Dog Training Terms

Have you ever spoken to a dog trainer and couldn’t understand everything he said, or heard confusing dog training terms on television? We’ll cover some of the more common dog training terms and what they really mean below!

Training Marker

A ‘marker’ is something we use to mark good behavior. A dog clicker is used as a marker to mark good behavior before that treat comes! You can also use the sound setting on your electric collar to mark good behavior!

Dog Training Reinforcement

This is common, and you probably know exactly what it means, but it’s important to list it for the following section. Reinforcement is exactly what the word implies. You are reinforcing a dog behavior you like or increasing the likelihood it will happen again.

Positive Reinforcement

This is a psychological term that can apply to both humans and dogs. The ‘positive’ precursor indicates addition, or something is being added to reinforce the behavior. Offering a tasty treat for a job well done is positive reinforcement. 

Negative Reinforcement

Many dog owners often confuse this term, assuming the negative means something painful or undesirable! The ‘negative’ simply indicates subtraction, or something is taken away to reinforce behavior.

Stopping the buzz vibration from that electric collar once your dog complies with your command (if being used in this way) is an example of negative reinforcement. The vibration was stopped once the dog followed through, or was taken away, increasing the likelihood the dog will follow through faster next time.

Dog Training Aversives

An aversive is something undesirable your dog wouldn’t enjoy or that causes discomfort, used to stop unwanted behavior. That bitter apple spray or spray bottle full of water you used to get your dog to stop barking (for example) would be an aversive.

Positive Punishment

The above two examples of aversives would fall under positive punishment. This means some form of punishment is added (positive) to decrease unwanted behavior. Do you see how positive doesn’t always mean ‘good’?

Negative Punishment

Something undesirable is taken away to decrease the likelihood of unwanted behavior from happening again.


This is the backbone of dog training! It’s how your dog learns. Through repeated acts or behaviors, your dog is conditioned to repeat that behavior again and more frequently. There are a few types, but two are very common in dog training!

Classical Conditioning

Have you ever heard of the ‘Pavlov’s Dogs’ experiment? If you’ve ever taken any kind of psychology course in school, you probably did. In classical conditioning, the dog forms involuntary responses to things happening. It is ‘associative learning’.

Your dog learns by forming associations. Pavlov’s dogs learned the ding of that bell meant food is coming, so they would begin to drool when hearing the bell, even before seeing or smelling food. 

Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning is learning through rewards/ outcomes or consequences. Your dog does something good and receives a treat. A dog pulls on the prong collar and receives a pinching sensation from that collar as a result. Operant conditioning is voluntary, whereas classical conditioning involves involuntary responses.