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Scientific Terminology


By Pete Eromenok

Dog training comes in many forms and disciplines; from teaching him to prance around a ring, to ordering him to hold a criminal at bay and everything in between. In the training of any dog there are applications of different methods which make up the training of the dog.  It is not necessary to know these definitions in order to train a dog.  Most trainers will use some or all of these methods normally in each training session. These terms are intended to illustrate some of the ways all dogs learn.

Classical Conditioning:         This is involuntary. The dog makes a connection between two stimuli.  If you ring a bell and place food down for your dog, soon he will start drooling at the sound of the bell, or for all you hunters out there, when you get out your camo coat or gun, the dog gets excited, even though it has been 10 months since the dog has seen a gun.  It gets the same response. The dog knows “we’re going bye- bye.”

Operant Conditioning: This occurs when a dog makes an association between a behavior and the consequence that follows. There are four major categories of operant conditioning. They are:

  • positive reinforcement,
  • Negative reinforcement,
  • Positive punishment and
  • Negative punishment.

Positive reinforcement is the application of something the dog likes at the proper time, and therefore the dog makes the connection between the behavior and the desired pleasantry. It could be food, praise, toys or whatever the dog views as pleasurable. An example would be when the dog is commanded to sit and his rump hits the ground and a treat is popped immediately in his mouth. He makes a clear association between dropping his rear end and an enjoyable experience. This is commonly known as positive reinforcement. It is also the most common method of teaching a new behavior.

Negative Reinforcement is the removal of something the dog considers uncomfortable. An example of this is when a dog is learning to sit the handler pulls up and back on the leash. The pressure exerted from the collar disappears at the same time its rump touches the ground. The dog learns to stop the uncomfortable experience by quickly putting his rump on the ground when he hears the sit command. This is commonly known as force.

Positive punishment is the application or presentation of something the dog considers unpleasant. When a dog goes to jump on the counter to steal the fillet mignon, and is quickly given a snap of the leash which is connected to his collar, then this would cause him not to do that for a while. This is commonly known as a correction.

Negative punishment is the removal of something the dog likes. Here is an example of this: if a dog is barking in your face because he wants to play or is simply being pushy, your response is to walk away or turn your back.  Another example would be if your dog was being irritable you would give him a time out by putting him in a crate. I find that Negative punishment is far too time consuming to be efficient and doesn’t work on the majority of problem dogs.   But it does fit into the Operant conditioning category.

These are just a few definitions of the methods used by trainers to encourage or inhibit behaviors.