February is Dog Training Education Month!

February is Dog Training Education Month!

By: Kristin Johnson

Our dogs enrich our lives in countless ways—companionship, playfulness, emotional support, snuggles, goofiness… The list goes on! As their caretakers, we offer our canine companions a meal, a warm bed, exercise, and unconditional love, but it’s important to remember that our dogs also depend on us for structure and guidance. A trained dog is a happy dog, and this February, we call attention to this crucial part of our co-existence.

Why train your dog?

Though there are many benefits to training, there are two key reasons to train your dog:

  1. Safety: Training ensures that our dogs are kept out of harm’s way. Since they can’t always see what dangers the world presents, it’s up to us to make sure they understand what we need them to do to stay out of danger or a sticky situation, such as: “come here,” “don’t touch that,” and “friend-not-food!” 
  2. Confidence: When your dog knows what’s expected of them, they are naturally more comfortable and confident. They seek a pack leader (that’s you!) to offer them guidance and structure so they can explore, play, and learn within the boundaries you set for them. This also strengthens your bond and establishes trust between the two of you.

How do dogs learn?

When training your dog, it’s important to understand how they learn so you can teach them what you want them to know without confusing or frustrating them, ultimately making training more successful. This will make the process more efficient, fun, and hassle-free for both of you!

There are two main ways dogs learn: 

  1. Classic Conditioning: This form of learning is by association and produces an involuntary response to a stimulus. For example, your dog sees you grab his or her leash for a walk. They get excited and run to the door. They’ve made the association that the stimulus (the leash) means they will go on a walk, producing the involuntary response of getting excited and running to the door because they love walks. Classic conditioning happens all the time regardless of if you’re trying to teach something. 
  2. Operative Conditioning: This form of learning is by actions leading to consequences, which is either a reward or a punishment. It is intentionally taught and produces a voluntary response. It is A (stimulus) + B (action) = C (consequence). For example, you’ve trained your dog that he must sit before you let him outside. Your dog learns A (command to sit) + B (sitting) = C (going outside). 

There are four principles of operant conditioning: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative punishment. It’s important to remember that positive doesn’t necessarily mean good, and negative doesn’t necessarily mean bad. Rather, it means:

Positive: Something is added.

Negative: Something is removed.

Reinforcement: Increase likelihood of behavior.

Punishment: Decrease likelihood of behavior.

How do I participate in Dog Training Education Month?


Here are some great ways to celebrate this month: 

  1. Sign up for a new training class. There is always something to learn at every skill level!
  2. Teach your dog at least one new command. Want to teach your dog a new trick? Or maybe something that would make your life easier if your dog knew how to do it? The options are limitless!
  3. Commit to learning more about how your dog learns. Below is a list of free, helpful, informative resources to learn more about dog training.

Free Online Resources

Pawgress is an online learning resource that provides a wealth of information through blog articles as well as resources such as online courses, private lessons, group classes, workshops and seminars, and product recommendations. 

The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC)’s Dog Training Handbook is a free e-book that includes step-by-step instructions for basic commands, body language exercises, and more. 

Zak George’s Dog Training Revolution is dog trainer Zak George’s YouTube channel, which provides hundreds of instructional dog training videos. His video on teaching basic commands is a good start.

Positively is an online learning resource by Victoria Stillwell, world-renowned dog trainer and star of TV series It’s Me or the Dog. On Positively, you can find helpful information in articles and videos on everything from basic cues to behavior problems.