with the dog in a humane way that the dog understands. The underlying principle of all communication is simple: reward desired behavior while ignoring or correcting undesired behavior.

Basic pet obedience training usually consists of teaching animals to behave of cue. Common behaviours are:[citation needed]

  • Sit
  • Down
  • Stay
  • Recall ("come", "here" or "in")
  • Close (or loose-leash walking)
  • Heel
  • Up (standing up without jumping)

Dogs are also often undergo toilet training, where they are taught to relieve themselves outside.

Corrections are a form of punishment.[1] Corrections can be physical (i.e. leash correction) or mental (i.e. withdrawing a reward). The dog's personality, the behavior, and the importance of the correct behavior should all be taken into account in using corrections with your dog. In a nutshell, negative corrections should only be used to eliminate a behavior and positive rewards to repeat a behavior.

Basic training classes

Professional dog trainers train the dog's owner to train his or her dog. To be most effective, the owner must use and reinforce the techniques taught to the dog. Owners and dogs who attend class together have an opportunity to learn more about each other and how to work together under a trainer's guidance. Training is most effective if all those who handle the dog take part in the training to ensure consistent commands, methods, and enforcement. Classes also help socialize a dog to other people and dogs. Training classes are offered by many kennels, pet stores, and independent trainers.

Group classes may not be available until the puppy has completed all of its vaccinations (around 3 – 4 months of age). Some trainers offer puppy socialization classes in which puppies can enroll immediately after being placed in their permanent homes as long as disease risk is minimal and puppies have received initial vaccinations. In most cases, basic training classes accept only puppies who are at least 3 to 6 months old. It's recommended to start training as soon as the puppy comes into your home. Puppies may also be trained individually by the trainer visiting the dog's home beginning as early as 8 weeks.

A puppy requires discipline, consistency, and the patience of its owner. The puppy training phase is integral in raising a healthy and happy dog and keeping a safe and fun home environment.

Dogs are expressive and may communicate needs by biting, whining, and getting fidgety. Changing one's own conduct may be effective in changing a puppy's behavior.

House training is an important issue for puppies. Various methods of house training will work although the key is to be consistent. With regularly enforced rules, litter box, crate, or paper training can be successful.

Advanced training classes

This type of training is more complex and usually suitable for dogs who have completed level one (basic training) or an equivalent level of adult dog training classes.

Individual training

This training is ideal for dogs that have an urgent or unique training problem or are not suitable for group training. Dogs not suitable for group training are those who are reactive or aggressive to other dogs or people or may have a fear of certain situations. This type of training would normally be undertaken where the problem normally occurs rather than a classroom situation.

There is also puppy training which is mostly just socialization and introducing puppies to meet and greet with other puppies and play with them.


Fundamentally, dog training is about communication. From the human perspective, the handler is communicating to the dog what behaviors are correct, desired, or preferred in different circumstances and what behaviors are undesirable.

A handler must understand communication from the dog. The dog can signal that he is unsure, confused, nervous, happy, excited, and so on. The emotional state of the dog is an important consideration in directing the training, as a dog that is stressed or distracted will not learn efficiently.

According to Learning Theory there are four important messages that the handler can send the dog:

Reward or release marker
Correct behavior. You have earned a reward.
Keep going signal (KGS)
Correct behavior. Continue and you will earn a reward.
No reward marker (NRM)
Incorrect behavior. Try something else.
Punishment marker
Incorrect behavior. You have earned punishment.

Using consistent signals or words for these messages enables the dog to understand them more quickly.

It is important to note that the dog's reward is not the same as the reward marker. The reward marker is a signal that tells the dog that he has earned the reward. Rewards can be praise, treats, play, or anything that the dog finds rewarding. Failure to reward after the reward marker diminishes the value of the reward marker and makes training more difficult.

The meanings of the four signals are taught to the dog through repetition, so that he may form an association by classical conditioning so that the dog associates the punishment marker with the punishment itself. These messages may be communicated verbally or with nonverbal signals. Mechanical clickers are frequently used as a reward marker, as are the words "yes!" or "good!". The word "no!" is a common punishment marker. "Whoops!" is a common NRM. A KGS is commonly a repeated syllable (such as "g-g-g-g-g" or a drawn out word such as "gooooood".)

Hand signals and body language also play an important part in learning for dogs. Some sources contend that the most effective marker is the human voice.[2]

Dogs do not generalize commands easily. A command which may work indoors might be confusing out-of-doors or in a different situation. The command will need to be re-taught in each new situation. This is sometimes called "cross-contextualization," meaning the dog has to apply what's been learned to many different contexts.


