Pet training can sound like a foreign language at times. Instead of trying to decipher the meanings of terms and understand what the dog trainer might mean, here is a quick run-down of the relevant phrases often used by dog trainers or in instructional training guides.
Temperament: This refers to the deeply innate tendencies that can universally be found in a specific dog breed. Instead of being regarded as a dog’s choice, the temperament is a predetermined based on their breed. Temperament encompasses anything from the breed’s typical energy levels, drives, adaptability, social inclinations, to trainability, mood, and curiosity, etc. These are general principles which reflect how a cat or dog generally behaves.
Personality: The personality takes into consideration a wider berth of determining factors than just temperament. Personality is reflective of the behavioral, emotional, mental, as well as the temperamental aspects of the animal as an individual.
Dominance: This term is to be understood as the pack mentality among animals that distinguishes the more dominant creatures. In the wild, this would refer to the alpha dog described below, while in the human home, the owner must exert authority as the dominant figure of the group. However, positive dog training focuses less on forcing dogs into a submissive stance before humans, and is more centered on giving rewards for good behavior.
Alpha: The dogs with strong inclinations towards dominance and leadership are not to be viewed negatively, but rather are to be rewarded for their obedient behaviors and discouraged or interrupted when they attempt any negative actions.
Positive and Negative Punishment: These occur when the owner responds to a bad behavior directly with a consequence. For example, saying “No” to your dog when he jumps on the couch (positive punishment) aims at interrupting him from doing the wrong thing. While putting your dog outside when he jumps up on you (negative punishment) discourages the bad behavior by removing something when the dog has done something wrong. These methods of training are applied less often.
Positive and Negative Reinforcement: Rewarding the dog for good behavior, such as giving him a treat, or petting and praising him after he obeys a command is an example of positive reinforcement. Negative reinforcement occurs when a disciplinary item is removed when a dog proves to be obedient (i.e., ceasing to use a choke collar when the dog stops pulling during walks, or slapping his nose when he nips).
Eclectic Training: This occurs when the trainer or dog owner uses a variety of methods to train an animal, in order to find which practices bring the most effective responses.
Play Training: For dogs that struggle to learn static commands like “lie” or “sit” when they are excited or riled up, play training is a good alternative method of channeling their energy. It practices rewarding rambunctious dogs with game of fetch or a fun toy. (This is a helpful training method for large or aggressive dogs, or animals that are less inclined toward treat/food incentives.)
Back-Chaining: Instead of training a dog based on a “one-step-at-a-time” philosophy, back training begins with the final stage of the command. It starts with the end product or result, and works back step by step to the beginning command, to help the dog see the process of what they are working for.
Carting: These are generally used for working dogs, or dogs with joint or limb pain in their hind legs, as they rest on a wheeled carrier. Carting trains dogs when to start, stop, and turn when pulling a cart.
Cue: This is a sign, motion, word or object that signals to a dog what action is to be taken. This might be a hand sign, or it could be a white line on a road, where a service dog has been trained to sit.
Habituation: The state where a dog or cat will continue to perform a task despite distractions and other stimuli.
Management and Prevention: This refers to turning the dog’s surroundings into a “yes” environment rather than one where he is always being told “no.” This might look like putting the dog in his crate where he can chew a toy, instead of leaving him to wander around the living room with your new furniture.
Counter Conditioning: Trainers often condition an animal to have a physical or emotional response to a signal or action. When a clicker is used, the sound triggers the dog’s senses to believe that a treat will follow the click. Counter conditioning refers to helping the dog overcome a fear or struggle by associating the negative thing with a very positive experience the other dog enjoys. For example, if one dog is fearful or mistrusting of the new pup his master just adopted, a trainer might give him a treat whenever the dog walks in the room. Then when the new dog comes close, the old one gets a treat, then when the new dog comes and stands right next to him, the old dog gets more treats. When counter conditioning is applied gradually, it can be very affective in reversing negative behavior.
Desensitization: This term can have two meanings: the first occurs when a dog or cat has become too accustomed to either the method of training, the command or the treat which accompanies it, and the animal seems unresponsive. This is usually the result of inconsistent rewarding. The second understanding of this word is to overcome a dog’s phobias or bad behavior by gently exposing them to the stimulus. For example, a dog that barks ferociously every time there is a thunderstorm, might lose his fear of the noise, if quiet sounds of rain and thunder are played on low volumes consistently for a time, or until the dog doesn’t notice it anymore.
Catching: This means identifying the natural actions of a dog or cat with a clicker or treat to help them learn desired skill.
Shaping: The method of shaping occurs through incremental skill training, which affirms and rewards dogs for small steps in a more complex command until the animal can put all the steps together.
Luring: The trainer will hold an incentive (treat) in front of the animal, to help map out where he wants the pet to go. This uses treats to teach the trick he wants the cat or dog to learn. For more detailed examples of these techniques, look at our blog on pet training methods.