Training older dogs keeps the mind young

The other day I was in the office supply store and found my heart racing. I looked at the pens and pencils, the notebooks and back packs that line the aisles this time of year, and all I could think about was how great it would be to go back to school.

This is not something most adults think about, let alone wish for, but I love learning and am always ready to sign up to learn something new.

I am not too old to learn new things, and either is your adult dog. If I can learn how to text with my thumbs — a skill that didn’t come naturally to me like it did with kids when smartphones were first introduced — then your dog can learn a new skill or behavior, too.

You may doubt me. You may think it’s tough to teach an old dog new tricks. You may think once a dog is a year old, he or she is hard to train.

You are not alone. The old adage, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is so engrained in our culture, it actually prevents some people from adopting older dogs at the shelter. “I want a dog I can train,” potential adopters often say.

But dogs, like people, can be trained at any age; you can and should teach them new things. It not only makes them better behaved, it makes them smarter.
And while it’s fun to train a puppy and shape his or her behavior from a young age, adult dogs are more than capable of learning new things because they are more mature and attentive. In fact, they can often learn a new skill in less time than a puppy.

What if they have developed bad habits, you say? Simply teach them a new behavior to replace the old behavior.

Does your dog jump on guests? Teach or reinforce the “sit” command. Does your dog bark at passersby at the window? Reinforce the recall or “here” command, so he comes when called.

Recently, I had to start training my dog again. New neighbors moved in next to us, and one of their large dogs likes to hit our shared fence. My dog responds by trying to dig under the fence to the other side. It gets ugly quickly.

I pulled out the clicker and began to reinforce my dog’s recall and stay commands to make him better behaved with the other dogs are outside. Of course, he is enjoying the learning because it involves treats.

So, when the kids go back to school, consider taking your dog back to school too, so the two of you can learn to work like a team again.

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