Teaching Your Old Dog New Tricks: 5 Things You May Be Doing Wrong
So, you have an older dog. Maybe you just adopted them, or perhaps they’ve been a family member for a long time. They might not be as lively as they once were, but that doesn’t mean they can’t learn some new tricks! Teaching your dog is a great way to keep them active and engaged as they age.
If you are ready to start training your senior dog, there are a couple of things that you need to consider before you start tossing treats. Your success in training depends on taking the time to thoughtfully and patiently direct your dog. In most cases, even an older pooch without in-depth training can have the potential to learn new commands and tricks.
Here are five things you might be doing incorrectly when training your older dog, and some easy ways to fix them so your older pup can participate.
1) You’re Not Using Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is a training method in which you reward your pup for doing the desired command with something they like; it could be a treat, toy or praise that indicates to your dog they are doing the right thing. This training method has been proven to be effective, even in older dogs.
Positive reinforcement is not only fun and effective, but, most importantly, it also strengthens the bond between you and your pooch. This method is easy enough that the whole family, from the youngest child to the parents, can get involved.
Make sure that your directions are clear and concise. Instead of saying “I need you to listen to me and sit down now,” just say “Sit.” This will keep the training simple and easy to understand for your dog. Reward the dog right after they do the commands. You don’t want to reinforce any negative behaviors as you train.
2) Your Training is Filled With Distractions
Picture this: It’s a beautiful spring day, and you want to take your dog to the park and teach them how to fetch. You leash up your pup and walk down to the field where you want to begin training. You throw the ball and yell ‘fetch,’ but your dog wanders off in the opposite direction, oblivious to your efforts to teach. What is going on?
When you are training, you have to realize the environment where you teach your dog is just as important as how you are training them. If there are squirrels running around, other dogs barking, or children playing it might be difficult for your dog (especially an older one) to stay focused. When you start training, try to make the area as distraction-free as you can. For example, your backyard if that’s somewhere your dog usually plays, or a quiet room.
While older dogs have longer attention spans than puppies, the most effective training sessions for them are still shorter timespans. A good starting point is training in ten-minute sessions throughout the day. If your dog starts to get distracted, then it might be time for a break.
3) You Are Tiring Them Out
Probably one of the most recognized obstacles to training an older dog is dealing with the fact that they will tire out faster than their younger counterparts. No longer are they tiny puppies running around with the energy of three dogs, jumping and running, or eagerly exploring their surroundings.
It is up to you to protect your pup by being attuned to their needs. Are their tails between their legs? Are they dropping their ears and pawing at the ground? Did you just see them actually yawn? These are all signs you may need to slow down your training for the day.
To remedy this issue, keep your training low-impact and shorter so your senior pup won’t feel fatigued. Walking and even allowing your dog to go swimming are great activities after training because they are much gentler on their joints than running or jumping.
4) You Haven’t Committed to Training
Older dogs can learn new things, but it may take more time. To teach them, you will need to make a strong commitment to setting aside time to help them learn. This isn’t a situation where you can go out in the afternoon and teach them a new trick by dinnertime. Slow and steady wins the race with senior dogs, and if you make time to train them every day, you will see them improve.
Remember that training older dogs is different than training puppies because you will need to exercise more patience. A recent study shows that aging impacts the cognitive abilities of dogs. Scientists uncovered that although all dogs were capable of learning new things, older dogs took more time than younger ones. Things might come less naturally to your older dog, and you need to understand and respect their limitations.
If you want to fix this problem, make sure you’re laying out realistic expectations of what you want to train your older dog. Don’t expect that they will learn a new trick in a day. For example, they might take a few months to learn something new. Set out a three month schedule of trainings so that you can see their progress. Always start with one new trick or action at a time.
5) You Aren’t Taking Your Dog’s Health into Consideration
Your dog may have mental conditions that limit his cognitive abilities. This is something that isn’t often discussed but important to understand. Signs of “Doggie Alzheimer’s” can include: disorientation, losing their house training abilities, sleeping a lot, disinterest in normal behavior, acting differently towards members of your family, and hearing and vision problems. Be aware of these issues as your dog ages and see a veterinarian if you notice them getting worse.
As your dog learns new tricks and behaviors, it is important to keep in mind that they still are aging. Your dog has a much different level of ability than a puppy. Just as we age, our canine counterparts can experience joint pain and stiffness that may make new activities painful and difficult.
Running fast and jumping high might not be in the picture for these pooches. The same goes for their vision, which may be deteriorating as well.
A good fix for this is to make sure that what you are asking of your dog is well within their physical capabilities. Just as you wouldn’t push an older friend to do things they are uncomfortable with, the same goes for your dog.
In addition to these suggestions, it is also a great idea to enroll your dog in a local obedience class. These social situations are a great way for your dog to feel young again while still improving his skills. Who knows, he might even meet some new puppy pals too!
Have you attempted to train an older dog? What were some of the pitfalls you faced and tricks that you learned along the way? Leave us a comment below!
Guest Author Bio
Liz Palisin is a freelance blogger for the personalized gifts stuffed animals website Petsies. She loves dogs, traveling, wine, and excellent food.