Training a dog is a big undertaking, especially if you’ve never owned a dog before. If you are new to the dog-owning world, then you may feel totally overwhelmed by all the lingo that gets thrown around in obedience classes and online forums. To help you feel more grounded in the terminology, we’ve compiled a list of definitions of some of the most common dog training terminology that new dog owners need to know before they start trying to teach their dog commands:


When it comes to dogs, arousal refers to how excited and energetic they are. Highly aroused dogs are on high alert and ready to leap into action at a moment’s notice, whether it is chasing a squirrel, barking at the mailman, or drinking from a portable dog water bottle.

Behavior chain:

This involves teaching your dog to do a series of actions based on a single command. For instance, having them lie down, roll over, and hold their legs in the air off the single command “play dead” is a behavior chain.

Bite inhibition:

Bite inhibition is a dog’s ability to control their urge to mouth and bite. This skill is learned during puppyhood through deliberate training and also socializing with other dogs.

Bite threshold:

This is the “snapping point” at which a dog resorts to biting. An individual dog may have a high or low bite threshold, and a dog’s bite threshold also varies depending on how much stress they are under at the moment. Dogs with a very low bite threshold may need special behavior training to address this instinct.

dog terms


Coddling means accidentally enforcing unwanted behavior in an attempt to comfort or reassure your dog. For instance, if you coddle your dog by lavishing attention on them every time they get spooked by thunder, you will teach the dog that if they get scared by thunder, they will get your love. This encourages them to continue getting spooked by thunder instead of learning to ignore it.

Continuous reinforcement:

This term refers to enforcing your dog’s behavior every time they exhibit it, such as giving them a treat every time they obey the command “sit.” It contrasts with intermittent reinforcement, which refers to reinforcing your dog’s behavior only some of the time. Consistent, continuous reinforcement is key for making quick and effective behavior changes.


This is a training technique that seeks to reduce a dog’s reactivity over time via counter-conditioning. It involves exposing them to a very low level of a stimulus (such as a nose or objects that frighten them) and slowly increasing the level over time until they are no longer bothered by it.

High-value rewards:

These are rewards that your dog greatly wants, and thus are highly motivating for them. High-value rewards are typically nice treats such as bully sticks for dogs, but they can take other forms as well depending on your dog’s individual motivations — non-food-motivated dogs may prefer a beloved toy instead, for example.

dog grooming terminology


This is the time gap between the stimulus (the command), your dog’s responding behavior, and the reward or lack thereof. Ideally, the latency should be as short as possible to build the strongest associations in your dog’s mind.

Prey drive:

Sometimes called the “predatory instinct,” prey drive refers to a dog’s innate instinct to search, stalk, chase, grab, and bite. Prey drive behaviors vary a lot by breed and also by an individual dog’s preferences. A strong prey drive can make it difficult to train a dog and may cause them to engage in dangerous behavior, such as trying to attack small dogs they perceive as prey.

Positive reinforcement:

This involves rewarding a dog for a desired behavior, such as giving them a puppy chew or a nice piece of natural jerky when they perform a command. Under positive reinforcement training, only desired behaviors are rewarded and all other behaviors are ignored.

Negative reinforcement:

This involves punishing a dog for undesired behavior, such as yelling at them when they jump on a person. This type of training has recently fallen out of fashion, and many trainers argue that it still teaches the dog they will be “rewarded” with attention for behaving badly, even if that attention is unpleasant.

dog terminology

Reward marker:

This is a sound or word (usually a clicker noise) that you use to indicate to your dog that they have performed a desired behavior and are about to be rewarded for it. It contrasts with no reward marker, which is a sound or word (usually a clicker noise) that you use to indicate to your dog that they have performed an undesirable behavior and that they will not be rewarded for it.


Reactive dogs overreact to certain signals and stimuli, which makes it difficult to train and socialize them. Signs of reactivity in dogs include barking, growling, and lunging. Reactivity can escalate into all-out aggression, such as biting and starting fights.

Resource guarding:

This behavior occurs when a dog protects food or an object when another person or dog approaches them. Resource guarding can lead to unnecessary aggression and cause your dog to lash out at the other dog or human if they fear their things will be taken from them.


This is anything that triggers a reaction in your dog. It can be an object, a sound, or even a smell — anything that causes them to behave in a certain way. For instance, thunderstorms are a common trigger for a fear response in dogs.

Time out:

When you put your dog in time out, you remove them from as many stimuli as possible and deprive them of interesting activities. This helps them to calm down when they are agitated and also teaches them not to engage in the behavior they were put in time out for.

What other terms do you wish you had known about when you adopted your first dog? Let us know in the comments below!