Situation Awareness (SA) & Your Dog

Having been in the Air Force as well as taken a few flying lessons I am very familiar with the concept of SA or situation(al) awareness.  A good general definition of SA can be found at, and can be surmised by the following:

“Situation awareness (SA) involves being aware of what is happening around you to understand how information, events, and your own actions will impact your goals and objectives, both now and in the near future. Lacking SA or having inadequate SA has been identified as one of the primary factors in accidents attributed to human error…”

Although SA is a term that is most often bandied about in fields like the military and aviation, I think it is also of great import to us as dog owners, and more importantly as dog trainers. And by the way if you are a dog owner, you are a dog trainer, whether you realize it or not.

Taking our dog for a 5 minute walk can seem like a simple thing to us, but it can result in hundreds of situations for the dog to react to (or ignore), and behaviors for us to either reinforce, direct, or ignore. We see the walk as a simple thing. The dog will probably meet a few people and perhaps a dog or two— maybe even see a few cars. But from our dog’s perspective the walk is a bit more complex. Each person they meet is different, they look, smell, sound, and act different from one another. Each sight, sound, and smell your dog encounters on a simple 5 minute walk is a different stimulus for your dog. Your dog can either react to these stimuli or ignore them and we at the other end of the leash have the ability to reinforce those reactions and non-reactions.

By thinking about the situations our dogs will be put into BEFORE placing them into those situations— we are able to reinforce those actions (including inactions) we like, avoid those we don’t like, and are better able to deal with those things that pop up when we aren’t expecting them.  Being in situational awareness means that our mind is in a proactive state and is better able to react to the situations we find ourselves and our dogs in. We are then better able to teach our dogs what we expect of them by using the rules of learning and the methods of positive reinforcement.


Kevin, Jackie, Gavin, Annie, Tosha