November 16, 2021
How To Teach An Old Dog New Tricks: Yes, It’s Possible
The adage goes that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. However, the proverb refers more to people who are stuck in their ways rather than your actual canine’s cognitive abilities. Dogs are creatures of habit who, if they are physically capable, can learn new obedience commands and skills at any age.
Teaching an older dog new tricks can help reestablish or establish new boundaries, adjust your dog to new family dynamics, prepare them for travel, and refresh obedience commands to promote proper behavior. All it requires is training, patience, time, and effort.
Older dogs who get adopted from a situation with few boundaries, move from one house to another with their family, or have developed bad habits, may need a refresher regarding boundaries at home.
In The Home
Your older dog may be used to walking through the kitchen while you’re cooking, sitting under the dining room table during dinner, or letting themselves into any room they please. Any of these situations could mean getting into the trash, your cat’s litter box, or even finding your favorite shoes to chew.
Reward-based training is one approach you can take to keep your dog out of a specific room. Essentially, you want to make not being in the room more enticing than being in the room.
- Bring your dog right up to the entry of the room you want them to stay out of and give them a sit or stay command. Once they stop short of entering the room, reward them with a treat.
- Take the same approach, but this time enter the room. If your dog follows you, redirect them out of the area.
- Repeat until your dog avoids the room on their own. Reward them for remaining outside the room they aren’t allowed to enter.
When setting boundaries in the home, consistency is key. Otherwise, your dog will get confused. If you allow your dog in the kitchen when you’re getting ready to leave for work but don’t allow them in the kitchen while you’re cooking, they won’t be able to differentiate what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t.
Training devices can also be tremendously helpful. The MB1 and MB2 from DogWatch allow you to create pet-free zones, making blocking doorways without physical gates easy!
In The Yard
Safety is important for senior dogs who may not be able to move as fast as they used to. You want to make sure they stay in your yard and away from traffic. You also want to make sure they stay away from outdoor places they shouldn’t be, like your garden beds or near a hot grill.
- When getting your dog familiar with their boundaries when outside, you’ll want to keep them on a leash at all times.
- Rope off your boundaries or use flags to give your dog a visual cue for what areas are off-limits.
- Walk your dog to the boundaries, and use an audible cue or a clicker when they step over the determined line.
- Repeat this process over and over, giving your dog slightly more freedom and slack on their leash.
While leash and clicker training can be successful, installing an underground hidden fence is the best way to ensure your dog stays where they’re supposed to be.
New Family Dynamics
Senior dogs get set in their routines. They know when they eat, when they go outside, when they go for a walk, and when it’s time for bed. When you introduce a new member of the family, that routine can shift completely, causing your dog potential anxiety. They rely on you to teach them the right way to behave!
If you’re bringing a new family member home, you’ll want to get your dog used to the idea of things changing before they do. Let your dog explore the new items and smells in your home such as cribs, high-chairs, and baby powder. If you plan to walk your dog while pushing a stroller, start doing that a month ahead of time and make sure to use the same boundary training to keep them away from places they shouldn’t be, like your nursery. Consider brushing up on obedience commands as well!
When your new bundle of joy arrives, start the introduction process very slowly. Your dog is experiencing a big change as well, and you have to be patient with them. Give them time to get used to the idea of a new family member in the home and never force an interaction. Remember, always reward your dog for staying calm around your baby, reinforcing good behavior. Also, give them attention even when your baby is awake, letting them know you won’t forget about them!
On The Go
Whether you’re driving down the street to the dog park, or taking a three-day trip across the country, traveling with a dog of any age presents unique challenges and adjustments to your typical travel routine, and older dogs require more planning than most.
If your older dog has a preexisting condition, make sure to consider them before mapping out your trip. Your older dog may need to stop more frequently to go to the bathroom, may have severe stiffness in their joints if they remain in one position for too long, or may have a specialized feeding schedule. Traveling long distances is already a big change to their daily routine, so you want to make sure you’re keeping everything else as normal as possible for your senior pup. Build-in established times to stop and give your dog a break from the car and consider an orthopedic dog bed for your back seat to help avoid injury and keep them as comfortable as possible.
Even if your older dog isn’t used to traveling long distances, it’s still possible to successfully bring them along on one. Desensitize them by taking short trips around your town, gradually building up the amount of time they spend in the car. You can also reward them with treats and associate getting in the car with positive experiences!
Training any dog takes consistency, persistence, and patience. And if with an older dog, it might take just a little more of each! Older dogs may have diminished cognitive and physical abilities, may be more set in their routines, and more likely than not have shorter attention spans, meaning you’ll need to get more creative with your training methods.
Keep training sessions with your older dog, almost as if they were bit-size versions of longer training sessions. Older dogs tend to lose interest quickly and will be less and less compliant in training the longer it lasts. Additionally, they may not have the same physical capabilities they once had, and moving around for a prolonged period could irritate them and potentially even cause pain. Another physical limitation to consider is your older dog’s diminished hearing or vision. Consider using hand signals and louder noises such as stomps or whistles to get their attention.
Your older dog may move slower, but they are also a little wilier than a younger dog. Be sure that the rewards they are earning for a successful training session are worth the effort; they’ll let you know if they aren’t! Here are some low-impact commands you can teach your older pup.
Whether you are adopting an older dog or just refreshing your aging dog’s skills and obedience commands, it’s never too late! Older dogs are still capable of adapting to new surroundings, new activities, and new processes, they just need a little extra help. Teaching your older dog new skills and commands is a great way to keep them physically and mentally active!