Please take a moment to read the following wall of text. I will define a number of concepts that will make following along easier.
A behavior that elicits a consequence is called an operant behavior. Operant conditioning concentrates on the relationship between various outcomes of operant behaviors. Outcomes can be positive consequences, negative consequences, or punishment.
Positive reinforcement is when you encourage an operant behavior by rewarding it with something good. Examples of rewards include treats, playing with a toy, silly talk, petting, running and pretty much anything that your dog likes. In terms of physiology, most positive reinforcement methods stimulate a dopamine response at the basal ganglia (brain stem). It makes them happy, feel good, and makes him want to do the action again.
Negative reinforcement is a very subtle concept, and it can have profound effects on what your dog learns. Negative reinforcement is when you take something bad/unpleasant away. Contrary to popular belief, negative reinforcement is NOT a punishment.
Punishment is when you do something unpleasant in response to a behavior your dog exhibited. This includes spraying with a water bottle, smacking, pinching, blowing, shouting, rubbing noses in urine and feces, news paper hitting, and any other aversive behavior. I personally would never condone punishment as an effective way to train your dog. Punishment tends to stimulate an adrenal response, which is also known as the "fight or flight" response hard wired into pretty much everything that lives. In addition to the adrenaline response, all sorts of stress hormones can be released as well. These stress hormones interfere with the learning functions of the brain, which is completely counterproductive when it comes to training. Using punishment can lead to a fearful dog, which in turn can lead to a dog that is unstable or one that will bite (which is a fear response) in stressful situations.
Working from the outside in.
Traditional training methods involve physically manipulating your dog's body and then using a cue with those manipulations. For instance; Steadily pulling upwards on a collar, the dog has two choices. Choke or sit. The dog Sits. You say "sit" as soon as his bum moves towards the ground. Another example would be pulling your dogs collar towards the ground to teach them "down".
These methods do work, and the dog does learn, but it is not the most effective way to teach your dog.
Working from the inside out.
This is where clicker training shines. You are teaching your dog to WANT to listen to you. Every interaction you have with the dog ends in a positive outcome. When you use clicker training, you are teaching your dog how to learn. You open up an amazing avenue for communication which helps improve the canine-human bond, which results in your dog wanting to listen and learn. In short, you get your dream dog and your dog gets his "dream" owner.
Contrast the above example of "sit" and "down" with the following.
toy poodle pit-bull terrier, will not stop barking at everything that moves. You've tried yelling (which only makes her bark more, because she thinks you are barking too), smacking her with a news paper, spraying her with water. Nothing seems to stop her from barking. You ask a friend how they managed to train their dog to be a good canine citizen. He replies "Well gee-whiz, clicker training." You decide to learn all about clicker training.
Understand this; If a dog is bored, under-exercised, and generally under stimulated, barking turns into a very rewarding and fun game to pass the time. In most cases, the reward is the intrinsic value of barking itself. It's fun, it's something to do, and it normally gets a response. We need to figure out a way to make it so that barking is no longer rewarding
The most common way to teach a dog to stop barking with clicker training is to use the idea of behavior extinction. Extinction is when a behavior or action is no longer rewarding, so the dog stops doing it because it simply isn't worth doing. The way we accomplish this is to change how your dog is receiving his reinforcement to bark. We are going to teach your dog a new trick, and get rid of an annoying habit all in one swell foop (or is that fell swoop). More on this later, if I get enough requests I will put up a step-by step on how to teach a dog to stop barking.
Read the next section for clicker training theory.
Step 1: Dog Training Equipment
There are many types of dog training collars, I will outline the most common ones here.
This is my personal preference, it is cheap, functional, and humane. I don't use a collar to control my dog, I use it to hold her dog tags and my phone number. If a dog is trained appropriately, you shouldn't need to control them via a leash or collar. Applying pressure around the neck of a dog actually causes an adrenal response, which results in keying your dog up even more. In most cases, pulling on your dogs leash will be counter productive.
For years, this was the classic choice for obedience training. When the dog pulls ahead of you, the collar tightens around their neck. The discomfort caused by the collar teaches your dog to not pull (in theory) although I have seen many a dog hacking up a lung with a choke chain.
I personally think that there is a special place in hell reserved for the person that invented this collar (well maybe not, but I think they are totally useless and cruel). Many people claim they need to use a prong collar to penetrate their dogs long, thick hair. People claim that the prongs don't hurt their dog. I have seen gouges in dogs necks where these "harmless" prongs have been used to teach a dog to heel. Again, pain and tension on a dogs neck results in an adrenal response which is always counter productive to learning. Show me a dog in a prong collar, and I'll show you a dog that isn't' well trained (i.e a lazy owner).
The harness was developed to allow a dog to pull loads safely, and without discomfort to their neck. You often see small dogs wearing harnesses, which I think is kind of silly. The great majority of non-working dogs that wear a harness, wear them because the owners haven't taught them to heel. Lets think about this for a minute. Your dog chokes on their collar when you are walking them, so you put them in a harness instead. Congratulations, you have just taught your dog how to pull.
Leashes can be divided into a couple of different categories. Extendable and non extendable. The materials that leashes are constructed out of vary widely. For training a new dog, I prefer a 6 ft long 1 inch wide nylon leash. They are cheap, functional and get the job done. If I am training a puppy, or a small dog then I generally use a 1/4in wide leash. The full inch wide leashes are much to thick for a small dog :) I prefer the 1in wide leash, because if the dog suddenly bolts for something it is much easier on your hands. Once my dog is trained up, I tend to use a simple leather leash. This is purely for aesthetics and reflects more on my sense of style than anything else.
Yet another silly type of dog accessory. This type of leash was invented for working Hounds. The trainer could give the dog a lot of head room to track scents, and then quickly take up the slack to prevent tangling on ground debris. In an urban environment, these leashes are downright unsafe. A strong dog can pull hard, overwhelm the locking mechanism, and then run right into the road. Additionally, these leashes are nearly useless for everyday training. Save your money, get a generic 6 ft nylon leash.
Any clicker or short noise maker will do. Heck, you could even just snap your fingers.
What makes your dog tick? Food, play, silly talk? Make sure you have a ready supply of dog treats. Nylon treat bags that clip onto your belt or waist band are particularly handy. If not, a zip-lock bag and an alligator clip works just as well.
If you want to train a dog, you need a dog. Duh. Any mutt will do. Some are smarter than others, but I haven't met a dog that couldn't learn the basics. I personally prefer working dogs, or poodle crosses.
Like any field, you will find a wide range of contrasting ideas. The above are my views on what works and what doesn't. At the end of the day, it is your dog. If you want to use a $60 Dolce and Gabanna leash with a diamond studded collar...go right ahead. I prefer a 6 ft length of nylon rope, but then again I have a rather utilitarian outlook on life. If you want to fill your closet with a variety pointless dog accessories and accoutrements, go right ahead! Whatever makes you happy.