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Melding training methods for effective K9 communication

A police dog and his or her officer need to function as one. This cannot happen without effective communication.

May 23, 2018  By Tony Pallotta

The newest and most popular method of communicating with your K9 partner is referred to as “Marker Training.” This method (and variations of it) has proven to elicit phenomenal results.

A second technique, referred to as T.R.O.T, revolves around the development of a symbiotic team relationship.

The melding of these two types of communication techniques greatly increases the overall cohesion of the team and it allows for ongoing development — improving deployment success and reliability.

The “Marker Training” principle can be best described using a simple analogy of the child’s game: “Hot and Cold.” This game uses the words “hot” and “cold” to direct a person to a preselected item or task. The K9 training concept uses the same idea to dictate behaviour tasks to a dog. It can be further developed into small subsets of partial behaviours to allow for more intricate tasks to be performed.


We could assist our dogs by simply making positive and negative associations to the words of our choice. Most handlers use the words “Yes” and “No.” Once the dogs learn that “Yes” means the behaviour is correct and a reward is forthcoming — and “No” means the behaviour is incorrect and a reward is not forthcoming — we can begin to clearly and progressively communicate with our K9 partners.

We can also raise the bar of difficulty and expectations for new learned behaviours. An example of this is working with K9s at great distances from the handlers with a SWAT robot. The dogs learn to take direction from the robot’s communication system and use the robot itself to guide them down hallways, into specific rooms or to navigate stairs. This allows handlers to remain safely back from harm’s way, while observing through the robot’s remote camera system.

“Complete obstacle” or agility-type exercises have a long history in K9 training. Here’s the twist: The physical obstacle actually represents a psychological obstacle and conquering an obstacle increases the cohesion within the K9 team.

If the dog refuses the obstacle then the dog decides he’s not going to follow orders. The ramifications of this behaviour are possibly disastrous during any type of deployment. These obstacles initially create confusion, anxiety and escalate stress levels, which typically results in handlers losing control of their K9 partners. At this point we start to see resistance and refusal. As the team develops mutual trust, respect and obligation for one another, these obstacles become conquerable — conquerable to the point, in fact, where the concept of refusal is eliminated from the K9’s mind completely.

The T.R.O.T. system — along with the progressive use of the reinforcement I mentioned briefly earlier — can greatly enhance the teams’ effectiveness in the field. Here is a breakdown:

• Trust is the initial key element in the successful implementation of long-term trainability and team cohesiveness.
• Respect builds on the trust component and allows the team to solidify itself into a working unit.
• Obligation is the third building block and serves to cement the authoritative relationship in the ongoing task development process.
• Teamwork is the final result of a successful implementation.

In the past, there could be limitations placed on a team’s performance based on older-style training techniques. The use of both the training strategies outlined here, used in combination, provides a sound foundation. Teams develop into strong units, capable of not only managing but also adapting to changing workplace conditions.

Tony Pallotta started training dogs in 1993 and has worked with Renzo Zolli in Italy and Erik Huft in the Netherlands. He is the head trainer at Working K9. Reach him at

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