Dog Training: Markers

Maybe less tacti-cool than you’re used to, but enough people have dogs that you may find this useful. For more information, go to and read this: -Mike

Marker training is an effective dog training technique that can be used on any dog, whether it’s an aggressive working dog or your household mutt. It capitalizes on an important concept illustrated by a guy named Ivan Pavlov. You might have heard of “Pavlov’s Dog,” which is a euphemism for his experiment about a concept in psychology called classical conditioning. 

The essence is this: You can use a neutral stimulus—in this case a bell, which means nothing to do the dog at first—and condition that stimulus to a natural drive or “need,” like food. In Pavlov’s illustration, they rang a bell right before feeding the dogs every day, and eventually, the dogs started to salivate to the sound of the bell. This explains why your dog might get excited when you walk near their food container at dinner time—they know what’s coming!

The way we capitalize on this in dog training is to use a stimulus—it can be a clicker, or a special training word like “Yes”—linked to a reward, like a treat or a toy, which the dog is naturally driven to desire. Once that link is formed, the word or the click becomes an extension of the reward itself—the same way the dogs started salivating when they heard the bell, or get excited when you move near their food container. We can use this stimulus—or marker—to shape the behavior of the dog. You might call it… marker training. 

Dogs don’t have intelligence the way humans do—their short-term “working” memory isn’t as robust as ours. If we are trying to use punishments and rewards to either strengthen or extinguish a behavior (this is called operant conditioning), we can use our marker to capture the moment—think it of like the shutter on a digital camera. The marker becomes a clear way of communicating to the dog what is “good” or “bad” (Withholding a reward is a form of punishment, and you can have negative markers/consequences, too. We’ll talk about using corrections in another bulletin). 

Marker training helps us work around the speed at which a dog thinks and behaves—They live in the moment, i.e., they are easily distracted. They are also good at reading context and body language (It’s all they have to work with). So if they sit, stay, or lay down, and you reach for a treat—it might be too late—they are already on the move, and might have forgotten what they did to get it! Using markers helps us communicate with our dogs, try it out! 

Mike Doyle

Mike Doyle


Mike is a full-time police officer and tactical medic. He currently works as a K9 handler, SWAT team member, and Police Trainer. Mike started Tactical Tangents as part of his fundamental purpose to save lives. His goal is to enhance the survival of police officers and concerned citizens by helping them become better, smarter, faster, and more efficient. His opinions are for informational purposes only and do not reflect those of his employer or any other government agency.



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