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As a pet owner, you might have been in a position where you asked your dog to do something – stay, for example – only to have him stare back innocently into your eyes as though you spoke to him in the Elven tongue. He knows how to do it. In fact, it is the very first thing that you taught him. You make him follow your command several times during the day and he always obeys without resistance. So, why exactly does he just stop doing it out of the blue? What makes him forget his training?
The first question that needs to be addressed is “Did you teach your dog the full behavior or did you just teach him a specific version of it?” For instance, let us say that you taught your pup to stay put till you place the dinner bowl in the designated spot. He knows how to wait till you fill the bowl and place it in the spot. That’s great, but have you trained your dog to stay in any situation? Can he stay while you get a package from the mailman? Or when the kids in the house are running around the dinner table? Teaching your dog to stay in such situations is very different than the rote “Do this if you want food” pre-dinner routine.
It is entirely up to you to assist him in increasing his stay fluency. Picture to yourself all the different situations where it would be helpful if your dog stayed and work together with him in achieving it. Let us use a metaphor to understand this better. Have you ever signed up for a language class? The teacher initially walks you through the grammar basics, and then you move on to forming simple sentences. Eventually you are fluent enough to have a simple conversation and you begin to feel more confident in your abilities.
Now imagine if you had to take a field trip out to some market in the country where you are studying. Suddenly, the things you learned inside the classroom do not apply anymore. Everybody around you is talking really fast, the accent sounds weird and the place is crowded on all sides. It can be pretty scary and frustrating, right? It is the same thing that happens to your dog when you take him out of his classroom into the real world.
Asking your dog to sit when you are inside the house is quite easy as he is familiar and comfortable with the environment. Asking him to sit down at the vet’s place is quite a different matter altogether. If the sights and sounds of a foreign country can overwhelm you and make you forget your language skills, the same applies to your dog, whether it is the vet’s office or the dog park. An easy way to help your dog is to ensure that his responses are perfect in the familiar environment. Then you can take him out to the park when it is relatively free and give him some field training.
And most importantly, look a bit deeper to see if there is any other reason behind your dog forgetting his training. Some dogs are uncomfortable doing a stay-sit on hardwood floors as they don’t want to slip and slide all over the floor. Older dogs might not want to do it because they might have arthritis. If you suspect a medical reason behind the behavior, take him to the vet immediately.