dog training terms

Dog Training Glossary

What is my Dog Trainer Saying?

When we train, we use a lot of terms that may sound strange. This article helps to provide definitions to the training terminology. Herein are common training terms and some that are more industry standard or scientific. 

“The dog is ever ready to lay down his life for me.”

  Konrad Lorenz

Aggression – This technically means an attack from a dog, whether it’s actual, threatened or attempted. This is usually a behavior that is a result of avoidance from a specific stimulus.

Agility – This is a dog sport that has the dog going through tunnels, over jumps and other equipment.

Arousal – When a dog is mentally stimulated. The result of arounsal can be an action, or an inaction.

Avoidance – Animals usually try and avoid punishment or bad outcomes. 

Back-Chaining – When you shape a command by teaching one command, and then adding another command on to the first, and so forth.

Behavior – Behaviors are actions that include things like barking, jumping or running away. We look to modify behavior with training.

Bite Inhibition – A behavior that your dog learns as a puppy, which is akin to pulling his punches. When he bites, he’s using various levels of force based on the situation.

Consistency – Making sure that you and your family do the same thing every time you’re working with your dog. It’s also you expecting the same thing from your dog.

Desensitization – This is when we expose a dog to a stimulus slowly, helping them to become inure to it. We then slowly increase the level of stimulus.

Distance – When you increase the distance between you and your dog when you’re training, helping your dog to learn to do commands when they’re not near you. This is one of the “3 Ds.”

Distraction – When you create situations, sounds or other distractions to help you teach your dog to focus on you while training. This is one of the “3 Ds.”

Dominance – This is a contraversial term. Technically, dominance occurs when dogs have relationships, and is a way of getting resources. Training methods that rely on human dominance over the dog is based on generating fear, intimidation or pain to your dog.

Duration – When you increase the length of a command from something like 3 seconds to 10 seconds. This is one of the “3 Ds.”

Escalation – When energy from one dog, makes another dog more energetic, and that makes the first dog even more energetic and the energy between both dogs escalates.

Frustration – When a dog is frustrated, he can shut down, or even become snarky. If you think you’re frustrated during training, your dog is already frustrated.

Generalization – This is when a dog learns that two events that are different should trigger the same reaction. No generalization can also result in a dog only following commands in a location where they were taught the command.

Habituate – When a dog becomes accustomed to a specific situation or command through repeated exposure and practice. 

Jackpot Rewards – The treat that your dog loves more than anything in the world. We reserve these treats important commands, like recall commands.

Lure – You lure your dog into performing an action when they’re learning how to perform a command. We usually lure with food.

Praise – Woohoo!! Praise isn’t always vocal. You can praise your dog with a head rub or belly scratch, too.

Prey Drive – An instinctive behavior that dogs use to hunt down prey. This sometimes is translated as “play drive.”

Prompting – A signal or cue that gets your dog to perform a specific activity or a behavior.

Reactivity – Fear, aggression or frustration that your dog displays that is considered unpredictable and usually more escalated than normal.

Redirect – When your dog’s focus is shifted from an unwanted behavior to a wanted behavior.

Reinforcement – Actions that strengthen a behavior.

Release – A command or word that you use to release your dog from a command. For example, you release your dog from the Stay command.

Resource Guarding – When a dog “protects” an object or food when another dog or a person comes near.

Reward – You reward your dog after they have performed an action.

Separation Anxiety – Dogs that display anxiety before or when left alone have separation anxiety.

Shaping – Building a dog’s behavior using small snippets or steps. This is when you build on existing commands by adding one of the 3 Ds.

Shutting Down – Your dog has reached overload, and is not listening to you any longer.

Socialization – Exposing your dog to various situations and people.  It also includes exposing them to situations, textures, sounds, sights and other sensory information.

Submission – A way that dogs interact with others that indicate to the other dog that they are not a threat. 

