You CAN Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

Fortunately for us, the brain is plastic throughout life.  This is true of our dogs, too.  In working with dogs as old as 10-11 years of age, I love to observe how they seem to enjoy learning obedience cues (perhaps long forgotten) and engaging in new and cognitive activities.  What a wonderful way to resolve undesirable behaviors AND add to an animal’s quality of life!

Older Adult Dog Rescue

Older, adult dogs are between the ages of 4 and 7.  Often senior dogs are defined as those 7-9 years of age.  In shelters, dogs over the age of 3 can spend more time there before adoption happens for them.  If changing undesirable behaviors is a reason to pass by these dogs, consider this.  Typical issues such as jumping, poor leash walking skills, lack of impulse control, ignoring the recall are ALL trainable.  Owners of 1 and 2-year-old dogs face these same training hurtles.  A few added years can also add increased focus due to maturity. 

Seniors enjoy learning, too.  My 17-year-old friend, Paco, instantly brightens when he sees me pick up a food ball or other food foraging toy.  Way more fun than the boring bowl!  

What You See is What You Get

Adult and senior dogs are who they are.  We don’t have to guess what sort of dog they will grow into.  A profoundly fearful dog will usually display those behaviors by the age of two.  Like humans, dogs don’t come with guarantees at any age.  In adult dogs, we see what is presented. We love the attributes of the animal as well as understand the training tasks ahead. 

Adult dog behaviors that appear to have a strong reinforcement history take longer to change than those that are less well established.  Human intervention in that behavior reinforcement may have been lacking, so changes may not be quite so challenging. 

Patience and a Plan are Required

The easy task is identifying behaviors that belong under the “Change This” heading.  Along about Day 2 of Paco’s time in my home, he told me something about himself:  he was extremely uncomfortable at the approach of other dogs.  In fact, his on-leash strategy had evolved into “offense as defense”.  He enjoyed training and was safe around my kitties, but this behavior had to be fixed.  It took us about eight months of leash skills and counter conditioning work to walk anywhere and remain calm with the approach of other dogs.  It was a relatively short endeavor for the years of loving companionship and satisfaction of rescuing a dog who would likely have spent many more months in a stressful situation. 

ALL dogs need training!  I would hope that no potential adopter might be deterred from choosing an adult or even senior dog due to re-training.  A plan that is consistently applied where desirable behaviors can be elicited and reinforced by the human can bring about great changes.  As in all training, patience works wonders and yields results – both in behavior goals and the human/dog relationship.  These adults and seniors give way more than they take.

Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel   CPDT-KA, 2019 all rights reserved

Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC