Once you have your basic foundation of training down with your dog and you start getting into more advanced forms of training you will start coming up with special circumstances that you want your dog to do certain things. This is where the power of building situational context with your dogs comes in. This is primarily done by putting together scenarios that put the dog into experiences that you can then show them how you want them to act when that happens. There is no real step by step to this process so we will continue on with some examples for you and hopefully you will get the idea.
Lets say for example you are like us, and you want your dogs to pull when they are attached to the sled but not when walking on a leash. You could, also like us get your dogs a specific harness and collar they are allowed to pull in. If they are not wearing this harness and collar they are not allowed to pull. There is also the context of being attached up to the sled which is a major situational context for them as well.
An other example could be you have a tracking dog who is also an apprehension or protection dog and you want them to differentiate between when they are tracking a dangerous individual that will likely end in an apprehension or bite vs ending with them finding a lost victim. In this case you can also have different equipment or types of harness for the different kind of tracks.
You can add to this context by getting them into their gear in a specific manner for each type of tracking. This repetition forms a pattern of associations in their brain that reminds them what specific task they are about to do.
For instance, in addition to having say a tactical harness for dangerous tracks and a leather harness for search and rescue tracks, you can attach your long line in a different manner for each track, such as to their collar and run it under their belly to keep their head down looking for the scent on a search and rescue track, vs attached to the back of their harness allowing them to keep their head up looking for threats and hunting the dangerous individual.
You can also repeat a specific short speech or string of words, or touch and rub them in certain areas each time. The more you do these patterns the stronger their associations to the specific situational context will be.
Back to the tracking dog for a complete example, for your search and rescue track you could talk to your dog and say “Someone is lost lets find them”, then put them in their leather tracking harness and attach their long line to their collar and run it under their belly and run your hand down their back and tell them “lets go find him.”
Then for their apprehension track you could put them in their tactical harness attach the leash to the link on their back and tell them “Lets get the bad guy” then pat them on the side.
Then after either case, you would give them their command for that specific kind of search.
These were fairly specific examples but the scenario based training and situational context can be applied to anything. Whether its protection work and you want them to switch on when they are walking to and from buildings, or apprehension work and you want them to know if their door pops open their handler needs them to stop a dangerous individual. Situational context is the primary driver in medical service dog training to show them the different medical situations and how they should respond to them.
Situational context is a staple in advanced training of any K9 discipline and is key to unlocking your dogs potential. So if you are not using it you are doing your self and your dog a huge disservice
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