Can You Teach An Old Dog New Tricks?

By Courtney Emken
co-written by Jen Larson, KPA-CTP

This week we’re taking on the age-old proverb: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. So, is it actually harder to train an older dog? After decades of training experience with dogs of all ages, we think we can finally put this outdated adage to rest.

You Definitely CAN Teach An Older Dog New Tricks (And More)

All dogs of ANY age are capable of learning new tricks and habits. Dogs don’t lose their ability to adapt to their environment as they age. They may have many well-established patterns of behavior, with long histories of reinforcement, but they can still learn new ones.

It’s a simple matter of positive reinforcement. A dog’s behavior is shaped by their reward structure. While dog’s priorities may shift as they grow older, they still actively desire treats, praise, and other fulfilling rewards from us.

Any rewarded and reinforced behavior is more likely to be repeated in the future. This includes anything from simple house training to basic tricks like:

You need to learn what drives your dog, and then give them appropriate treats for performing tricks or listening to your cues. This is the foundation of positive, reward-based training, and it works at all ages.

The same idea works in the opposite direction. If a dog (of any age) displays an unwanted behavior, the quickest way to remedy it is denying any and all reinforcement. Punishing a dog will only worsen their behavior. Instead, trainers redirect behaviors by “interrupting” unwanted behavior with an incentivised cue like “sit” or “come.”

Older Dogs Who Are Active & Engaged Have Healthier Lives

Just as an older person would enjoy taking up a new hobby or tackling the latest word-puzzle, older dogs love to learn new tricks too. They don’t want to spend their later years just laying on the couch! They still have active brains that need exercise and stimulation in order to be healthy.

Dogs never outgrow their need for mental stimulation. In fact, it becomes more important as they advance in age. Older dogs can lose touch with their “dog-manners” that you worked hard to instill while they were young. Older dogs need continuing:

  • Mental enrichment
  • Sensory stimulation
  • Physical activity
  • Socialization

This means getting out, staying fit, and keeping their minds busy. Food puzzles, dog parks, and training are all excellent strategies for giving your dog a healthy, engaging senior life.

Older dogs who maintain an engaging lifestyle can also extend their lifespan. Training and other mental enrichment will:

  • Reduce stress and anxiety
  • Lessen chances of disease
  • Keep weight gain minimal
  • Maintain physical fitness

Training a dog is never bad, whether they’re a puppy or a senior. Your dog will not only love you for keeping them entertained, but they’ll live longer and more fulfilling lives too.

Tailor An Older Dog’s Training Experience To Suit Their Age

With advanced age comes new challenges and obstacles that dogs face during training. They may have mobility issues like stiff joints, or aches that can hinder training. They may also have grown a tad grumpy in their old-age, and might shy away from new people and crowds.

Despite their grumpiness, older dogs still need to get out and stay fit. It’s vital that they keep socializing so their “manners” don’t fade away. However, you still don’t want to force your dog into an uncomfortable or stressful situation.

Dogs who don’t like a ton of commotion should avoid group classes. Those environments tend to be chock-full of people, and bursting with activity wherever you go. Look for smaller, more slow-paced classes where they won’t be overwhelmed by their classmates.

In-home training is another great alternative to group classes. The trainer will work with them in their own environment where they’re comfortable and able to relax. These sessions are also personalized, so you can work on specific needs/behaviors together.

At DogBoy’s we offer several classes specifically designed for senior dogs, including:

These classes cater to dogs who need their space. We especially recommend the stretch and massage classes for older dogs who are experiencing stiffness. The massage will loosen up their muscles and prevent them from getting stiff joints.

For those who’re still sticking to the old adage: here’s a challenge. Jen had a black lab who lived to be fifteen years old. Want to guess at what age she stopped wanting to train? If you guessed that she never stopped, then you’re correct! Dogs can train their entire lives.

If you’re interested in our classes for senior dogs, or just need a little help teaching your dog some new tricks, please contact us today. We love to see senior dogs getting the most out of their old-age.


Image Permissions

Bounding Dog by Jelly Dude

Dog Swim by Eli Christman

Playtime by Stuart Richards

By | 2017-04-09T02:12:00+00:00 April 10th, 2017|Dog Behavior, Dog Training|0 Comments

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