Temperament – A dog’s personality that influences how he or she behaves. There are a lot of components that make up a dog’s temperament.

Training – The art of matching your dog’s actions with the words coming out of your mouth. There are several different tools and techniques used for training.

Warning Signals – These are behaviors that dogs use to communicate discomfort or unhappiness with a situation. These signals, usually to dogs or humans, start with a number of indicators that become progressively more vocal and overt.

Adaptation – an adjustment that an organism makes to the condition in its environment. 

Advancements – any research, study, or technique that has contributed knowledge that has prompted, aided in the progress of, or caused the understanding of canine communication to move forward.

Anthropomorphism – the process of attributing human characteristics and abilities to animals. 

Antithesis – a theory presented by Charles Darwin, which states that a submissive animal expresses facial and postural changes that are the opposite of those, displayed by the aggressive animal. 

Auditory signal – a message related to the sense of hearing.

Baseline – a critical measurement from which a researcher can calculate changes in the rate or frequency of a particular behavior. 

Behaviorist – a person who studies animal behavior under laboratory conditions. 

Calming signal – a message sent to reduce or stop aggressive conflicts.

Canine communication – any communication where the canine is either the sender of a receiver of a signal, with the purpose of affecting an individual’s behavior in a precise and measurable way.  This term includes the two-way communication with either human, or another canine.

Checkpoints  – designated spots along a race course where teams are checked to sure that everyone follows a prescribed route. On mid and long distance races, they also allow for resupply and dog drops. 

Classical conditioning – a type of learning in which a neutral stimulus is repeatedly paired with a stimulus that generally causes an unconditional response. Animals learn what predicts what. Also known as Pavlovian conditioning.

Coevolution – the development of certain behaviors in a species caused by the influence of another species. 

Cognition – a term that refers to thinking, or what is going on inside an organisms head.

Communicator – the sender of a message.

Communication – the two-way process of a signal or idea being sent and then received.

Condition (verb) – to modify the behavior of a subject.

Condition (noun) – a circumstance controlled by a researcher in a laboratory. 

Conditioned reflex – the combination of a conditioned stimulus and a conditioned response. 

Conformation – the physical attributes of a dog.

Consequence – an event that causes a conditioned response.

Contingency – the dependence of one event upon another.

Convergence – the evolution of two different species in a similar way because of similar pressures in the environment. 

Crabbing – a sideways movement.

Cull – to get rid of a dog.

Cutoff signal – a message sent to reduce or stop aggressive conflicts.

Dog drop – a point along a race trail (mid or long distance) where injured, sick, or tired dogs can be dropped from a team.

Dog yard – the area at home where sled dogs are tied or kenneled.

Double lead – running two leaders side by side (as opposed to a single lead). 

Dependent variable – that which a researcher is interested in or is trying to explain. It usually refers to the animal’s response or change in behavior. 

Despotic hierarchy – an arrangement in which a single individual dominates over all other individuals in a group. 

Display – a group of signals sent at the same time. 

Dominance – related to establishing social limits—that is, what others must not do. 

Dog driver see musher

Ethologist – a scientist who studies whole patterns of animal behavior in natural environments. 

Expectant behavior – the actions of an organism that clearly indicates it is expecting a particular thing to occur.

Extinction – a process by which a particular behavior decreases or disappears. 

“Gee”  – command used in dog sledding to indicate “right.”

Habituation – the gradual reduction of a response as a result of repeated stimulation. 

Hackles – the hairs on the neck and back of a dog.

Hackles up (hackles raised)  – the raising of the hairs on the neck and back of a dog. 

Handler – an assistant, often helping to harness and hold dogs at a race start; or trains a team for someone else. 

Harness banging – when an excited dog leaps against his harness, trying to start the sled, either prior to a run or when stopped during the run.

“Haw” – command used in dog sledding to indicate “left.”

Hierarchy – the ranking of members of a group.