Training a dog takes time and patience. Canines seem to understand what the trainer wants fairly quickly. This corresponds to Animal Cognition- the mental capacity of non-human animals. The dog takes in odors, sights, and sounds to remember something it has been taught.

For example, when the trainer says “sit,” there should be a set tone and a hand motion. After the dog has experienced seeing and hearing this routinely, along with obtaining the muscle memory, the action of “sitting” becomes an image set in their minds. The next time the trainer says “sit” with the same tone and motion, the dog receives an image showing it the action and is, therefore, able to sit.

Clarity while demanding what a canine does is also of great importance. The dog associates the words the handler says with not only the tone, but also with the sound of the letters in each word. “Sit” ends with a strong “T,” while “Stay” ends with a drawn out vowel sound. The canine does not understand the difference between consonants and vowels, but the sound associated with the words, along with the handler’s tone, allows the dog to associate an auditory element to each command. In return, the canine is able to recall the commands due to the words’ unique connection to the dog's mental and auditory senses.

Reward and punishment

Most training[citation needed] revolves around establishing consequences for the dog’s behavior. Operant conditioning defines these following four types of consequences.

  1. Positive reinforcement adds something to the situation to increase the chance of the behavior being exhibited again.
  2. Negative reinforcement removes something from the situation to increase the chance of the behavior being exhibited again.
  3. Positive punishment adds something to the situation to decrease the chance of the behavior being exhibited again.
  4. Negative punishment removes something from the situation to decrease the chance of the behavior being exhibited again.

Most trainers claim that they use "positive training methods. " Generally, this means using reward-based training to increase good behavior rather than physical punishment to decrease bad behavior.

Dogs should not be punished by being placed within a cage, crate, or carrier, especially one similar to where they eat or sleep. While this may confine the dog from further disruptive behavior, and also may seem similar to "sending a child to their room" as a form of punishment, the dog's mind will unfortunately begin to associate the cage with punishment, and will experience anxiety if put into the container, as a result of the negative feelings associated with it. Punishment involving confinement is an unusual and confusing type of situation for a dog, and should not be used.[3]


Positive reinforcers can be anything that the dog finds rewarding - special food treats, the chance to play with a tug toy, social interaction with other dogs, or the owner's attention. The more rewarding a dog finds a particular reinforcer, the more work he will be prepared to do in order to obtain the reinforcer. Just being happy about a dog's accomplishment is a reward to them.

Some dog trainers for example suggest using treats that are particularly favoured by your pooch. Your dog or puppy may particularly enjoy liver treats or cheese.[4] However, always make sure that the treat that you use as a positive reinforcer is healthy and will not damage your dog or puppy's overall health.[5]

Some trainers go through a process of teaching a puppy to strongly desire a particular toy, in order to make the toy a more powerful positive reinforcer for good behaviour. This process is called "building prey drive", and is commonly used in the training of Narcotics Detection and Police Service dogs. The goal is to produce a dog who will work independently for long periods of time, in the hopes of earning access to its special toy reward.

Corrections are only effective when paired with teaching the dog desired behaviors, but tend to be ineffective without teaching the dog the proper ways to avoid the correction and achieve reward. Corrections should only be administered as appropriate for the dog's personality, age, experience and physical and emotional condition. Some dogs may show signs of fear or anxiety with harsh verbal corrections. Other dogs may ignore a verbal reprimand. Some dogs develop an aversion or fear of water, when water is sprayed at them as an aversive.


Many dog owners teach their dogs tricks. This serves several purposes. It develops a stronger relationship between the dog and human, it provides entertainment, and it engages the dog's mind, which can help to alleviate problems caused by boredom.

Some common tricks that dogs are trained to do are:

  • Beg
  • Shake hands
  • Play dead
  • Speak (bark)
  • Spin in a circle
  • Crawl along the ground
  • A number of variations of retrieve
Dog on hind legs


