Lately I’ve been working with Risa on her fundamentals. Mainly positions (right-side heel, fronts, behind) and working on her transitions for freestyle. I never really trained those things well since I was in a big hurry to get to the fun stuff and didn’t realize at the time how important the foundation behaviors were. Her understanding of left-side heel is pretty good but it’s still easy to confuse her at times. It’s also clear that some of her tricks aren’t under stimulus control as well as I thought either.
I was focusing on fronts with her the other night after struggling to teach her an in-front side pass using a pivot platform. She did okay and we were making progress that way but it was clear she didn’t understand that “front” meant be straight in front of me regardless. Risa wanted to swing into my sides instead. This isn’t surprising. She has a much higher reinforcement history for side positions. I decided to pull out the platform to help reiterate that fronts are straight and to help her be correct so I could reward her.
Risa is familiar with the platform but I haven’t used it lately. I felt I relied on it too much and used it too long creating a dog who understood the position with the board under her paws but didn’t actually know the position without the aid. I also haven’t really needed it for her left-side behaviors which are very strong and I was able to use a smaller pivot platform to help her polish her right-side behaviors. When I plopped the platform down to work on fronts, Risa didn’t stand square on it. She’d fidget or stand half on. I was a bit dumbfounded. “She knows this!” I thought to myself. “Why won’t she just get all four paws up there so I can click!?”
It’s not that she doesn’t know it. Just that she’s out of practice. I haven’t worked on it in a while so she isn’t quite as fluent in the behavior as I had expected. It’s not surprising, really, but it’s something to keep in mind and something we often forget. Just because a dog “knows” it doesn’t mean they “know” it forever. Case in point, I studied Spanish for 7 years in high school and college. I was pretty fluent. I knew how to conjugate verbs in various tenses, knew the phonetics of the language, and even used to watch movies dubbed in Spanish to hone my skills. It’s been years since I’ve conversed, written, or tried to understand anything in Spanish and so I’ve lost my fluency in it. I have no doubt that the information is still all there in my head; I would simply need to start practicing it again and it would all come back to me.
Our dogs are no different. The knowledge is still there but it just needs to be activated again. It didn’t take long at all for Risa’s light bulb to go on and for her to realize what her criteria was for standing on the platform. Then we were able to work on fronts properly. It is, however, something to keep in mind when we work with our dogs. One may never forget how to ride a bicycle but you need a bit of practice to get good at it again if it’s been a while since you’ve done it!