“Hike” – command for go! Also used by some mushers to encourage the team to go faster or pull harder.

Holding area – the area at a race where the dogs are organized and harnessed prior to the race start.

Imprinting – the process by which a young animal bonds with another animal, usually of the same species.

Independent variable – something a researcher introduces into an experiment to see what effect it has on the dependent variable. 

Influenced – the “influence” of any advancements in the study of canine communication on the training procedures of sled dogs will be determined by the extent in which said advancements have produced a change to an established, or prescribed series of steps that have traditionally been followed. 

Innate – inborn.

Insight – the sudden understanding of a problem. 

Instrumental conditioningsee operant conditioning.

Intention movement – a signal that reveals the purpose (intent) of the sender. 

Interspecies bond – the relationship formed between members of different species—for example, between a dog and a human.

Interspecific communication – communication between animals of a different species. 

Intervening variable – a factor that can not be seen but has an effect on the dependent variable in an experiment. 

Intraspecific communication – communication between animals of the same species. 

Jingler – a noisemaker, usually made of bottle caps or little bells, used to get a dog team’s attention. 

Junior musher – a musher under the age of seventeen.

Latent learning – learning that occurs in the absence of reinforcement and remains hidden until the organism has a need for it. 

Lead dog – a dog at the front of the team that is trained to guide the team and to follow vocal commands, such as gee and haw, and on by. 

Leader-follower bond – a relationship in which one individual establishes dominance over another individual who becomes an obedient follower. 

Learning – a relatively permanent change in behavior that results from training or experience. 

Learning theorists – scientists who study learning under laboratory conditions. 

Learning theory – the theoretical information learning theorists gather about the ways in which organisms adjust to their environments through learning. 

Long-distance racing – a race of 300 miles or more with predetermined layovers and checkpoints. 

Linear hierarchy – an arrangement similar to despotic hierarchy, except the subordinate individuals form additional dominant-subordinate relations among themselves. 

Line out” – order the dogs to line out or to tighten the towline.

Message – the information sent in communication; a signal. 

Mid-distance racing – a race consisting of 30 to 150 miles or more, sometimes with checkpoints. 

Modal-action pattern  – the response of an animal to a releaser in its environment. 

Modeling – the presenting of an example to an animal to encourage that animal behave in a particular fashion. 

Motor learning – acquiring the skills necessary to perform certain physical activities, such as running or climbing stairs. 

Mush – to run a dog team; also used as a command for “go!”

Musher – a person who drives a dog team from the back of a sled, rig or cart.

Neutral stimulus – a stimulus that normally does not stimulate the response being tested. 

Nurturer-dependent bond – the relationship between human and dog in which the human is the nurturer (provider) and the dog is the dependent. 

Observational learning – learning that occurs when an animal watches another animal perform a task and then imitates the behavior. 

Olfactory signal – a message related to the sense of smell.

On by!” – command to go straight ahead, or past an obstacle or a distraction, such as another team. 

Operant conditioning – a type of learning in which behavior is strengthened when it is followed by reinforcement and weakened when it is followed by punishment. Operant conditioning deals with nonreflexive behavior. Also known as instrumental conditioning and Skinnerian conditioning. 

Pairing – the presenting of a conditioned stimulus near or at the same time as an unconditional stimulus. 

Peak out – to bring a team to its maximum potential both physically and psychologically.

Pecking order see linear hierarchy. 

Picket line – a long cable or chain line with shorter drop lines for securing a number of dogs. 

Predation – the act of preying on other animals for food.

Predator – an animal that lives by killing and consuming other animals.

Prey – an animal taken by another animal as food. As a verb, prey means to take another animal as food. 

Radical behaviorist – a group of learning theorists who feel that proper study of behavior should be limited to observable events—things the researcher can actually see. 

Recipient  the receiver of a message.

Recovery time – the lapse of time that dogs require to recover from a run; the period of time that they must rest before they can continue.

