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Learn to Speak Dog Trainer

Author: Alison Spanner | Date: September 12, 2014

Have you ever sat in class and as the trainer is talking, wondering “reinforcement what” or “luring who” or “attentionseeking whatchamacallit”? I try not to use too much trainer speak, but I am sure it creeps in more than I realize.  I thought a glossary of terms might help you the next time a trainer goes on a tangent about intermittently reinforcing positive behavior with a high value primary reinforcement.


Anything a dog does. Literally. Examples: sleeping, eating, running, barking, biting, licking, tail wagging, staring, walking, yawning, shaking off, rolling over, growling, whining, and drooling.

Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning is the process by which something gains significance because it is linked with and predicts the arrival of something else. Example: Let’s look at Pavlov’s experiment. Dogs salivate in presence of food. Pavlov rang bell, presented food. Over and over. Eventually simply ringing the bell caused the dog to drool. The dog’s brain made the association that the bell indicated the arrival of food.


Words or hand signals that request the dog to perform a behavior. Cues must undergo operant conditioning  (See operant conditioning below)  to be effective. Examples: sit, down, stand, come, and stay.


Using food as a means of getting behavior. Example: Put a treat to a dogs nose and bring it up and over their head until their rear end hits the ground.


Any word or sound that signals reinforcement (see primary and secondary reinforcement below) is coming because the dog engaged in the correct behavior. Example:  The click sound of the clicker or saying “yes” or “good” is followed by food.

Operant Conditioning

The father of operant conditioning is BF Skinner. Also called associative learning, it encourages or discourages behavior passed on reinforcement or punishment.

Operant conditioning works in four ways:

  1. Positive Reinforcement: Adding something the dog wants, with the intention of increasing the animal’s behavior.
  2. Positive Punishment: Adding something the dog does not want, with the intention of stopping or decreasing behavior.
  3. Negative Reinforcement: The continuous application of an something the dog doesn’t want, and only removing it once the dog has complied with what the trainer wants with the intention of increasing a behavior.
  4. Negative Punishment:  Removing something the dog wants, in order to decrease a specific behavior.

Primary Reinforcer

Something good to the dog that does not require any learning to be reinforcing. Examples: food, water, or air.

Secondary Reinforcer

Something good to the dog that was previously neutral but after pairing with a primary reinforcer became awesome.  Example: say “yes” (secondary reinforcer) and then delivering a treat (primary reinforcer). Repeat this enough times and the “yes” becomes awesome in and of itself.

What terms have you heard in training class that I can help define for you?

This post was originally published on November 15, 2013.


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