I teach Situational Awareness in my Dog Obedience classes, starting with Basic Obedience all the way through Advanced Obedience. Situational awareness is being able to clearly see and perceive what is happening, or could happen, when you are with your dog. It is a risk management strategy, to prevent you, your dog, and innocent others from being harmed. No, I’m not a police officer, professional guard dog trainer, or martial artist. But, I’ve been in enough situations with dogs over the years to have developed sufficient street smarts to incorporate citizen dog handler situational awareness skills into my dog training programs.
Let me give you an example. I had a student with a 10 month old Australian Shepherd. They lived in a neighborhood going through the gentrification process, so it was a combination of a new wave of renovation and innovation combined with the gritty street dangers of living downtown. He was a professional, and chose to live in that neighborhood because he believed in the cultural renaissance, which he was involved in, to bring back the art, styles and community cohesion he remembered as a kid.
As always, when preparing for a lesson in this circumstance, I did neighborhood research and reconnaissance prior to arriving. I knew, in the past year, there had been 6 murders, about 30 armed robberies of individuals, 6 commercial robberies, quite a number of aggravated assaults, many sexual assaults, petty thefts, and car thefts. These were happening at all times of the day and night.
The previous night, someone tried to break into his home. He was there, along with his wife and 2 week old baby. And, of course, his dog. As the person was trying to break into his back door, he got up, opened the front door, released his dog, which confronted the man and got him on the ground, and he held him there with his gun.
I asked him, “when you went out the door, did you look to see if there was another person?” That stopped him. He hadn’t. He hadn’t considered that home invasions often involve more than one criminal. He wasn’t situationally aware, he was just reacting.
I discuss a variety of situational awareness concepts in all my lessons, starting with my puppy lessons. We almost always discuss safety issues, right from the very beginning. With puppies, it includes puppy proofing the home, teaching puppies not to jump on guests (which later could result in someone falling and getting seriously injured), socialization (so the puppy doesn’t grow up to be dangerous to guests or other animals), and such. In my obedience classes, we then begin additional safety practices, which culminate in situational awareness skills in public. We discuss how to deal with the weirdo, the kid that shouldn’t pet your dog, loose dogs that might attack you or your dog, boundary training so the dog doesn’t escape the front door or automobile, for hikers we discuss trail safety, and I customize the lessons to address the situations the dog might encounter with that owner. We spend even more time on these issues in my Therapy Dog classes.
Obedience training is more than just teaching commands. At least, I think it should cover more than that. Even the dogs need to learn their own version of situational awareness, which is why we set up scenarios so that the dog can properly interpret what is going on and still obey the human handler.
Your training isn’t complete, nor is your dog’s training complete, if situational awareness isn’t also discussed and then trained… meaning you and your dog develop a level of proficiency necessary for your lifestyle. A typical dog training class doesn’t really address these things. My programs have always been about real life companion obedience. If you aren’t getting this in your training, then is your dog really prepared for the coming emergencies of life? I don’t think so.