Senior Dog Training – Is It Too Late?

Behavior Training

August 21, 2019

Senior Dog Training – Is It Too Late?

It can happen to any pet owner: suddenly (or so it seems), we find ourselves with an older pet. Maybe we adopted a rescue or our long-time family dog has aged, as we all do.

Another common situation? Our dog is no longer a puppy, yet he still has serious behavioral issues.

We may begin to ask ourselves, is it too late for training?

So, is it Too Late?

The simple answer is no! Of course, you can teach an old dog new tricks. In fact, in many ways it can be similar to training a stubborn dog of any age.

The Impact of Learning History

The big thing to realize here is that senior dogs have a more developed learning history. They have the time to fall into patterns and learn habits, both good and bad.

Puppies, on the other hand, are relatively clean slates. It can be easier to teach them new skills because you are simply filling a void rather than replacing an old behavior with a new one.

This does mean that senior dog training can be more difficult. It’s often harder to unlearn a bad behavior that’s been going on for 7 years instead of 3 months. However, it does vary somewhat between personalities. More stubborn dogs can set into their ways more quickly.

Resultantly, you may run into this problem at almost any age.

Golden retriever standing in a home behind a pet gate

Senior Dog Training Tips

Remember that old dogs are used to things the way they are. It’s not that they don’t want to listen to you out of spite, but they often think they understand how the world works.

You’ve got to convince them otherwise.

Motivational Methods

I like to look at dog training instances and think, “Why would my dog want to listen?” Despite the popular myth, it’s too much to ask of your pup to do things simply to please you. This is especially true with older dogs, who often simply don’t understand why they should change.

Thus you’ve got to make your dog understand that if he does what you want, he’ll get what he wants.

Now different dogs have different desires, so motivational methods may vary from pup to pup. Maybe your dog likes to chase a ball or is very food-oriented. I generally recommend sticking with positive reinforcement methods, rather than focusing on negative reinforcement or punishment.

Regardless, you need to figure out something that makes your dog tick.

Dalmation dog sitting for a treat with mouth open as a human hand tosses one

Harnessing Motivation

Now don’t go and put all that information to waste! It is so common for owners to stick with a certain way of doing things rather than using what works.

Remember that your dog will react to things that interest him. If yelling or verbal praise don’t turn his head, simply doing more of it won’t change behaviors. Your dog needs a reason to listen.

Set him up to succeed. Adapt training sessions to what he likes. Senior dog training games can be a great option for older, but active dogs. They facilitate bonding and act as a built in reward for dogs that show interest.

Take it Slowly

The next step is simple: practice, practice, practice.

Older dogs may take longer than puppies to learn new things. Begin with the basics: easy steps that offer quick rewards. For instance, if you’re teaching or re-teaching the “sit” command, begin with short durations of the command in a controlled area.

Once your dog gets better at the tasks, and understands that he’ll get a fun reward in return for completing them, you can increase the difficultly of things. Concentrate on the “Three Ds:” duration, distraction, and distance while training.

Eventually, as behavior becomes habit, you’ll be able to change up the rewards. Perhaps praise will become enough, like a simple “good boy,” or a consistent release from the command.

Senior golden retriever lying on the ground getting it's head patted

The Importance of Tackling Problems Head On

The biggest issue with training older dogs is the fear of the beginning. The more your put it off, convinced that change is impossible, the farther you’ll have to go.

Stick to the steps I outlined, take a deep breath, and give your senior dog another chance! Senior dog training will develop your bond and increase quality of life for both of you.