"Can I teach an old dog new tricks?" Yes you can!
More and more people are choosing to purchase, rescue, or adopt senior dogs. Others may have had a dog for years and are simply tired of a bad behavior. Whatever the case may be, you can certainly train an older dog. The trick is having as much patience, if not more, than you would if you were training a new puppy. You will need to learn to communicate with your dog in a way you may not be used to. This is especially true if this dog has been in your home, and loved, for several years.
Before You Get Started, Keep This is Mind
There is no doubt about it, training a puppy or younger adult dog will be easier than training a senior dog, but that doesn’t mean you should throw your hands up in frustration and forget about it…you just need to keep a few things in mind. First, you will be working against years of learned behaviors. Though these can be changed, it is going to take patience and commitment. Training a dog is not something you can do for a few days, forget about, and expect them to fall right back into their training pattern a few days later. Two, you will need to remember that senior dogs may have limitations physically and mentally and you will probably want to check with the vet before starting any training regimen. Ready to go? Ok!
Basic Training – All You Need to Know to Start
For senior dogs who have behaviors that are ingrained, you are going to have to change these behaviors. One of the best ways is with a reward system. For instance, you may have spent thousands of dollars on new furniture in your home. You had no issue with your dog being on the old furniture, but now things are different. What you want to do is to reward the dog when they are not on the furniture and give them a firm “No”, when they attempt to get on the new furniture. So, if you say “No” and the dog gets on the furniture anyway, take the dog off the furniture, have them sit or lay down and reward them for that behavior. This can be with a “Good boy!” a pat on the head or even a small treat. One note about treats – Do not give your dog full treats for these rewards. They will gain weight very quickly. Many trainers recommend no treats at all during basic training but you should be alright as long as you keep them small…for example one regular treat can be broken up into 5-6 pieces. A little taste is usually all they will need.
You should be excited when your dog does the good behaviors, and scold them when they do the bad ones. The most important part of this basic training is consistency. You have to reward and scold them each and every time they do a particular behavior. This basic step can be used for most behaviors that you want to change in your dog, but consistency is going to be the key. Remember, this isn’t only consistency from one person, it is consistency with the entire household. If someone is not on board with the training, they should stay away from the dog during those early days. Good luck with your training and feel free to leave a comment with any specific questions you may have!