Has Your Dog Forgotten Everything You’ve Taught Him ?
So why is it that your dog seems to forget things he use to know so well ? Just like people, dogs tend to do what works. Permanent change happens when the new behavior becomes the default. This means that if you have a dog that is a jumping fool and mugs every person that comes to the door he needs to learn how to sit and stay under these same circumstances. The behavior of sitting and staying need to be repeated to the point where he’s been rewarded for it so much that he chooses to sit instead of jump because it has been rewarded so many times it has become his new default and replaces jumping.
Though most dogs pick up how to sit and stay easily, most trainers don’t prepare them for all the circumstances they will be required to perform the behavior under. The more variables you add to sit/stay while the dog is in the learning phase and the more you teach him how to perform the behavior in real life, the better able he will be to sit and stay when company comes to visit. Dogs will only default to the new behavior if they know it well enough, otherwise the old behavior will creep back in when there is less vigilance or during periods of less practice like the winter time. The solution is to go back and rehearse the right behavior until it takes over again.
Maintenance of the new behavior is required until it becomes the default which takes a lot of time and vigilance. This means that every person your dog meets needs to be treated as a training session for a while so that you dog learns exactly what pays when he is around visitors. If he thinks he has options (jumping, mouthing, pulling on clothing) he will try different things to get attention. If we want a dog that can greet people politely we need to teach him that sitting and staying is the only thing he can do to get paid (get attention, a cookie, or the opportunity to play with the visitor).
Maintaining good behavior is a lot like exercising for people. You can’t lift weights once a week and hope to get in shape. Exercise needs to become a regular habit that must be practiced regularly or no results will be seen. It’s easy to default to bad habits and behaviors that are easy when new behaviors are hard and so regression is far more common then any of us like to admit. The good news is that we can combat this with tons of rehearsal and practice until the newly learned behavior starts to trump all the old behaviors. Vigilance comes into play as the new behavior starts to take over so that when the dog has the opportunity to make a choice (jump on the person or sit instead) and the right behaviors can be rewarded and the wrong ones are either prevented or ignored. This is how we permanently make the change to the trained behavior and once we have reinforced the correct choice enough the dog will now default to the new more polite way of greeting visitors.