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Training Vocabulary

I am a dog trainer, not a scientist.

I wrote this manual for owners and trainers of retriever puppies, not for scientists.

Sometimes I find that the more technical the terms used in describing dog training the less useful the information is.

This training manual is designed to be useful and so I will not be explaining training in scientific terms.

However, there are times when a technical term can bring precision to a description. Here are the definitions of some terms that might be used in this manual.

Classical conditioning

First a Neutral stimulus (something the dog perceives but that doesn't mean anything to the dog like a click from a clicker or a verbal marker)

Is Followed by Unconditioned stimuli (something that the dog doesn't have to learn the meaning of like food or a retrieve or e-collar tap)

Then the Neutral Stimulus becomes a Conditioned Stimulus when it is a reliable predictor of the food or bumper or tap.

Example of Classical conditioning

For example I say "OK" and give a hungry puppy a treat right after he hears the "OK" sound. I do this several times until I notice that when I say "OK" the pup jumps or whirls to face me and looks up expecting a treat. Once this happens I can reward the puppy when he does what I like by saying "OK" and then giving him a treat as soon as I can after that.

Operant conditioning

The dog acts

There is a change or consequence as a result of the dog's act

The dog forms a memory connecting his action and the result

The dog is more likely to do that which produces desirable result


Example of Operant Conditioning


The puppy is on the floor near me while I work at the computer. The puppy wants to play so he scratches at my feet and legs. I want to pacify the puppy so I pet and play with him a bit then go back to work. Soon he is quite persistent in scratching when I am working at the computer. 

In Training the puppy we want to control the results or consequences of his actions. To change the likely-hood of him repeating a response there are four possible outcomes we can supply. 

Positive Reinforcement

Negative Reinforcement

Positive Punishment

Negative Punishment


In Training Puppies we try to operate as much as possible in the Positive Reinforcement side of this but we will at times use all four results.

The Positive in Positive Reinforcement means that we add something to the situation or give something to the puppy.

The Reinforcement in Positive Reinforcement means that as a result of what we added the puppy is more likely to repeat the behavior, the frequency and intensity of the response is likely to increase. 


For Example:

Your puppy comes when called. You give him a treat or a pet and praise. He is more likely to come when called in the future.

The "Negative" means we remove something from the puppy or the situation.

The "Reinforcement" means that as a result of what we removed the puppy is more likely to repeat the behavior; the frequency and intensity of the response is likely to increase. 


The Positive means we add something to the situation or to the puppy.

Punishment means it is pressure applied to reduce the likely-hood that a behavior will be repeated; the frequency or intensity of a behavior is reduced.


For Example:

The puppy bites your hand while playing with you. You flick him on the nose with you finger and he stops chewing. You added something ( the finger flick to the nose) it reduced the likely-hood that the puppy will chew again.

Negative means we are removing something from the situation or the puppy.

Punishment means that as a result of what we have removed the puppy is less likely to repeat the behavior; the intensity or frequency of the behavior is reduced.


For Example:

While giving the puppy treats he jumps up scratching at your legs. You stop giving the treats. When he sits down you give the treats again. Withholding the treats is a Negative Punishment for jumping up on you. 

Luring is using food or another reinforcer and presenting it in such a way that the puppy follows the food into the action or position you are trying to reinforce. 

Click to see video example of Luring

Luring is a useful FIRST STEP in training with food or or other rewards. It is very helpful in showing the puppy what you want him to do. However, UNTIL YOU MOVE MOVE FROM LURING TO REWARDING the puppy will remain dependent on the presence of the food. 

An Example of Luring:

Hold a treat in front of a hungry puppy. When the puppy tries to eat or grab the treat move your hand so that the puppy follows the treat and walks on top of a little pallet. When the puppy has all four feet on the pallet give the puppy the treat.

When you "Mark and Reward" you give a conditioned reward signal (Marker) then present a reinforcer after the puppy completes an action.

Video example of Not Luring Reward/targeting

In "Luring" the puppy on to a pallet the puppy follows the food on to the pallet then you give him the treat.

When you "Mark and Reward" the puppy goes on to the pallet on cue/command or on his own, you give a conditioned reinforcer to Mark the desired behavior and then you give the treat. 

In this system when you "Reward" the puppy is moving away from the treat to get the treat.

This is a huge difference in the puppy's mind and a major piece of the puzzle when using food and other reinforcers in training. 


Chaining—Linking several trained behaviors to form a new behavior or pattern.



If you want your puppy to accomplish a task that involves several steps you should break the task done, teach each step individually and then chain or link the steps together into the complete task. 

Suppose you want your pup to line out over run over a pallet and run to a target then return to you and sit on the pallet,  wait for you to call and then come to you and sit in front. (This is a begining puppy handling drill)

You present the task to the pup as a whole, you would break the task down into parts and then put the parts together one at a time.

You might teach

  1. sit in front
  2. Go to a target
  3. Recall
  4. Sit on the pallet

and then begin to combine the tasks

  1. Go to the target, come back and sit in front
  2. Go over the pallet to the target come back and sit in front
  3. Go over the palet to the target return and sit and wait on the palet then return and sit in front

"Shaping"  Is the process of changing behavior where you reward successively closer approximations of the desired behavior.

Video example of Shaping a Retrieve


If you want to train your puppy to pick up an unusual object, (one that he doesn't naturally want to pick up) you could sit and wait until he one day by chance picks up the object and then reward him. 


To "Shape " the action you could wait until he moves or turns toward the object and reward him for that. Then you might wait until he moved closer to it and reward for that. Next you could wait until he poked his nose toward the object. Then you might wait until he put his open mouth on or near the object. and so on until you have him picking up the object.

Shaping is important in training tasks but also in developing field skills for your puppy.

When you start throwing marks for your puppy start throwing marks that he can find easily and gradually make the marks harder and harder. You cannot throw very difficult marks at first and just hope that he works it out some how.