There’s a misconception that you can only train dogs while they are puppies because as the old saying goes, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. However, this is a myth. Older dogs can be trained just as easily as puppies. If you adopt an adult or even a senior dog, you might be shocked by how well they can concentrate and learn new things.
A dog’s capacity to learn does not deteriorate as they grow older. In many cases, adult dogs can be even easier to train than puppies as they have the ability to focus for a longer period of time. Most adapt to new routines, so you’ll find housebreaking is often easy as long as you are consistent in taking your dog out to pee.
Best Practice Stays the Same
The most effective training methods and practices can be applied to both puppies and older dogs. Older dogs are just as receptive to training tools like positive reinforcement, treats and clickers. Regular training commands such as sit, lie down and coming when called can be taught using small treats to lure the dog into the proper position.
Ensure you give the dog quick praise before giving the treat so they know to respond to praise alone in the future. A dog is sometimes not motivated by treats, so gently place the dog into the desired position, give them praise and repeat the command several times until the dog understands what to expect.
Start with the Basics
For older dogs with an unknown past such as a rescue dog, you may not know much about the dog’s history or prior training. In this situation, you should simply start by trying basic commands such as sit, stay and lie down. In some cases, an older dog may have had more time to develop bad habits. Reversing these can be challenging, especially if they were previously rewarded for them.
However, with consistent training, most behaviour can be fixed. In other cases, a problem might stem from a medical issue or a lack of socialisation in the dog’s earlier years. Your local vet can rule out any medical causes and refer you to an experienced trainer or behaviour counsellor if you need additional help.
Be Sensitive to Limitations
Keep in mind that your older dog may not have the same physical ability, energy or endurance that a puppy would and may get exhausted faster during training. Keep training sessions short and simple to avoid overworking your dog. While intelligence and the ability to learn doesn’t decrease with age, cognitive mental health can decline without ongoing mental stimulation.
A good way of keep older dogs with less energy mentally stimulated is to play “nose games”. This involves hiding anise, birch or clove around the house for your dog to look for and rewarding them when they find it. This game doesn’t require a lot of physical activity but provides a high level of stimulation.
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