By Ren Marshall, owner of Balanced Pack K9 Training
When it comes to dog training, a common misconception is that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. This age-old adage couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the belief that older dogs are set in their ways and unable to learn is a myth that deserves to be debunked. This article is here to shed light on the fallacy and provide insight into the realm of training older dogs.
Age is not a limiting factor when it comes to a dog’s ability to learn and adapt and it isn’t ever too late to train a dog. While it’s true that older dogs might exhibit problem behaviors that need adjustment, the notion that they’re incapable of learning new skills is not true.
Interestingly, training older dogs might even have some advantages over training puppies. Older dogs tend to be calmer and more focused. This often makes them receptive to training sessions that require concentration and patience.
However, it’s important to note that if an older dog has never been trained, they may lack the high food drive or work drive typically seen in younger dogs. Building these drives over time is a gradual process that requires patience and consistency. One valuable tip is to use your dog’s daily meals for training purposes. Dispensing one kibble at a time during a 30-minute training session not only fosters a positive association with training but also strengthens the bond between you and your dog. Furthermore, a dog that is working for their food is going to be in a better state of mind. I think this is because earning is an intrinsic biological urge in all mammal species and working for food builds confidence.
Raising a puppy in the best manner is a hot topic. For puppies, a fantastic approach is to have them work for all their meals. This strategy not only reinforces basic obedience but also drains their energy in a productive manner. When combined with crate training, this approach becomes a cornerstone of raising a well-rounded puppy.
Addressing unwanted behaviors is an integral part of dog training, and it’s crucial to understand the right way to do it. Yelling at or threatening a dog not only fails to curb unwanted behaviors but also damages the human-canine relationship, creating fear in dogs. Proper correction, on the other hand, communicates clearly to the dog what behavior is unacceptable. This helps to foster a healthier and more respectful dynamic. I would say, unless a dog is on hospice or almost approaching their last end of life years, an older dog can be corrected for an unwanted behavior. Check out Solid K9 Training’s website for lots of information on how to deal with bad behaviors in dogs. Counter surfing, eating from the litter box, chasing the cat, jumping and resource guarding can all be stopped with the proper tools and methods. In addition, if you are trying to dog proof trash can, that can be stopped as well.
If your dog begs during meal times, here is a simple solution. First, ensure that nobody in the household feeds the dog randomly or at the kitchen table. Next, teach the “place command.” This command redirects your dog and gives them a job to do other than begging at the kitchen table. After your dog gets really good with place and they know what to do, if they break place you can correct them for that. This is how we can sometimes use obedience to stop unwanted behaviors.
Pulling on walks is a common challenge that can lead to discomfort and frustration for both the dog and the owner. Yes, you can stop an older dog from pulling on walks. Tools like prong collars can help mitigate pulling and provide you with more leverage of your power. However, it’s essential to condition your dog properly to the collar using training drills that build a positive association. If you’re interested in learning more about training drills for prong collars check out my videos page. Also check out Tyler Muto’s work on Leerburg.com.
It isn’t ever too late to train a dog to tolerate more socialization. However, I am going to redefine what socialization means because I never want anyone to put unnecessary pressure on a dog to be social when they don’t like other people or dogs. Socialization should mean peaceful co-existence around dogs and people. It doesn’t mean that you should force your dog to take treats from strangers if they are sketchy about it. What I recommend, is that you take your dog to busy places and hang out with them watching the world go by. This helps to desensitize them over time. If your dog is struggling with aggression or leash reactivity, consult a professional dog trainer to help you. I run a business for dog training in Portland, Oregon and help my clients with issues like this. Check out my website for more info.
If you have an older dog you have owned for years but never trained before, it will take dedication and commitment. It will also take doing things differently than you have before with your dog. I want to distinguish between teaching obedience vs proofing obedience with negative reinforcement and pack leadership. The latter will be the most difficult part as your dog will have to buy into you as a pack leader. If you have been struggling with behavioral issues you most likely have been conducting yourself in a weak manner with your dog. This lowers you in the pack hierarchy ranking in your dog’s mind. The solution is to learn how to bring stronger energy into the equation to see some shifts in behavior. In addition, it may be easier for someone to adopt an older dog and start new with training because they can build an entirely new relationship. But remember that anything is possible with the right mindset and professional guidance. If a dog is extremely difficult to train, there may be a genetic component working against you.
One of the most profound lessons we can learn from dogs is their ability to live fully in the present moment. The energy you bring forward right now is what holds weight for them. Harnessing this understanding can be transformative in the training process. This means that if you were a weak owner for the last 3 years, you can change the dynamic now. You just have to let go of the story of your dog not listening to you, and imagine what you want to happen. You may have a rough start with it as your dog is wondering if this new leader is going to stick, but stay with it and you’ll see some big changes.
Yes you sure can! Check out my other blog on this topic.
How long does it take to train a dog? The short answer is that it takes weeks to months. When I do a board and train with a client dog, I change everything and get the dog learning new things on day 1. However, it takes months to shape new behaviors and make sure unwanted or bad behaviors in dogs don’t come back. You have to stay on top of it and create a lifestyle where politeness is built into little aspects of your dog together with your dog. Things like waiting at the front door and car door, waiting for food, coming back when called all help to foster a healthy relationship.
The belief that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks is nonsense! It just takes dedication and vision. It may also take the help of a professional balanced dog trainer. I recommend a gentle balanced approach simply because you’ll get a calmer dog in this style of training that doesn’t rely soley on food reward. You can always step into the role of pack leader for your dog. This ensures that unwanted behaviors are stopped and wanted behaviors are practiced more, thus shaping new behaviors in dog training.
The path from struggle to transformation is illuminated by your commitment to positive change and a recognition of the potential within each dog, regardless of their age.
Another resource I recommend you pick up is my e-book. Balanced Dog Training Basics: What the Critics Don’t Tell You. In this book I get into the fundamentals of how to train a dog and learning theory through operant conditioning and balanced dog training techniques.