DMT – A Dog Training Tool

A black and white dog sitting with his head turned to look at a distraction off the screen

DMT. It’s powerful. It can change your life and your relationship with your dog for the better. Now… I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry. I’m referring to a dog training game!


Why should I learn about DMT?

Does your dog startle at noises in the environment? Bark at any little movement? Lunge towards other dogs?

Keep on reading!

When something happens in the environment, our dogs are either aware or unaware of the “thing” that is happening. If the dog is aware, he then asks himself, “Is it important”?

For many years, humans bred different breeds for specific purposes. Here are just some generalized examples. Livestock guardian dogs protected their animals from predators. Herding dogs worked with their handlers to keep the group of animals in line. Guard dogs deterred people from entering the property. Hunting dogs tracked scents. Each of those groups of dogs were bred to be aware of certain changes in the environment and to classify those changes as important.

Dogs can also learn through experience that something is important. When my Kizmo was a few months old, I brought home a kitten named Simba. Simba is a wild boy – always running and leaping. One day he knocked over a whiteboard right on top of poor Kizmo. From that day forward, Kizmo was afraid of objects taller than him that seemed to move. For example: grocery carts, broom sticks, bags stuck on the fence, someone moving a mattress, etc. Thanks to DMT, we have counter-conditioned movement and also built up his confidence.

DMT is a long term game plan, meaning that it’s not a magic wand that instantly fixes everything. That would be nice! However, DMT is something that can absolutely build up your dog’s confidence, decrease the intensity and frequency of environmental triggers, and teach your dog, “No, that thing is not important.” In my experience, I also believe that it can grow resiliency and provide you a tool to use for novel events life throws at you.


What is DMT?

DMT stands for “Distraction. Mark! Treat.”

Distractions can be anything in the environment. Think: anything that your dog notices. Low-level distractions may make your dog lift or turn his head, raise an ear, widen her eyes, or have no physical response at all. Mid-level distractions may cause your dog to stop and stare, elicit a small growl, or cause a change in pace. High-level distractions lead to more noticeable behaviors such as lunging, barking, or turning into a statue.

You mark using a DMT marker cue. This is not the same marker cue that you use in your typical training (such as a clicker or “yes!”). The DMT marker cue should be unique, as our goal is to place a calm, pleasant value into the word. I use the word “nice.” I say it calmly and drawn out, “niiiice.” Some previous clients of mine have used the phrases, “It’s okay,” “disregard,” and “gooood”. You choose what works for you! You’ll be saying it a lot… so try to pick something that isn’t too tongue tripping.

Treat is exactly what it sounds like. You need something that will cause a more calm and pleasant physiological response. The easiest, most efficient thing for most dogs is food. Eating food is a calming, enjoyable experience for many dogs. Sniffing, walking, and gaining distance from triggers are also potential “treats”. In fact, in some high level distractions moving away from the distraction is often the “treat”.


To practice DMT, you just need to remember the order of the letters. Distraction-Mark-Treat. If a distraction in the environment occurs, you say your DMT marker word, and then give your dog a treat. Let’s take a look at some examples.

  • Sue’s lab mix raises his head as her 5 year old walks into the room. Sue says, “niiice” then gives him a treat from the jar on the shelf.
  • Dan is walking his dog down the street. A car stops at the stop sign, and its brakes squeal loudly. Dan says “niiiiice” then scatters some treats at the next corner.
  • Lexi is playing with their new dog in the fenced in backyard. A neighbor walks his dog on the sidewalk, past Lexi’s yard. Lexi’s dog stops playing, stands still, and stares as the neighbor and the dog go by. Lexi says, “niiice. Let’s go, bud!”, and walks into the house. They go into the kitchen and give the dog a couple treats before going back outside to play some more.



How does it work?

We are utilizing classical conditioning. In classical conditioning, we are creating an association between a specific stimulus and an emotional/physiological state (the automatic conditioned response). The DMT marker cue is the specific stimulus, followed by food.

“Niiiice” → food 

Eating food is a calming, enjoyable experience for many dogs. Instead of hand feeding the food, you can also opt to toss the food to the ground. The benefit of doing so is that eating food off the ground usually elicits sniffing and foraging, which are calming, natural, and enjoyable experiences for most dogs. This means that the automatic conditioned response is the same physiological response – calm.

“Niiiice” → calm physiological state

The DMT marker cue becomes associated with this calm, pleasant physiological state. The stronger the association, the more effective the DMT marker cue will be as a tool.

If you’re not completely sold on classical conditioning, then I suggest Denise Fenzi’s awesome Facebook live video explaining this topic! She posts frequent updates and videos on her social media platforms, proving the efficiency of her training choices for her family.


Let’s take this one step further.

To really leverage the power of DMT, you want to build it up layer by layer. The first layer is building up the DMT marker cue using classical conditioning. The next layer specifically addresses the way your dog feels about a distraction.

You can change the way your dog feels about a distraction (counterconditioning). You can also decrease the intensity of your dog’s feeling about that distraction (desensitization). Both desensitization and counterconditioning are specific applications of classical conditioning! You can read more about both here.

DMT is the tool you can use to make those changes. In my previous example with Kizmo, I desensitized him to minor movements and changed his fear of moving objects into a more neutral emotion. If your dog becomes too excited around toddlers or other dogs, you may want to change that super excited emotion into a calmer one. Which is why you’re reading about DMT!

Once you have associated the DMT marker cue (“niiice”) with a calm physiological state, you can use it with distractions. The distraction is the specific stimulus, followed by the DMT marker cue.

Low Level Distraction → “Niiiice”

The DMT marker cue elicits a calm, pleasant physiological state because of the first layer of counter conditioning. Meaning….the automatic conditioned response once again is calm.

Low Level Distraction → calm, physiological state

Once you’ve mastered lower level distractions, you can move to mid level distractions, and so on. This, my friends, is how you layer in DMT for powerful change.


Are you ready to start?

Here is a handout and a workbook from Absolute Dogs – who coined the term “DMT”.  Choose your DMT marker cue, and get started! Feel free to take a video and tag us on Facebook


Additional Resources for further reading:

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Katie Large

Katie Large

I'm a canine enthusiast, mom to eight beautiful pups, and foster parent to over a hundred other amazing dogs.

I enjoy helping dogs and their families learn to understand each other, live a safe and enriched life, and reach their full potential.

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