Downeast Dog News

What Is Dog Training?

By Don Hanson, ACCBC, BFRAP, CDBC, CPDT-KA | Feb 01, 2017

If you were to ask three people to define dog training, you would probably get as many different answers even if those people were professional dog trainers. The fact is individuals have various views on what training a dog entails. Some believe training is only for competition or working dogs and is not necessary for a pet or companion dog. Others see training as nothing more than teaching a dog to sit and walk nicely on a leash. In my mind, dog training entails everything we need to do to ensure that our dogs can be included in our lives as much as possible and that they can have a long, enjoyable life free of fear, force, and pain.

For years our definition of dog training at Green Acres has been “Dog training is a process where we motivate our dog to offer a specific behavior when given a specific cue while having fun.” As I look at that definition today, I recognize that while accurate, it is incomplete, only addressing a small part of what training entails.

In my estimation a complete description of dog training would be:

“Dog training is a process where we teach our dog not only to respond reliably to cues but to live free of fear in a human-centric world. Training also involves managing the dog and its environment to prevent behaviors we dislike. As we get to know our dog, we need to learn to accept him for the unique individual that he is. To optimize our dog’s ability to learn, we create teaching scenarios where he is setup to succeed and is motivated to offer behaviors we like. We reward him for desirable behavior, eventually teaching him to perform a specific behavior when given a particular cue, all while having fun. All of this is accomplished without the use of pain, force, fear, or intimidation.”

First and foremost is the importance of recognizing that training a dog is a process made up of many steps that all take time. The length of time will depend upon several factors, including the dog, the environment, and the handler. Typically the trainer that is the most patient will be the most successful and will have the happiest dog.

Equally critical is the acceptance and appreciation of dogs as a unique species with very different needs and understandings about what constitutes normal and acceptable social interactions. When dogs enter into our families, we have a responsibility to help them learn to live in our homes as well as our hectic world, free of fear and anxiety. That starts with socialization and habituation with a young puppy and may involve months of gentle, tolerant rehabilitation with a rescue dog.

Managing a dog to prevent undesirable behavior is just as much a part of the training process as teaching a dog to perform the desired behaviors. From a behavioral perspective, the more a behavior is practiced and rewarded, the stronger the behavior will become. Whether we like it or not, prevention is critical.

The actual act of training a dog requires certain skills and knowledge. There are as many ways to train dogs as there are to teach children arithmetic. Taking the time to acquire this knowledge and these skills and then consistently implementing them can make the training process go much more smoothly and quickly. This allows for the effective and humane teaching of our dog's certain behaviors he needs to know to be successful in our human world. One of the best ways to acquire these skills and knowledge is to work with a certified, professional dog trainer. Look for my article on the Downeast Dog News site entitled “How to choose a dog trainer.”

Last but certainly not least, make sure the training process is fun and enjoyable for all.  Isn’t companionship one of the major reasons humans choose to have dogs in their lives? Studies and common sense tell us that if we enjoy something, like training the dog, we are more likely to do it and more likely to be successful.
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop ( in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at  every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at Don also writes about pets at his blog: He is committed to pet care and pet training that is free of pain, force, and fear.