Teaching an old dog new tricks


training for older dogsJust because your dog has a few gray hairs doesn’t mean that you should write it off as a lost cause. Older dogs deserve the same kind of attention as puppies and with the right attitude and training we can rectify bad behaviour and teach them new positive behaviour.

Positive reinforcement

The key to unlocking progress with older dogs is reward training, also known as positive reinforcement. This strategy uses treats and praise as a motivational tool to help them learn new behaviours.

You can teach dogs a number of tricks and commands such as ‘sit’, ‘wait’ and ‘come’ with a combination of treats and some good old-fashioned patience and this extends to older dogs as well as puppies. In fact, while puppies tend to take on new information better than older dogs, older dogs benefit from a better level of focus than puppies. Don’t forget to offer praise as well as treats, and phase those treats out eventually to avoid your dog only doing the trick or behaviour solely for the treat.

Don’t overcomplicate things

With older dogs, it’s important to not overwhelm your dog with too many instructions. Some people try and play catch-up with training older dogs, but patience and frequency are key. Don’t overload your dog with more than the basics, at least until they’ve made some progress.

Be conscious of their health

Although your dog may still be mentally sharp, older dogs (like humans) become less agile with age, and as such you need to be conscious of the fact, they may tire quickly and feel aches and pains. Look out for signs of tiredness during training such as their tail between their legs, yawning, or pawing at the ground.  Try and keep your training short so as to not over-train your dog, and consider some gentle hydrotherapy to help ease physical pains. If you have particular concerns about physical training or your dog is showing signs of injuries, then be sure to consult your vet before beginning any strenuous training.

The best way to train an older dog is to seek out professional dog behaviour therapy. The behaviour consultations should aim to examine your dog’s behaviour in a manner you can readily understand and give you tailored practical and usable solutions to modify behaviour.

For more information about booking dog behaviour therapy sessions, please visit: https://www.witsend4pets.co.uk/behaviour.php

About the author

Dr Shahad Mohammed
Veterinary Physiotherapist
National Association of Veterinary Physiotherapists