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Section P

Pack Leader

According to pack theory, dogs see themselves as either a dominant or submissive member of their pack. The dominant member of the group, also known as the alpha, is the pack leader. In dominance training, the aim is to convince the dog that his owner is the pack leader and therefore that he ought to obey their cues.

Pack Theory

The theory that as domestic dogs descended from an ancestral wolf, the social structure of modern-day wolves is a good filter to understand dog behavior, either in terms of how dogs relate to other dogs in the home and outside, or how they relate to humans, or both.

In training, pack theory also contains the belief that the dog’s perception of his place in the pack relative to the trainer informs his willingness to perform desired behaviors. This often forms the conceptual underpinnings of rank reduction, and dominance based training.

Pack Walk

A group of dogs and handlers going out for a walk together, usually as part of a training or meetup group.  Pack walks are not necessarily run by groups who support pack theory; they can be a social event for owners of particular breeds or types of dog, or part of a training course.

Panskepp, Jaak

A neuroscientist who has done groundbreaking work into how emotions are processed by different pathways in the brain, and how emotions can impact on behavior.  This field is called affective neuroscience.

Panskepp discovered the SEEKING system, which mark and reward trainers claim to be making use of in their training.

Partial Reinforcement Extinction Effect

If a trainer wants to extinguish a behavior in a dog, she will usually stop reinforcing it until the dog realizes it is no longer associated with a reward and stops performing it.

If, however, the behavior the trainer wants to extinguish was being maintained by an intermittent reinforcement schedule, the dog is already used to not receiving a reward every time he does the behavior.  It can take a great deal longer for the dog to realize he will never be rewarded for that behavior again, if he realizes this at all.  The name given to this is the Partial Reinforcement Extinction Effect, or PREE.


Contraction of parvovirus, a contagious disease that can be fatal to puppies.

Paw Pods

Paw pods are small platforms that are designed for a dog to place one paw on.  They are made to be stable enough that a dog can target and balance with their paws on one, two, three, or four pods.  Use of paw pods is said to improve a dog’s balance and rear end awareness.  They are used for rehabilitation and in training dogs for sports like agility.

Penny Can

A device used in training, popular with franchised compulsion-based companies like Sit Means Sit and BarkBusters. The phrase “penny can” can refer to any container full of small objects that make a noise when shaken or dropped.When the dog performs an undesirable behavior, the owner shakes the can and the behavior is interrupted.

Many dogs are startled by and anxious about the noise, so the penny can could be considered as an unconditioned punisher for these dogs.

Perfect Fit Harness

A fleece-lined back clip harness, made by Dog Games and sold online.  The Perfect Fit Harness is made of three interlocking adjustable pieces, which can be ordered in different sizes to make a custom fit.


An automatic food dispenser, which can be used to dispense kibble or small treats. It has network connectivity and a remote control, and can be controlled over the Internet from elsewhere.


Scientific term for when the hairs on the back of a dog’s neck are raised.

Place Learning

Refers to the fact that dogs tend to learn behaviors in a specific environmental context. A dog may reliably sit on cue in his owner’s front room, but will not do so on a hiking trail, because he has only learnt that “sit, Fido” means “sit when I am in this room”. Dogs must be taught to generalize their learning by a process of proofing.

Play bow

Dogs use a behavior called a play bow to signal their desire to engage in, or continue, play with another dog, human, or animal of another species.

The leading animal scientist Marc Bekoff describes the appearance of the play bow:

When performing a bow, an individual crouches on its forelimbs, remains standing on its hindlegs, and may wag its tail and bark. The bow is a stable posture from which the animal can move easily in many directions, allows the individual to stretch its muscles before and while engaging in play, and places the head of the bower below another animal in a non-threatening position.

The play bow is said to be stereotypical, because it always looks the same, and does not appear to be learnt; rather, it is an innate part of every dog’s behavioral repertoire.



Bekoff, M and C. Allen (1997) Intentional Communication and Social Play: How and Why Animals Negotiate and Agree to Play. Marc Bekoff and John A. Byers (eds.) In: Animal Play: Evolutionary, Comparative, and Ecological Perspectives. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press

Plenty in Life is Free

A book by Kathy Sdao ACAAB, a behaviorist and frequent speaker at seminars for professional dog trainers. The book is a personal memoir and challenges the NILIF approach to dog training, stressing frequent reinforcement in training and abundant love.

Poisoned Cue

(1) If a dog has a history of associating a cue with punishment, the dog may have developed a negative emotional response (CER-) to that cue. If a trainer uses that cue in training, the dog may become anxious and be less responsive to reinforcement.

(2) If a dog has been presented with a cue many times with no consequences, it will be more difficult to create any associations with that cue.

Positive Behavioral Contrast

A dog’s behavior will change if he expects a low value treat and receives a high value treat.  He will be more motivated to perform cued behaviors and usually display a higher level of arousal.

For example, if a trainer usually trains her dog with kibble rewards for a retrieve, and rewards her dog with a piece of steak instead, she can expect the next retrieve to be faster and more accurate.


Positive Punishment

One of the four quadrants of learning theory, used for behavior modification and shortened to P+. When a dog performs a behavior, a stimulus is administered with the aim of producing a decrease in that behavior.

For example, when a dog walks over the boundary of an invisible fence, he is given an electric shock. If the shock is strong enough, he will associate it with walking to that place, and choose not to walk there again.

Positive Reinforcement

One of the four quadrants in learning theory, shortened to R+.  A consequence to a behavior that adds something desirable to the dog, and therefore makes the behavior more likely to occur under the same circumstance.

