Can You Teach an Older Dog New Tricks – Absolutely!
14 July, 2015
If you are just adopting an older dog or simply want to engage your current adult dog to learn some new tricks or behavior, it can be done. Older dogs are less distracted than puppies, but need a bit more enticement. Teaching a puppy and teaching an adult dog differ in that puppies have an eager-to-please attitude and tend to be much more excitable. A little bit of age is not enough to make it impossible to train an older dog, however patience and rewards are a necessity!
Positive Reinforcement in the only way to go
Positive reinforcement is always the best training technique for a dog of any age. While you may feel like your patience is being tested at times, you should never resort to punishment of any kind, because punishing your dog for not performing can have a negative effect, backfiring and preventing your training efforts from ever having the results you seek.
Along with positive reinforcement, having good treats handy is particularly important. Be mindful of the quality and that it’s something your pup LOVES so he will do anything to get that particular treat and/or even toy.
Patience is a virtue for training an older dog
While training your older dog, you need to exercise patience and restraint. You might feel as if your dog should know what to do as he is an older dog and not a puppy. But, sometimes it can be hard for your dog to learn something new or unlearn a bad behavior. That is why toys, treats and much love and patience is required. A ‘good boy’ and hug goes a long way!
Next time you visit your veterinarian, discuss what tricks your dog can accomplish
Beyond the basic training of sitting, lying down, coming to the door, talk to your vet to see if there are any medical conditions and/or tricks that you shouldn’t try with your dog. Your dog might have arthritic or joint issues so jumping or catching a ball might actually hurt your dog and frustrate you without realizing it. Start with something easier and gradually work up to bigger tricks. However, jumping up might need even be an option and your vet will let you know what obstacles if any your dog might have. There might even be memory or cognitive issues that can affect an older dog’s training.
Keep your training sessions short and watch out for fatigue
Remember that as our dogs age, they don’t have the patience of a puppy and therefore need to be trained differently. Make sure to keep you training sessions short and watch out for signs of fatigue. Besides just walking away or lying down, some of the signs of exhaustion include: yawning, drooping ears, excessive lip licking, lifting up his front paw and sniffing the ground.
Your older dog can be trained more easily by learning one trick at a time
Since your dog is older, you might feel the need to hurry up and put pressure on them to be trained and/or learn a certain behavior. Don’t embark on a long list of desired behaviors or responses, juggling multiple tricks at once as it will confuse them and frustrate you. Start with one or two, like come or sit, and only introduce an additional trick once they’re catching on to the first one. Focus on one and then move on to the next.
Try training your older dog when he is at his most alert time of day
You want to teach your older dog new tricks when he is the most alert and likely to be engaged. This would usually be in the morning after he has eaten his first meal. Try feeding your dog a little less for breakfast so when you start the training, your dog is most enticed by the idea of a healthy dog treat. If you try to train your dog or teach him a trick right after a long walk, he will be less likely to participate as he will be more tired from the walk and would rather nap.
Make sure to work with your older dog every day for at least fifteen minutes
Make sure to spend every day trying to reinforce a new behavior to get your dog to learn a new trick. The more consistency and repeat of the trick and/or technique, the easier it is for your dog to remember and learn it. Make it fun for your dog and not annoying or like work. Remember that many dogs have short attention spans so be short but always end on a good note. Your dog will remember the good and want to repeat it.
If you try to teach an older dog a new trick or behavior, be patient, loving, practice and every day, and you will see your dog learning something new. It will be exciting and rewarding for both of you!
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