Training tools
Tool Definition
Choke Collar The choke collar is a length of metal-link chain with a large circular ring on either end. The chain is slid through one of these rings and it is slid over the dog's head. When the dog displays an undesirable behavior the collar is tightened. This is primarily used in traditional dog training.
Prong Collar The prong collar is made of metal links that fit together by connecting through long, usually blunt, teeth that point inward toward the dog’s neck. A section of this collar is made of a loop of chain links that tighten the collar when pulled, pinching the dog's neck. The use of these collars is controversial and is opposed by animal rights groups such as PETA. This collar is mainly used in traditional dog training. Some dog training organisations will not allow members to use them PAACT.
Pinch Collar
Radio-controlled Collars These consist of a radio receiver attached to the collar and a transmitter that the trainer holds. When triggered, the collar delivers an aversive. The specific aversives vary with different makes of collars. Some emit sounds, some vibrate, some release citronella or other aerosol sprays, some apply electrical stimulation. A few collars incorporate several of these. Of these, electrical stimulation is the most common and the most widely used. Early electrical collars provided only a single, high-level shock and were useful only to punish undesirable behavior.[6] Modern electrical collars are adjustable, allowing the trainer to match the stimulation level to the dog's sensitivity and temperament. They deliver a consistent and measured level of aversive stimulation that produces significant discomfort and startle without risk of producing permanent physical injury.[7] Lindsay finds these collars inappropriate for use as the initial or primary means for establishing basic obedience control.[8] Lindsay says that competent electronic training appears to promote positive social attachment, safety, and reward effects.[9] Many of the manufacturers realize that these collars can be used to treat aggression when used correctly. They specifically recommend against merely correcting the dog when he shows aggression. [10]
Martingale Collar The martingale collar is a collar that has only a section on it that will tighten when pulled. It consists of the main collar piece, as well as a smaller chain or fabric loop where the leash attaches. This is different from the choke collar that will tighten indefinitely. They are often considered safer than a choke collar because they will release tension instantly, while a choke collar often gets stuck. While they are now mainly used as a training collar, they were originally called Greyhound collars and used on breeds such as Sighthounds whose necks are as big around as their heads and can easily slip out of a flat buckle collar. The chain loop allows the collar to be loose and comfortable, but tightens if the dog attempts to back out of it.
Head Collar The head collar is very similar to a halter on a horse. The theory it is that if you have control of the head, you have control of the body. The head collar generally consists of two loops, one behind the ears and the other over the nose. This tool makes it more difficult for the dog to pull on its leash.
No Pull Harness The no-pull harness is worn on the body of the animal. The no-pull harness differs significantly from the standard harness since it makes it harder for the dog to pull because it distributes energy over the dog’s back and shoulders. The no-pull harness restricts the movement of the dog’s body when the dog pulls. Like the head collar, the no-pull harness does not teach the dog not to pull. It only makes it harder for the dog to pull.

Specialized training

Dogs are also trained for specific purposes, including:

Guard animals

Due to their natural social structure — which is territorial and protective of companions —companion animals may exhibit some form of alert behavior toward intruders. Guard dogs and police dogs are not simultaneously intended to be companion animals.

Guard dogs are defined as canines that, either by training or by instinct, protect either persons or property.[citation needed] A well-trained guard dog protects on command and "turns-off" on command as well.

Several methods to train guard animals include the western (the Koehler Method, developed by William Koehler, a military dog trainer and animal trainer for Walt Disney productions) and eastern methods. The Schutzhund sport also includes a protection phase in which the dog bites a padded sleeve worn by a "decoy" who plays the role of a "bad guy" threatening the dog's handler. The dog must also release on command and guard the decoy.

In some circumstances, when dogs are left alone to guard property it may be necessary to train them to not eat treats or other food items offered by unknown persons.

See also


Italic text===Footnotes===

  1. ^ Beaver (2009) Canine Behavior Insights and Answers Second Edition. Saunders Elsevier
  2. ^ Canine Dimensions, 2008, 32
  3. ^ Seligman, M.E.P. (1975). Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman. ISBN 0-7167-2328-X
  4. ^ Yaremenko & Randolph, 2004
  5. ^ Yaremenko & Randolph, 2004
  6. ^ Lindsay, 2005, p. 583
  7. ^ Lindsay, 2005, p. 584
  8. ^ Lindsay, 2005, 586
  9. ^ Lindsay, 2005, 614
  10. ^ Dogtra Manual, Dogtra Manual, Pg 3.


  • Beaver, Bonnie V. (1999). Canine Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians. W. B. Saunders Company, Philadelphia, PA
  • Campbell, William E. (1995). "How Dogs Think A Non-Verbal Link to Canine Communication". BehavioRx.
  • Lindsay, Steven R. (2000). Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Vol. 1: Adaptation and Learning. Iowa State University Press, Ames, IA.
  • Scott, John P. and Fuller, John L. (1965). Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.
  • Serpell, James A. (1995). The Domestic Dog: Its Evolution, Behavior, and Interactions with People. Cambridge University Press, New York, NY.

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