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Is It Too Late to Train My Dog?

Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Our trainer explains how it is possible to train your elderly p...

While you might have heard “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” it’s not true. Dogs of any age can learn new ways of behaving. Unless your dog suffers from age-related deterioration of his senses, muscles or memory, the laws of learning still apply -- and your dog will be able to start something new.

Your Old Dog Can Learn to Learn
It helps if your older dog has past experience with training. Dogs that have figured out that certain actions result in rewards are more likely to try that game again. Training your dog through the methods of capturing or shaping really set your dog up for a lifetime of learning.

As long as you control something that motivates your dog, you can teach your dog to do something new. Learning new tricks is an excellent way to provide your dog with mental stimulation. And if you’re frustrated with a dog that does not respond to your cues, teaching him to do so will improve your relationship.

Help Your Dog Unlearn Old Habits
It’s easy to learn new tricks, but it’s harder to unlearn old habits. This is where the “Old dog, new tricks” saying comes from. If your dog spent years practicing a habitual way of responding, he’s likely to continue to do so unless you do two things: Prevent the old habit from gaining whatever the dog wants, and teach a new habit that pays off even better.

For example, if your dog has pulled on the leash his whole life, you have to insist that pulling makes the walk stop. Then you have to teach him to walk at your side. Pay that off generously with walking, praise and food treats. Old habits tend to persist, though, and in times of stress, high emotion, or forgetfulness, they will spring forth again unless the new training is maintained.

Hold Short Sessions When Training Your Old Dog
Training your old dog to learn a new behavior should not take long. You can practice many very short sessions throughout the day. It doesn’t take much time to practice one to five repetitions of “Sit” at the door while you reach for the handle, or a practice or two of “Come.” Take a few minutes, even if you do so only once or twice a day. This is especially easy if you have already hired a professional trainer to begin the initial training for you. Many trainers will come to your home several times a week to do the heavy lifting for you, then meet with you to show you how to maintain the training in easy-to-practice pieces.

This makes it so easy that even if you consider yourself an old dog, you can learn these new tricks.