This weekend at the KPA Dog Trainer Program Workshop, we discussed ways to train dogs to wait at a boundary (in this case a doorway) until released to go through. When asked how I train boundaries I said, “A wait, is a wait, is a wait.” “Wait” does not have any context or environment or dog position rules. A “wait” means, “You stay put until I say it’s ok to move.” It doesn’t matter if it’s in a car, crate, hiking trail, kitchen, bedroom or sitting with a hot dog 6 inches away. A “wait” is a “wait.” It’s a Global Rule.
Thinking about training this morning, I realized that I like the “one key” idea. I’d rather have one single key that opens my house, my car, my garage, my office, etc. If you look at my key ring I have 4, and the ones I don’t use with regularity are hanging on a second key ring on the coat rack. While I love having a very large tool bag full of dog training tools, I don’t like carrying them around with me on my dog handling key ring. I use my Global Rules 90% of the time; “Wait,” “Sit,” “Leave it” and “Get it / Give it.” At the workshop I met people that like to have all kinds of keys on their dog handling key ring, which gives them lots of creative behaviors to train, but also means carrying around a lot of keys.
Whatever your dog handling key ring looks like, it’s beneficial to have a few Global Rules. A case in point was demonstrated this morning as I picked up Pais and Shira from dog boarding. Rox had gone with me to the Workshop and the other 2 were boarded for the first time. When I went to pick them up I thought I had cleaned the entire backseat for them, but a small plastic baggy with 2 dog biscuits had gotten wedged between the back and seat. Now, my girls get along 99% of the time, but Pais goes into a guarding behavior with anything she has “hunted” or “found.” I can drop a food all over the floor and she won’t guard it against the other dogs, but if she finds or catches a secret treat all her own she guards it. Well, guess who found the little baggy of treats? Yep. Paisley.
On a side note of needing knowing your dog’s behavior signals, I recognized Pais’s guarding growl just as Shira was trying to get into the front seat. Her guarding growl is very different from her play growl or her “What’s that?” growl. I certainly can’t describe the differences or even mimic the differences, it’s something that I have learned to recognize while living with her. Hearing her guarding growl was like a seeing a stop light while driving; pull over, stop and find out what’s going on.
I peeked around the front seat to see Pais laying down with the baggy between her front feet and a look that was a combination between joy and pride and concern. Now, we had never worked on “Give it” in the car. There had never been any reason to. I certainly didn’t want my dogs wandering all over the car, digging under the seats to find stuff to hand to me, but “Give it” is a Global Rule. It’s something I’ve worked on with all types of items, in all kinds of contexts. The number 1 rule of having Global Rules is to be consistent. The same vocal intonation is always used, even when you’re stressed or worried. I actually find it calms me to have to force myself to use the same vocals tones. It would have been easy to think, “I have 2 dogs in a very small space that are available to each other and one is getting testy. Quick! Do something!” and react in a hurried and stressed manner. Unfortunately, that would just pass the stress onto my dogs and perhaps make the problem worse. As handlers, we need to react by taking our time quickly yet mindfully. As I calmly said, “Pais, give it,” and put my flat hand out to her, Pais very gently handed me her found prize. “Good girl!!” With all the dogs now calm, (Pais because she didn’t have to worry about Shira taking her prize, and Shira because she didn’t want the stupid plastic bag anyway, but was getting told off due to her proximity,) we got back on the road and headed home.
While dog training is fun and can be even more fun teaching dog tricks and cute behaviors, it’s important to have a handful of very practical Global Rules that are proofed over and over on your dog handling key ring. Unfortunately you cannot proof for everything. There are circumstances and configurations you cannot imagine to proof for, but the more you proof the more solid a behavior becomes. Every training session working on your Global Rule behaviors increases the chances your dog will remember, even in a brand new situation.