This is a common question among dog owners and the answer is “Yes”, dogs can forget their training Just like kids, dogs need repetition to master a skill. If a cue is not practiced daily or has not been used in a particular setting before, your dog may not know how to respond to the cue. It would then look like your dog sometimes forgets his training.
Let’s say that you taught your dog to ‘stay’ before you put his dinner bowl down. He knows how to ‘stay’ and wait for you to fill his bowl and put it down at his dinner spot. Awesome! Your dog knows exactly what to do during dinner. But do you ever ask your dog to ‘stay’ in other situations? Have you asked your dog to ‘stay’ while you open the door to receive a package? Have you tried the same cue - ‘stay’ - in a different environment or situation, like at the park or the vet’s office?
Your dog may interpret the ‘stay’ cue as a dinner-time cue. For example, he may be thinking “If I do this, I get dinner.” The same command in a different situation can be seen as something vastly different from his dinner-time cue. In such a situation, it may seem like he is ignoring you or has forgotten his training. Often, getting your dog to respond to a cue at home is easy and that’s because he is comfortable and familiar with the environment. In an unfamiliar environment, dogs can respond very differently, or they may choose not to respond at all.
Situations your dog may forget his training
Stress and confusion
Dogs often forget their training when they are in uncomfortable situations. Some owners may have experienced the Jekyll-Hyde behaviour with their pup. A sweet, friendly pup at home, but shows a completely different personality when outside of the home, especially in an unfamiliar environment. Sometimes, the dog may be so overwhelmed by the new environment that he forgets his manners and training momentarily. In some situations, this can also be applied to changing rooms in the house or training in the front yard vs the backyard. These changes may seem like a minor thing to you but to some dogs, even the smallest change will trigger confusion and stress, and make them forget their training.
One way to prevent this problem of stress and your pup from forgetting his training is to repeat the training in different scenarios. Imagine all the different scenarios that you think would be helpful for your dog to ‘stay’. Repeat the command daily and use it in the different aspects of your pup’s daily routine. Don’t rush the training and always keep things fun and positive with plenty of training treats or toys. Pay close attention to your pup’s response and progress together as a team.
Remember that all training begins with basic training. Just like how we send our kids to school to learn the foundation of reading and writing, puppy training starts with a few basic commands like sit, stay, come when called, toilet, and leash training. Our education doesn’t stop when we finish school. We continue to learn well into adulthood. Similarly, our pups’ training does not stop the moment they finish puppy training and have mastered the basic commands. These basic commands must be used (applied) daily in the different aspects of your dog’s routine. Over time, he will come to understand most of the things that are expected of him, and you will be rewarded with a calmer, more confident pup!
Pain and health issues
Sometimes we need to look deeper when it seems like your dog suddenly forgets his training and his behaviour appears to have changed abruptly. Once dogs are mature (3+ years of age) their personalities generally remain stable. In the absence of any significant traumatic events, a sudden behavior change is one of the earliest signs that there’s a change in the dog’s physical health. Health issues or pain could slow down a dog’s response to your command. It might seem like your dog is getting forgetful but that might not be the case. An arthritic dog may refuse to walk or fetch his toy because it’s too painful for him to get up and walk over, even though he is fully aware of your cue.
A glucosamine supplement like this NaturVet Glucosamine DS with MSM & Chondroitin Double Strength Hip & Joint Formula may help ease the pain and get your dog moving again. An aging dog may be suffering from some form of hearing loss or cognitive dysfunction. One of the symptoms of cognitive dysfunction is the disregard for previously learned training or house rules.
Monitor your dog’s behaviour and if you notice signs and symptoms of pain or ill health, do arrange to see your veterinarian as soon as possible. Many of these health issues can be easily identified with a physical examination and some routine diagnostics such as blood and urine testing. Depending on your dog’s health challenges, medication, dietary adjustments or supplementation may be necessary.
Fearful dogs avoid what frightens them (just like people). If they can’t escape the source of their fear, they may “fight back” which is often interpreted as aggression, or they appear uninterested. A dog’s fear can stem from a past traumatic event or simply a lack of experience. A dog afraid of loud noises may be fearful of the blender, vacuum, or any noisy household equipment. He may refuse to go anywhere near this “noisy” equipment and may not respond to your cue if you happened to be standing next to this item. Some dogs are fearful of cars and traffic. They may refuse to walk near a busy road, pulling constantly at the leash, trying to ‘escape’. The behaviour would seem like the dog had forgotten his leash-walking training.
Keep an eye on your dog’s body language. Get to know the signs of stress and fear – trembling, tail between his legs, whale eye, growling, whining, and excessive barking. The Adaptil® Spray will quickly help to calm an anxious dog, reducing signs of anxiety, but the best way to help a shy or fearful dog gain confidence is to expose him to what frightens him but at a low intensity. For example, instead of exposing your dog to a high-traffic road, choose an area with minimal traffic and use a martingale collar and Ruffwear Front Range™ No-Pull Everyday Harness during walks for better control and safety. Reward your pup with treats each time a car passes and he remains calm. Dogs learn from positive associations. Pair this exposure with something positive, like a tasty treat. This is called counter-conditioning and desensitization, and when done successfully, it helps them feel more comfortable around the source of their fear.
Your dog is not trying to be willfully disrespectful. If you’ve done a good job with your dog’s basic training and he doesn’t respond to a cue when you ask, there are usually other factors at play that make it challenging for him. It could be confusion, fear, or some medical issues. Figuring out the why behind the refusal and taking steps to rectify it will make life easier for both you and your dog.
Katherine is a Pet Nutrition Specialist and GDP’s Pet Wellness Advisor. She is committed to helping pet owners make informed dietary and lifestyle choices in nurturing healthy pets. Katherine is also a practicing Nutritional Therapist (human nutrition) and has been helping hundreds of clients to heal naturally with nutrients.