What is Science-Based Dog Training?

The Sciences

A very popular term inserted in many dog training claims is “science-based dog training”. The best dog training approach to help dogs become the dog of your dreams should be science-based. But, an important question to ask is “Which sciences are included in science-based dog training?” Does it really matter? Most definitely. Best training practices are supported by solid scientific research.

This is one of my favorite topics to research and discuss, and gave a lecture on this topic just yesterday for the Asheville-Buncombe Technical College (AB Tech) STEM Friday Lecture Series. The presentation was recorded and will be linked to Lucky Dog Training Asheville website as soon as it is available.

The very broad term “science” includes a vast array of scientific fields, including Psychology, Biology, Veterinary Science, Physics and Nutrition. Although the others are important, research in Psychology and Biology contribute the most to science-based dog training, but in very different ways.


Psychology research by Freud, Pavlov and B.F. Skinner represent the foundation of Learning Theory. Results of their research include the Pleasure Principle, Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning. Their research started over 100 years ago, with the bulk of research between 1900-1930s. Learning Theory allows us to select tools and techniques to achieve specific training goals.


While psychology research is often referenced as the basis of science-based dog training, contributions from biology should be weighted equally, but differently. Psychology provides a framework to address different training goals. Biology allows us to approach training by understanding the inner workings of dogs – how they think and communicate. By studying the wolf, we learn the nature of dogs and evolutionary adaptations that have allowed them to become “Human’s Best Friend”.

Early biology contributions were limited to captive wolf studies. The 1995 release and subsequent research of wild wolves in Yellowstone National Park in Western U.S. have made monumental contributions to our understanding of wolf and dog biology. And, with technological advances in science, contributions from neurobiology allow us to observe how the dog’s mind functions and how it compares to the human brain. Rather than guessing how dogs think, neurobiology allows us to see how dogs think, and the results are fascinating. Dogs really, truly love us!

Details about the various research scientists and their contributions to science-based dog training are discussed in the taped lecture (AB Tech’s STEM Friday Lecture Series). Please contact the Lucky Dog Training Asheville if your group or organization is interested in scheduling a presentation. The content of the lecture, with expanded discussions of training and research topics, will be available in The Dog’s Perspective book revision.

Kathryn R. Gubista, PhD is an evolutionary biologist, college biology instructor, former zookeeper, author, certified professional dog trainer with Lucky Dog Training Asheville and has over 30 years of dog training and human teaching experience. The Dog’s Perspective is a training philosophy based on how dogs think, the title of the book series and blog.

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