Sunday, March 20, 2011

But He Knows This! Why dogs forget training and what to do about it.

All the students have arrived at class and we begin working on a sit stay exercise. The students ask their dogs to sit and then tell them to stay. We wait 10 seconds and then reward and release the dogs. Should be fairly easy for an advanced class right? Well not always. Sometimes a dog just doesn’t stay or worse yet seems to have forgotten what sit means! So what’s happening? 

A couple of different scenarios might be going on. My first guess would be that the dog isn’t motivated. Clearly he/she knows what sit means and probably at this point what stay means but is choosing not to perform the expected behaviour. It doesn’t mean the dog has forgotten the commands. Pamela Reid Ph.D. explains this as learning/performance distinction. She states that a “whether or not a behaviour is performed depends on a lot of things: opportunity, motivation, physical abilities, and learning”1. This means that just because a dog doesn’t do what he/she is told doesn’t mean that he/she doesn’t know how to do it. 

A crucial part of training is maintaining a behaviour/command. This means you have to practice, use reinforcers that matter to your dog at that moment in time and you back up any command with getting the desired behaviour. All too often owners expect the dogs to hear sit, sit, sit all day long without reinforcement (or even actually getting the dog to sit at all) which tells the dog that this command doesn’t matter. 

Performing a Sit Stay in class:
  • Have you given your dog a chance to respond before double commanding, asking for a sit before you have focus or physically putting your dog in a sit ?
  • Why should your dog sit/stay? What’s in it for them? And don’t say because he/she loves me.
  • Is my dog injured, sick or anxious? I found out that my dog Tank stopped sitting because of a knee injury, good thing I didn’t jump into punishment mode on him!
  • Have I taught my dog how to sit and stay in this environment? Should I go back a few steps?
The same thing can happen with house training. It snows out and the dog suddenly starts peeing in the house. The dog is no longer motivated to go outside since most owners stop rewarding house training fairly quickly by sending their dog outside alone and further more we add some unpleasant conditions .The rug starts to look like an ideal bathroom. Now what do you do? Go back to the basics and head outside with your dog. Occasionally reward them for going outside with praise, petting, treats or games. This will provide the motivation for your dog to go outside (even in the cold), do their business and keep you happy. 

Performing Eliminating Outside:
  • Has your dog had the opportunity to go out regularly or did you leave it too long?
  • Is your dog motivated to go to the bathroom outside or have you completely stopped rewarding it?
  • Is your dog sick?My dog Heidi started peeing in her sleep and we discovered it was from a hormone imbalance. Once she was on Estrogen she no longer peed inside.
  • Have you properly trained your dog where to go to the bathroom? Confusion ensues if you switch between indoor bathroom areas/outdoor bathroom areas?
So you can see how regression occurs and why dogs sometimes don’t perform behaviours we previously thought were rock solid. This happens to everyone! Don’t get upset just take a breath and ask yourself why this might be happening? Go through whether you gave the dog the right opportunities to do what you want, is your dog motivated or physically unable to do what you want and have you trained/maintained your dog to continue to do this behaviour?

1 Reid, Pamela J. Ph.D., Excel-erated Learning: Explaining how dogs learn and how best to teach them. James & Kenneth Publishers, 1996. 

1 comment:

  1. I clean the dog poo spot every few days and the dog comes along. The dog knows if i find poo there she gets a treat. now sometimes she will run over and place a nugget there before I get there, if it is clean lol