Training Vocabulary

It's funny, at Pawsitivity, we use a pretty simple set of words, but many synonyms (or near-synonyms) exist. I put the following list together simply because I was amused at seeing a simple concept described so many ways.

We usually say that much of dog training can be described as Cue, Behavior, Click, Treat.


  • Dog training is sometimes called Applied Animal Psychology, Operant Conditioning, OC, teaching, Applied Behavioral Analysis, clicker training, positive reinforcement, with some referring to it as an art and others as a science.
  • What we describe as a "cue" is also known as a command, conditioned stimulus, stimulus, discriminative stimulus, stimulus discriminative, SD, antecedent, or context.
  • While we often talk about a "behavior," I've also seen it called a response, task, or trick.
  • If a behavior is done correctly, we then mark it with a "click" (or perhaps a "Good dog!"), but others have used terms such as conditioned reinforcer, secondary reinforcer, learned reinforcer, signal, marker, event marker, marker signal, bridge, or bridging stimulus.
  • Finally, we give the dog a treat, also known as a primary reinforcer, reinforcer, consequence, reward, or "feed for position."

There are, of course, other ways of training behavior, but when training service dogs, we don't use them as much. Studies show that, at least in humans, the ratio of positive to negative interactions should be at least 5 to 1 to create a strong, stable, emotional bond.[1] Thus, we believe that:

  • At least 83% of service dog training should be positive reinforcement.
    • Often this in the form of cue, behavior, click, treat.
    • Sometimes we'll use classical conditioning, counter-conditioning, desensitization, and replacing bad behavior with something better (then rewarding that).
  • The other 17% (or less) should consist of things like managing the environment to set up the dog for success. There are some behaviors one can just ignore (and the behavior will slowly go away). Also, we use a belt-leash (while zoo trainers don't use leashes, they are, of course, required by law for dogs).
  • Punishment should be close to nonexistent (the great animal trainer Dr. Bob Bailey said that he has used punishment 5 times in successfully training 15,000 animals).


[1] Flora, Stephen Ray. "Praise's magic reinforcement ratio: Five to one gets the job done." The Behavior Analyst Today 1, no. 4 (2000): 64.