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Fundamentals of Dog Training: How to Train Your Dog


Training a dog is a rewarding journey that strengthens the bond between you and your furry friend. Whether you’re focusing on basic obedience, behaviour modification, or preparing for competitive sports, understanding the fundamentals of dog training is essential. This article provides an overview of general training principles that apply across various goals and methodologies. Even if you choose to engage a professional trainer, having a foundational knowledge will help you make informed decisions and communicate effectively with your trainer.

For more insights into the dog training landscape in Singapore, please check out our article for dog training in Singapore.

Main Concepts

Dog training aims at encouraging desired behaviours and discouraging unwanted ones. This process involves understanding and applying two key principles: operant conditioning and classical conditioning.

Both conditioning methods play crucial roles in shaping your dog’s behaviour. Let’s delve deeper into each.

Operant Conditioning

Learning by Consequences

Operant conditioning is the cornerstone of most dog training programs. It involves four quadrants that help shape behaviours through rewards and punishments:

  1. Positive Reinforcement: Adding something pleasant to increase a behaviour (e.g., giving a treat when the dog sits).
  2. Negative Reinforcement: Removing something unpleasant to increase a behaviour (e.g., stopping pressure when the dog complies).
  3. Positive Punishment: Adding something unpleasant to decrease a behaviour (e.g., using a reprimand to stop jumping).
  4. Negative Punishment: Removing something pleasant to decrease a behaviour (e.g., taking away a toy when the dog misbehaves).

While most trainers and dog owners find operant conditioning intuitive, it’s important to keep in mind some key principles:

  • Shaping: Gradually guiding the dog towards the desired behaviour.
  • Timing: Immediate consequences are crucial for effective learning.
  • Consistency: Regular reinforcement helps solidify behaviours.
  • Reinforcement: Positive reinforcement is often the most effective and humane approach.
  • Patience: Training takes time; rushing can result in confusion and frustration.

It’s vital to remember that operant conditioning should not be used in isolation. Ignoring the possible implications of classical conditioning can lead to incomplete or ineffective training.

Classical Conditioning

Learning by Association

Classical conditioning involves creating associations between two stimuli, leading to a learned response. While it might seem less direct than operant conditioning, its influence on behaviour is profound.

Positive Example

Imagine a dog that drools when it sees food. If you ring a bell every time you serve the food, eventually, the dog will start to drool at the sound of the bell alone. This is a classic example of how positive associations are formed.

Negative Example

Consider a dog that experiences a shock from a shock collar when it barks. Over time, the dog may start associating barking with pain, potentially leading to fear or aggression even in the absence of the collar.

Many trainers and dog owners overlook the passive impact of classical conditioning. However, some of the most severe behavioural issues stem from these associations, which cannot be addressed through operant conditioning alone. If you find that operant conditioning isn’t working for your dog, it might be time to consult our behaviour consultant for an assessment.

For a deeper understanding of the negative impacts of punishment, check out our article why punishment is an ineffective behaviour modification tool!

Putting It Together

Integrating Classical and Operant Conditioning

Effective dog training requires a nuanced approach that considers both classical and operant conditioning. Here are some key points to remember:

  • Emotional State: Always consider the dog’s emotional state during training. Aversive stimuli can cause stress, fear, or aggression.
  • Complex Interplay: Training activities must manage the intricate interplay between the dog’s emotional associations with the activity and the expected rewards for performing desired behaviours.
  • Professional Help: If you encounter challenges, consulting a professional is advisable. Our experienced trainers can provide guidance tailored to your dog’s needs. Check out our behavioural change programme for more information.

Training your dog is a complex yet rewarding endeavour. By understanding and applying these fundamental principles, you can create a positive and effective training experience for both you and your dog.


Dog training is an art and science that requires both knowledge and empathy. By mastering the fundamentals of operant and classical conditioning, you can foster a happy, well-behaved companion. Remember, each dog is unique and may require tailored approaches to address specific challenges.

If you ever find yourself in doubt, don’t hesitate to reach out to our experts. Your journey towards a well-trained dog needn’t be walked alone. Check out our dog training services to learn more about how we can support you and your furry friend.

By adhering to these principles, you’ll ensure a smooth and encouraging training process, paving the way for a harmonious relationship with your pet.

Picture of Webster Cheong, BA, IAABC-ADT, CPDT-KA

Webster Cheong, BA, IAABC-ADT, CPDT-KA

Webster has trained various species in zoos, rehabilitated companion animals, and championed animal welfare standards. He represented Singapore in the Amphibian Taxon Advisory Group, focusing on amphibian care and conservation. Now, his main focus is in canine fitness and conditioning as well as essential canine skills.

Picture of Qiai Chong, MSc, CSAT, CSB-D, CPDT-KSA

Qiai Chong, MSc, CSAT, CSB-D, CPDT-KSA

With over a decade of study in the animal behaviour and welfare sciences, Qiai earned her Masters from the University of Edinburgh and has since devoted herself to the welfare and behaviour of pets. She has worked as an animal behaviourist since, and her expertise lies in addressing pet behavioural issues such as fears, phobias, anxiety and aggression.

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