Training a Senior Dog — And Other Valuable Advice

Training a senior dog doesn’t have to be impossible. Here are some helpful tips that can help your pet age gracefully and actively in your household.

Older dogs can learn new things with a little more persistence. Photo: normanack

Have you ever heard that you “can’t teach an old dog new tricks”?

This saying has convinced many people that the older your dog gets, the less he is able to learn. Fortunately, this old wives’ tale is 100% untrue.

The fact is, while you should be focusing on housetraining and setting boundaries with your young puppy, your dog’s ability to focus on commands increases as he grows out of puppyhood. When your dog reaches maturity, usually between the ages of 2 and 3, this is when you should be adding to the list of commands that your dog knows.

As your dog reaches seniorhood, around 7 years old, his brain doesn’t just shut off. He can still learn new commands and concepts (especially if you’ve been doing training his whole life), but mastering a command will take increased consistency and repetitions.

If you haven’t been doing training throughout his life and new behaviors begin to show in his senior years that you can’t tolerate, don’t freak out!

Although many dogs age without ever having a disease, their bodies begin to fail them. The ability of the hips, legs, eyes and ears often frustrate and anger a once-energetic and spritely dog as those are typically the first to give out or diminish. With this frustration can come behavior problems.

Training a Senior Dog

To train a senior dog, you use the same principles when training a dog of any age, or any animal, for that matter.

Understand that dogs learn through classical and operant conditioning, and work with a good trainer who has experience with older dogs. The most important thing to remember is to stay positive.

Even if you would much rather be sitting on the couch and watching TV, pretend that training your pet is your life’s goal and that you are having the best time doing it. Stay patient when training and give your dog more repetitions of a single command.

The quality of the reward should be boosted too. Instead of giving him dry, crumbly dog treats, try cheese or cold cuts; these will boost your pet’s interest in what you are doing.

Watch this video to gain more insight into what dogs need as they age:

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Make Your Aging Dog as Comfortable as Possible

I have had the joy of watching my family’s Labrador/basset mix go from 8 months old to 12 years old.

She certainly has slowed down in her senior years and needs a bit more help getting up and down stairs as well as into a car.

The best thing I have found that you can do for senior dogs as their body slows is to accept where they are, work around their limitations and make them as comfortable as you can.

If your dog’s hips begin to hurt and it’s obvious he would rather lounge at home than go on a hike, I suggest getting a memory foam dog bed. Memory foam cradles the hips and doesn’t put added pressure on any point of the body.

Make sure your older dog gets an appropriate amount of exercise. Photo: J B

Tips and Techniques in Caring for Your Aging Dog

  • Decreasing the fat and protein content in your dog’s food and adding supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin help keep your dog healthy into his twilight years.
  • If you have a smaller dog that is having trouble getting onto the couch to cuddle with you, purchase little steps at your local pet supply store.
  • Keep your dog’s mind busy because although his body could be slowing, his brain could still be very active. Purchase toys that make your dog think, like an IQ Treat Ball, and continue training.
  • If your senior dog is like mine, he will dread going on a walk and will literally pull against you to get back home. Speak with your vet to find out how much exercise your dog should be getting daily and make sure you get him out for that amount. If necessary, take frequent breaks and encourage your dog to finish out the short walk with a reward at the end.

No matter your pet’s needs, make sure he lives his life out in your home and pursue training when needed.

Adopting Older Dogs With Prior Training

Most senior dogs in shelters are not adopted out or are given a decreased adoption price to make them more desirable. If you are thinking about adopting a senior dog, consider that many of the older dogs in the shelter already have a training background since most were owner surrenders.

To offer your senior dog the best last years, stay patient and positive when training and give him what he needs to be comfortable and happy.