For example, an owner says “Sit!” and raises a treat above a dog’s head. As the dog’s head comes up, his backside goes down and he sits. His owner gives him the treat, which makes him more likely to sit the next time his owner raises her hand in the same way.

Positive reinforcement-based training is training that sets the dog up so that he performs desirable behaviors, which can then be rewarded.  When the dog performs undesirable behaviors, the trainer focuses on changing the environment or training an alternative behavior rather than using punishment.

Pre-Exposure Effect

If a dog has already been exposed to a stimulus many times before training begins, training may be interfered with and made more difficult.

For example, if a dog’s owner has used “Come!” repeatedly with no effect and no reinforcement or punishment for the dog, it will be a lot more difficult to train the dog to recall using the word “Come!”.  This is because the dog has already learned that the word has no meaning.

Or, if Pavlov’s dogs had often heard the bell without food being presented, they may not have salivated when they heard the bell even after it had been paired many times with food.

Predatory Aggression

All dogs have some degree of prey drive; what triggers it can depend on the breed, the individual, and the kind of socialization the dog has had as a puppy.

Predatory Aggression describes aggressive behavior that is rooted in a dog’s prey drive, rather than in fear, resource guarding or territoriality.  Dogs can display predatory aggression towards any other animal and, in rare cases, towards humans.

Behavior associated with predatory aggression can include one or a combination of the following:

  • Head dropping
  • Fixed stare
  • Stalking
  • Chasing
  • Biting the victim’s neck
  • Biting and shaking the victim

Premack Principle

A concept in learning theory, first outlined by the psychologist David Premack. When applied to dogs, the Premack Principle states that a trainer can use a more probable behavior as a reward for a less probable behavior. For example, being allowed sniff a fire hydrant can be used as a reward after a period of loose leash walking.

Prey bow

A prey bow looks similar to a play bow – the dog crouches on his forelimbs with his rear in the air and head down, but it is not used to signal a desire to play.  Dogs use prey bows as part of hunting behaviors; they can happen before the dog starts to stalk, before he starts to chase, or before he pounces.

Prey bows can sometimes be distinguished from play bows by how stiff the dog’s body is – stiff forelegs, in particular are said to indicate a prey bow – but usually context is a more reliable indicator.

Prey Model Raw

A type of raw diet for dogs made up of bones, meat and organs, based on theories of what wolves would eat in the wild.

Primary Reinforcer

Reinforcers are used in operant conditioning to make a desired behavior more likely.  A primary reinforcer is something that a dog finds naturally rewarding, without any need for learning. For example, drinking water or eating food, especially when the dog is thirsty or hungry.


When a trainer manipulates the environment – changing the antecedent arrangements – so that the dog is more likely to perform a desired behavior.  For example, putting a food treat on a mat is a prompt for the dog to go and stand on the mat, which can then be marked and rewarded.

Prong Collar

A type of corrective collar for dogs, also called a pinch collar. A metal, or sometimes plastic device with short blunt prongs, which fits around the dog’s neck with the prongs on the inside.

The collar be popped or jerked to administer positive punishment.  It is most commonly usually used by dog owners to discourage pulling on the leash.  As the dog pulls forward, the prongs dig into the neck.  When the dog walks on a loose leash, the prongs no longer dig in, so the dog finds walking with a loose leash more rewarding than pulling.


When a dog first learns a behavior, he may only perform it in the context he learned it in, for example a dog might sit reliably in the bedroom where all his training sessions happen, but he may not sit in the yard, or around the neighborhood. He also might not perform the behavior if there are cars, or other people, or other distractions.

The process of teaching a dog to reliably perform a behavior everywhere is called proofing.  It usually involves re-teaching the dog a behavior in many different locations, so that he comes to learn that it is the verbal or gestural cue that is important, not any feature of the environment.

Protection Sports

Protection Sports is a generic name given to a group of dog sports that have elements of protection – that is, work where the dog is expected to bite a person (wearing the appropriate bite-proof equipment) and stop biting on cue.  The different sports have variations on the activities that form the tests, with tracking, obedience, agility, heelwork and retrieving involved.

The sport of protection developed out of tests designed to assess the suitability of dogs for military and police work.

Schutzhund, which is now known as IPO, is the most popular kind of protection training in the United States.  Other protection sports include:

  • Mondioring
  • French Ring
  • Belgian Ring
  • K9 PRO Sports/K9 Rodeo


When a dog is disposed to guard his house, or owner, from perceived threats. Often owners want a dog who will protect them, but dogs find it difficult to discriminate between friendly and unwanted strangers. Protectiveness can be confused with resource guarding.


Something is a punishment for a dog if it is an unpleasant consequence for a behavior that decreases the likilhood that that behavior will happen again.  Punishments are intended to be aversive.

Punishments can be divided into two types, according to the quadrants of learning theory. Positive punishment means applying something to the dog that is punishing for him, like a kick in the ribs or a jerk on the leash.  Negative punishment means taking something away from the dog that he enjoys, like putting a puppy in a time-out or shutting a dog in a crate.

Puppy Class

Puppy classes are usually open to dogs up to the age of about 20 weeks, who have had all their vaccinations.  Classes cover basic obedience and handling, and many also have elements of socialization.

Puppy Party

A puppy party, or puppy social, is an event for young puppies and their owners, designed to give dogs up to the age of about 16-20 weeks the chance to interact with others.  The aim of puppy parties is to socialize puppies rather than teaching them any specific behaviors, although many behaviorists believe that puppies should also be exposed to stable adult dogs so that they can learn appropriate social cues.