Recreational musher – a person who runs a team of sled dogs on a non-professional level for fun or sport.

Recreational mushing – non-professional mushing.

Reflex – an involuntary response to a stimulus. 

Reinforcer – something that supports or strengthens something else. In dog training, a reinforcer is something the dog wants. 

Releaser – in dog training a keyword to end a task.

Rig – a wheeled cart used for training dogs under snowless conditions, made especially for the purpose of running sled dogs.

Ritual – a pattern; a display for the purpose of communication. 

Respondent conditioningsee classical conditioning. 

Response chain – an interlocking sequence of responses that enable an organism to perform a more complicated task. 

Scientific method – a process that uses experimentation to determine what causes what. 

Second string – a team of younger dogs; or lower quality dog that is kept in training in addition to the main racing string.

Sender – in communication, the party that is sending the signal. 

Signal – message; what the sender is trying to get across to the receiver. 

Skinnerian conditioningsee operant conditioning. 

Sled dog – a variable and versatile breed of northern dog known for speed, stamina and drive. Because these dogs are selected for performance rather than appearance, there is not a standardized breed. 

Snub line – a rope used to tie the sled to a tree or post, or to hold the dogs while stopped, especially during hooking up.  Novice drivers sometimes have a very long snub rope, up to thirty feet in length, trailing behind the sled so that they can grab it if their team gets away. 

Sober dog– a dog that is psychologically ready to go. 

Social learning – learning that occurs when an animal interacts with people and with other animals.

Socialization – a process by which puppies are familiarized with a variety of people and other dogs. 

Sour dog– a dog that is psychologically sick of dog sledding. Dogs are made sour by over work, improper training or management or a bad experience. 

Species-specific signal – a signal limited to a certain species. 

Species-typical behavior – behavior that is highly characteristic of, but not limited to, one species. 

Spooky – a dog that is frightened easily or that shies away from humans or other things. 

Sprint racing – a shorter race, usually thirty miles or less, in which the dogs are expected to go all the way.

Stage racing  – a race of 150+ miles where mushers stop for predetermined layovers, sometimes overnight.

“Straight on!” – command for go straight ahead, instead of taking a fork in the trail.

Subject – the organism being studied in an experiment. 

Swing dogs – the dogs that are in line behind the leader(s) of a dog team.

Tactile – relating to the sense of touch.

Tactile signal – a message relating to the sense of touch. 

Theory – an idea developed to explain the same occurrence; something that is assumed to be true but hasn’t been proven. 

Threat display – a combination of growling, baring of teeth, or setting ears forward, all of which indicate aggressiveness.

Threshold – the level of stimulation that must be reached for a response to occur. 

T’ing up – a posture in which a submissive dog allows a dominant one to approach and face its side forming a ‘T’ shape. 

Training procedure – a series of precise steps, implemented in an orderly way, designed to teach a canine a desired behavior. 

“Trail!” – a signal from an overtaking musher to alert the team ahead that he wishes to pass; the advance musher must give trail. 

Triangular hierarchy – an arrangement in which a first individual dominates over a second individual, the second individual dominates over a third individual, and the third individual dominates over the first individual. 

Tour mushing – a form of dog sledding where a team of dogs is used for hire allowing novice and non-experienced individuals to experience the sport. 

Unconditioned reflex – the combination of an unconditioned stimulus and an unconditioned response. 

Unconditioned response (UR) – A reflexive response to an unconditioned stimulus.

Unconditioned stimulus (US) – a stimulus that causes a specific reflexive response without requiring learning, or conditioning.

Urine marking – a form of olfactory communication used by some animals to establish territory. 

Variable – any factor in an experiment that changes or can be changed; a characteristic that can occur in different amounts or kinds. 

Visual signal – a message related to the sense of sight. 

“Whoa!” – command for stop.

Yearling – a young dog, usually in its second winter of work, generally considered a dog 12 to 14 months old. 


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