Using rituals during dog training can be very helpful. Rituals include a series of cues that can mean “It’s time to train!” or “We’re done training!” and are useful for letting your dog know what’s coming next. For competition, rituals are great for entering and exiting the ring. They can also allow your dog to communicate with you. When your dog breaks a ritual there is usually a problem.
The idea of using rituals as forms of dog communication came back to me yesterday after I broke a ritual. Typically, I train all 3 dogs in rotation, in the same order, and at the end everyone does a quick yard lap and comes in for a cookie as a group. Yesterday Rox had a Vet appointment, and since Pais gets upset if she doesn’t get to go for a ride when one of the other dogs gets to go, I decided to do a training session with just Paisley before we left. What do you think happened?
First, separating Paisley first, since her place in the rotation is second, was a problem. Rox goes first, and she was quite upset at the change. There’s nothing like a Cattle Dog giving you the “spitty face” to make you feel like a heel. Pais was confused at her new place in the rotation and her eagerness for training was tempered. I should have changed my plan at this point, but the Vet appointment was in 30 minutes and I had my little plan. I should have known better.
The real doggy communication happened after I brought Pais back in, prompted the yard lap and came in the house. “Cookies!” and I handed out the treats as I do after every training session. Rox spit it out, and I don’t mean a little, lady-like drop on the floor, she SPIT it out. In Rox language that was equivalent to, “We are NOT done!” Poor Rox; a broken ritual and a trip to the vet. Lesson learned. If you’re going to set up rituals, stick with them. They’re too powerful to trifle with.
On a last note, rituals aren’t just for formal training. Every night my dogs tell me to brush my teeth. Why? After I brush my teeth they get a cookie. At about 10pm they all meander over to me and give me a stare; one by one until I have 6 sets of eyes staring at me. I get up, brush my teeth and give them a treat. If I remember to bush my teeth myself, they hear me brush, spit and the water go off then they come running in the house and wait at the fridge to get their treat. If you have a new habit you are trying to incorporate into your life, include your dogs. They’re great at remembering for you!