Teaching an old dog new tricks
by Melody Keilig
As the saying goes, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” it’s been taken as truth that senior dogs don’t have the discipline or curiosity to learn new things. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Whether you’re retraining them out of bad behavior or if they’ve never had proper instruction in their lives, it’s certainly possible.
Let’s dig into these tips and tricks focused on teaching your old dog all of the new tricks!
If you recently adopted a senior dog, make sure they get comfortable in your home before beginning the training process. Older dogs need time to adjust to their new environment, which can take anywhere from a few days to weeks or even a month. So practice patience and allow your new family member to find their favorite lounging spot in your home.
Use a Crate for Housetraining
Just because you have a senior dog, it doesn’t mean that they’re all set with behaving well in your home. Sometimes, older dogs are prone to indoor potty accidents, so treat your older dog like you would a puppy in supervising them until their potty habits improve. Also, using a crate is helpful when you can’t watch them, like nighttime.
Ensure that the crate is large enough for your dog to stand up, sit down, and stretch comfortably. It should also be a metal wire crate that is travel-friendly if needed. Give your dog water, blankets, chew toys, and make sure they get plenty of time outside the crate. It’s only there to keep your dog in one place if you absolutely cannot watch them for a temporary period.
Teach your Senior Dog your house rules, ASAP
If you’re bringing home a senior dog, don’t expect that they’ll understand house behavior just because they’re older. For example, puppies are known to chew up your couch, but senior dogs can also make their messes or jump on furniture if they had a previous owner who allowed the behavior.
So, if you have furniture that you don’t want your dog jumping all over, be sure to teach them that they can’t behave that way in your home. If they make a mess or hop on your couch, train them not to do these things by first telling them, “No.” Then, use positive reinforcement with treats to show them what they should do instead.
Because you don’t know your older dog’s entire history, you should use positive reinforcement to keep them comfortable when you’re working with them on training. Please make sure you use plenty of treats and praise to encourage them in a lively manner. If they aren’t catching onto something, give them a treat and take a break. Training can be difficult for older dogs, even if they know the basics. So remember to be patient, kind, and keep your dog happy during the training process.
Just like puppies, senior dogs can also be distracted or made uneasy with too much going on in their personal space. So, if you’re training in your living room and your dog keeps eyeing the coffee table when you give a command, you’ll want to move it somewhere else until the session is complete. You don’t want your dog to accidentally knock into a table, chair, or couch while trying to roll over. So, clear your space of furniture and other distractions before beginning the training session.
Find Out what They Already Know
Because they’re a senior dog, there’s a good chance that they already know a few tricks. So use positive reinforcement and see how they respond to the basics like sit, stay, and come. If they respond to any of these tricks, give them a treat and praise. And if they don’t seem to know any of them, still provide them with that treat and tell them, “Good job!” Once you know where they’re at in their training, you can figure out how to brush up on these commands or begin teaching them.
Keep Training Sessions Short and Sweet
Although you should keep training short for dogs of all ages, older dogs tire out quickly and need more breaks in between sessions. So keep each session about 15-20 minutes and adjust to how your dog is feeling. For example, if your dog looks tired or isn’t paying attention to what you’re saying after five minutes, take a break. Let them relax for five minutes and then try again.
Always remember that training should be fun, not stressful or tedious. It’s about working together to learn a new trick or teach better behavior to take time and practice.
If You Need Extra Help, Take a Class
There’s never anything wrong with asking for help. If you’re having trouble during training sessions at home, find an obedience class specifically for older dogs. Puppy classes could be too much excitement and energy for a senior dog. If a class setting doesn’t work for you or your dog, check out free information online by looking up dog training videos that focus on senior dogs.
Don’t listen to the critics! Whether you recently adopted your senior dog or you’ve had them for most of your life, they can pick up new tricks. It may take more patience and lots of practice, but it can be done with a positive attitude and setting specific goals.
So if you’re trying to teach a senior dog new tricks this year, try out these tips during your training sessions.
Do you have an older dog? What training techniques have worked best for them? Let us know in the comments below!