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Can You Teach An Old Dog New Tricks?

Senior dog getting a treat


You know what they say, "you can't teach an old dog new tricks." Or can you? If your dog is getting up there in years, you can still put in some training time together. But, you should certainly take your pup's age into account when planning your training sessions. 

Senior dogs require a bit more care and thought in regards to teaching them certain behaviors. But, many dogs, regardless of their age, are eager to learn and please their owners.

What Is The Best Age To Train Your Dog?

You would use many of the same techniques to train a puppy you would use with an older dog. If the methods are pretty much the same, why the old adage about an old dog can’t learn new tricks? 

It stems from the idea that the best time to teach dogs and train them is during their early puppy years. This is also a critical time for socialization and exposing your dog to positive experiences so they can develop into a well-rounded pup. 

The reasoning behind the puppy years being the ideal time for training is that a dog’s brain is still developing. Plus, they haven’t had a chance to learn bad habits or establish set routines. In other words, you’re dealing with a clean slate.

But, just because your dog’s ideal training time is when they are a puppy doesn’t mean you can’t teach them a thing or two when they reach their golden years. You just need to approach it the right way and have realistic expectations of the process and what your dog can do.

What Are The Main Differences Between Training Older Dogs And Puppies?

The primary differences between training a puppy and a senior dog are activity level, focus capacity, and physical abilities. A puppy rules in some of these categories, while your senior dog will take the gold in others.

A Dog’s Concentration Level

For example, a puppy is very active and can handle some rigorous training. However, they are distracted easily and can be hard to train for extended periods due to their lack of focus.

On the other hand, a senior dog might not endure a long training period, but they will be more focused. Your senior dog is likely to be calmer and less distracted by every little thing that occurs.

Yet, you still might need to plan some extra time for your training sessions. Puppies can pick up on things more quickly, but your older dog can still get it; it just might take them a tad longer.

A Dog’s Physical Ability

Puppies tend to be agile and healthy, ready to do all sorts of fun tricks, like shake, roll over, and even dance or catch a frisbee. Senior dogs won’t have as much physical agility to handle certain tricks. 

For example, things like arthritis can limit your pup’s comfort level for even simple behaviors like sitting. It’s estimated that 1 in every 2 dogs over the age of 10 will experience arthritis in their lifetime.

A Decline In A Dog’s Senses

Another thing that can make training extra-challenging for older dogs is a decline in their senses. Older dogs might have more difficulty seeing or hearing, making training difficult. Again, this doesn’t mean it can’t be done; it just means you need to make the proper accommodations.

Luckily, many training techniques for pups include teaching both a verbal command and a visual signal. So, if your dog is hard of hearing, the visual signal can become the primary trigger for the behavior. If your pup is blind, then the verbal cue becomes king. 

If your dog has difficulty with both seeing and hearing, you will need to get more creative. You may need to incorporate touch signals into your training, such as a specific type of tug on the leash, or a double-tap on your pup’s back, etc.

An Older Dog Has Learned Behaviors

Very much like older humans, an older dog will have certain behaviors and routines they are used to doing. This can make some older pups appear stubborn and unwilling to learn a new behavior. But, they likely just need some extra encouragement to give a new way a try. However, you’ll have to spend some time getting your pup to forget their old ways first.

Senior dog smiling

Tips For Teaching An Old Dog Tricks

Understanding the differences between how puppies and older dogs take to training can help you develop your training plan. No matter your pup’s age, training basics are vital: staying patient, consistent, and using positive reinforcement

But in terms of tips for older dogs specifically, keep these in mind:

Choose The Right Tricks

Consider your dog’s physical limitations and stick to simple, basic commands like sit, stay, and come. You want your dog to be well-behaved and keep them safe; you’re not trying to get them a lead spot on America’s Got Talent.

Reserve tricks that involve lots of movement and specialty tricks, like jumping through hoops, walking backward, and similar activities for puppies and younger dogs. Again, just because your dog might not be physically able to handle certain behaviors doesn’t mean they don’t have the mental acuity to learn.

Teach To Your Dog's Strengths

Remember to choose training methods that work well with your dog’s capabilities. If your dog has exceptional hearing but poor eyesight, stick to consistent, clear verbal commands. If your dog’s vision is keen, perfect your visual cues.

Think about when your canine companion is the most alert. This is when you want to schedule your training time. Some older dogs seem to “wake up” more at a particular part of the day, choosing to snore and snooze for the rest of the time. Therefore, get to know your dog’s habits and activity levels so you can put together the most effective training schedule.

Stay Patient And Attentive

Older dogs are likely to not pick up on things as quickly as a puppy. Plus, you might need to spend some time working on unlearning behaviors first before you can proceed to teach them new tricks. 

So, stay patient and calm; remember, if you get frustrated or stressed, your dog will pick up on it and likely respond negatively. For your training, this means your dog will probably stop paying attention or not perform the desired behaviors.

Also, pay close attention to your dog. Older dogs will tire out quickly, and you need to know when to stop the session. End the session if your dog starts sniffing the ground, licking excessively, yawning, or showing other signs of exhaustion or distress. Give your pup a chew bone or a peanut butter-filled Rolly Cannoli as a special reward for a job well done, and let them take a break.

Teaching your older dog tricks is not only possible but highly probable. You just need to approach it the right way and don’t expect your senior dog to start doing backflips. For more helpful tips on training and other aspects of dog life, check out the rest of our blog. Our mission is to provide you with all sorts of tidbits and resources to be the best pet parent that you can be.

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