So, I feel like a little bit of a genius. I know, I know, if I were really a genius, I wouldn't have made the mistake in the first place. Nonetheless, I feel pretty cool to have figured it out.
Lok will do any command at a distance from me except his "bow" command (termed "streeeetch" so as not to be confused with "down"). If I ask for a bow at a distance, he will do it, but will invariably end up practically on my feet! I've tried and tried to fix this, gradually adding distance, just like with any other command, but to no avail. Last Thursday night I talked to the instructor of our tricks class who recommended using a barrier, such as a baby gate, to prevent him from scooting forward. Ok, sounds good! So we tried it. Lok will do any command behind the baby gate except for his bow. He seems utterly confused and starts offering random behaviors that have been successful for him in the past: do you want me to target the gate with a paw? no? how about my nose? my chin? my other paw? ok, what if I retreive the gate? LOK! STOP!
So, that was as far as we got with that. We gave it a rest. Then last night, we were back to trying it the old way: Lok, wait. I walk a few feet away. Spin. Yes! Twist. Yes! Streeeetch. Lok lands in a stretch at my feet. Epiphany!! I was reminded of the time I was teaching Lok a "stand" from a "sit" in heel position. Until that time, I had never paid much attention to how he stood, just that he did when I asked him to. But every time I asked him to stand he would take a step forward with his front feet to get into the stand position, which of course resulted in him standing out of heel position. It only makes sense, since I had taught a stand by luring him forward with a treat. Fixing this was a simple matter of holding a treat ON his nose while I asked for a stand and clicking when he popped his rear end up without moving his front feet. About two repetitions of this and he has never moved his front feet to get into a stand since.
So, back to bowing at a distance. It occured to me that Lok actually thought that "streeeetch" means "slam your front end down and slide forward until you are nearly on top of me." Truly! In his mind, he was doing exactly what I asked him to do. No wonder he wouldn't do a bow behind a baby gate. In his mind, he couldn't!! So, I began re-teaching the bow from square one, asking Lok to keep his feet in place and simply lower his front end while shifting his weight back. A couple repetitions with a food lure. A couple repetitions without a food lure. Click-treat, click-treat, click-treat! In less than two minutes Lok was bowing very nicely a whole foot away from me! Sweet!
So, what did I learn? Sometimes what you think a command means isn't actually what it means at all! And the only meaning that means anything is the meaning your dog attaches to the command. Just goes to show once again, the only one who "fails" in dog training is the trainer.