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Is my dog too old to train?

08/10/2021 - Dog Training Advice

Has your senior pooch developed unwanted behaviours over the years? Have you adopted an adult dog with training issues? There’s no such thing as a dog too old to train and with reward based training methods, you can really enrich their life.
 
It’s a common misconception that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Modern dog training methods are suitable for canine companions at any stage of their life. From a few weeks old, through puppyhood, adolescence, adulthood and right into their dotage, dogs love to learn. Not least because they get to spend quality time with their humans  - And they get treats!
 
Dog training has lots of benefits for older dogs

  • Prevents bad habits forming
  • Corrects behaviours that might have arisen from life experiences such as scares
  • Helps keep their brain busy when they start to find physical activity more taxing
  • Kind to ageing joints
  • Teaches you and your pet to communicate when hearing and eyesight starts to fail
  • Builds an enduring bond
  • Creates wonderful memories of your special canine companion
  • That period of close observation will give you an opportunity to spot subtle changes in health that might need veterinary attention.

Training makes life better for older dogs AND their owners
 
There are lots of reasons why you might want to spend time training your senior dog.
 
Maybe you’ve put up with challenging behaviour for several years, hoping that they would “grow out of it” and now you’re fed up with being dragged around the park on the end of their lead.
 
Its not unusual for older dogs to seemingly bark at nothing - you might not mind, but the neighbours probably will. Training helps them sleep better and rest easier.
 
Perhaps you are worried that your pet is damaging their own health by practicing behaviours like jumping up, chasing squirrels or pulling on the lead…those things can be tough on ageing joints and circulatory systems.
 
Could it be that you are looking for alternative enrichment activities now that 20 mile hikes are too much for your pet?
 
Or, (and this is one of the most common reasons for wanting to train an older dog) you want to prepare them for the arrival of a new family member.
 
It’s never too late to start dog training
 
It’s never too late to address problems such as poor recall or pulling on the lead.  In fact - as your dog ages it’s important for his or her physical and mental health that they have good manners. Behaviours such as pulling on the lead, fighting with other dogs, jumping up or running away are all hard on elderly joints. By training your older dog, you are helping to avoid health issues.
 
Trick training and scent training are ideal activities to enrich the life of your senior dog.  Both occupy their mind but don’t put any strain on their body.
 
You’ll find lots of trick training ideas for oldies in our Dogversity course.  Dogversity is a series of online video tutorials. Take a look here.  https://www.bestbehaviourdogtraining.co.uk/dogversity/trick-training-skills/
 
How to train an older dog
 
Your first port of call should always be your veterinary surgeon. Why? Because some behaviours might be rooted in pain or discomfort.  Plus, it’s always good to know if your older dog has any physical limitations such as a heart condition. That way your dog trainer can help you to plan fun training exercises that won’t put a strain on your pet’s body.
 
Training tips
 
Be patient - if your canine companion has been practicing behaviours for all of his or her life, those neural pathways in their brain will be well and truly engrained.  It will take time to supersede them with new ones.  Having said that - with the right methods, it’s surprising how quickly seniors learn how to win treats and cuddles. —- they’re quite wiley!
 
Talk to a dog trainer or a canine behaviourist before embarking on a training program. Especially if your pet is acting out of fear or you are trying to change established behaviours.
 
Start from the very beginning. You are building new neural pathway’s in your dog’s brain. Just because they have plenty of life experience, it doesn’t mean you should expect them to immediately understand what you are asking of them.
 
Make training fun. This, of course, applies to dogs of all ages.  The upshot being, if it’s fun for you, you’ll train regularly and consistency - which is what gets results.
 
Keep sessions short - 10- 15 minutes a day is plenty to begin with.  Senior dogs need plenty of rest in between training sessions and certainly won’t learn much when they are tired.
 
Be imaginative and try lots of different ways to encourage the behaviour you want. Dog training should never be boring.
 
Be considerate. Oldies are not as agile as pups and they may find positions such as “sit” or “down” uncomfortable. That doesn’t matter - work with what they CAN do.  If they can’t hear too well - try training them using hand signals or a whistle.
 
Set your dog up to succeed. It’s the tiniest steps that make the biggest difference.
 
Is your dog too old to train?
 
Absolutely not! But you do need to adapt your training techniques to your dog’s abilities.  Talk to a dog trainer and perhaps book some 1-2-1 sessions via video link so that you can discuss your training goals in detail and tailor activities to your dog’s very specific needs.
 
Best Behaviour Dog Training offers online training for pet owners across the UK.  Click here for more information.  https://www.bestbehaviourdogtraining.co.uk/dogversity-online
 
You might find these articles and links useful too
 
The power of scent work - an excellent activity for dogs of any age. https://www.bestbehaviourdogtraining.co.uk/news-and-advice-post/the-power-of-scent-work/
 
Online trick training - ideas to keep your dog’s brain busy. https://www.bestbehaviourdogtraining.co.uk/dogversity/trick-training-skills/
 
Does online dog training really work?  https://www.bestbehaviourdogtraining.co.uk/news-and-advice-post/does-online-dog-training-work/

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