Can my old dog still be trained? 

Welcome to today’s short form podcast, where we answer your dog training questions. I’m your host Nicole Forto and today’s question is, can my old dog still be trained? The answer is a resounding yes! Despite the phrase “can’t teach an old dog new tricks” older and senior dogs can and do still learn things all the time. Sometimes it may take them a bit longer to catch on or more assertive frequent training to get them past their set in ways. It can be a wonderful healthy brain exercise in their old age to challenge and engage their brains rather than allowing a sedentary life to settle in. 

Lead trainer for Alaska Dog Works, Michele Forto says, “there are four elements that one must utilize. Trust, communication, clarity of intent, and fun.” These essential elements are what make up a great training relationship no matter your dog’s age. A big reason people think old dogs cannot learn new things is that they have much more solidified and ingrained habits that take more time and energy into changing and developing into new ones.

When a dog is young and a puppy they are learning behaviors and habits for the first time. Therefore adapting to the routine of life much quicker than when they already have a routine that now needs changing. 

There are important health benefits to keeping up with training even as your dog gets older in age. According to the American Kennel Club, “training older dogs will help keep them in good physical shape, at a healthy weight, and will keep them mentally engaging.”

When you keep an older dog mentally engaged and challenged it can help to slow their cognitive and physical decline. Trainer, breeder, and AKC Helpline manager Penny Leigh states, “dogs that still feel useful and like they have a ‘job’ tend to keep a joyful outlook on life, much like humans who are retired.”

Training even when your dog has matured and demonstrates good behavior all the time helps to keep up a strong bond between you two and offers consistent stimulation for their mind. 

High intense demanding dog sports like agility may not be physically the best choice for your dog but it’s possible as they are allotted shorter jumps and reduced speed demands. According to Leigh scent work and rally are two great activities to do with your senior dog as they engage at a slower pace and require more work with their natural instincts like smelling. 

There may be times as your dog gets into its golden years that their sight or hearing declines meaning you need to make an adjustment in the way you train. If your dog has known hand signals its entire life it may be time to focus more on verbal cues. If it’s both sight and sound you may need to teach yourself ways to give touch signals such as, touch their nose for sit and their front paw for down.

You’ll want to practice these before your dog completely loses its other senses but it’s completely possible to work on these different ways to que and command your dog. 

When working on training an older dog you need to know that going about it haphazardly will not breathe great success. Consistency daily and hourly matters entirely here to not allow for opportunity to do the old behavior rather than the new.

Keep patience and recognize that you may need to untrain certain behaviors and habits before setting new ones. Training with an older dog should have serious consistent positivity to encourage the wanted behavior to be a better outcome then the old behavior.

Do not force training, understand your older dog has had plenty of time to grow and mature into their own personality and therefore may be less willing to change and have more pushback when given over dominant direction.

To have the most success in training your older dog, be sure to keep up the schedule, keep training sessions smaller, and teach fewer commands at a time. Do you have a senior dog you are interested in doing training with? Are you already training your older dog?

Tell us about it on our socials, we love hearing your stories. For Dog Works Radio, I’m Nicole and I’ll catch you and your senior dogs in the next episode. 


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