Older, Trainable and Still Loveable

By Maria Posted in dog training /

The common belief that one can’t teach an old dog new tricks is actually untrue. While they may not learn as quickly as younger dogs, most older canines can still be taught, with time and patience.

photoMaybe that saying about age and learning wasn’t meant to be taken literally. Dogs’ personalities don’t change a lot after puppyhood. Anxious or fearful canines tend to stay that way; you can’t convince them otherwise. Similarly, you can’t turn a dominant dog into a submissive one.

You can, however, teach such dogs how to behave in certain situations, how to remain calm when faced with a threat, and whom to respect as a leader. If a dog’s personality is a piece of wood, then learning is the veneer on it. You can’t alter the wood but you can change the veneer, and at any age.

Teaching the right response to voice commands or hand signals is as essential to communicating with a dog as the alphabet is to language. It’s also important to be consistent.

First, reward your pooch for performing a desired behavior when that behavior occurs naturally. For instance, give him a food treat for lying down, sitting, or ceasing to bark. Initially, use a reward that is very tempting, not just kibble or a piece of biscuit. If your dog likes the reward, he will be inclined to perform the behavior more often.

The next step is to add a verbal command or sign that must precede the behavior if it is to be rewarded. This is referred to as a conditional stimulus, and it has to be present if a reward for performing the desired behavior is impending. The command should be delivered only once. If your dog is slightly hard of hearing, increase the volume of your voice. Whatever you do, don’t repeat the command. If your pet obeys, reward him right away. If he doesn’t, don’t reward him. The opposite of reward isn’t punishment, it’s no reward.

With the above technique, any behavior can be trained, including fetching the newspaper or closing cupboard doors. More complicated behaviors need to be shaped, or trained in stages. A clicker not only helps your dog appreciate that he is in training mode but also improves the timing of the reward. Methods that involve punishment are not acceptable, especially for older dogs.

Obedient responses to commands may also be used to help correct behavior problems. For example, dogs that bark too much and at the wrong times can be taught to be quiet on cue. Canines that eliminate inside the house can be rewarded for going to a designated spot outdoors, and those with separation anxiety can be trained to spend time away from their owners.

If you make sure your canine senior citizen is always learning and always has something new to keep himself occupied, he will be more likely to remain bright and mentally active for a long time. Being continually subjected to stimulation may improve your dog’s health and extend his lifespan. Forget, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Instead, replace it with, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.” Keep that in mind and keep training your dog right to the end. Neither of you are too old to learn.

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