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How to Train an Older Dog

By Jason Trainer  •  January 7, 2022  •  

Can An Old Dog Learn New Tricks?

Perhaps you just brought home a rescue dog or inherited a family member’s dog. Maybe, you’ve neglected training and are only now taking the time to properly engage. Regardless of the reasons, the question is, can you train an older dog and how to go about doing so. The good news is, training is a life long journey between you and your pet – so the answer is yes, you can train them no matter how old they are.

Below we will outline some helpful tips and where to get started with your older dog’s training. This is meant as a basic guide and we do suggest consulting a professional trainer if you have little to no experience. A professional can help build the foundation you need and give you guidance on how to maintain a healthy and obedient family pet into the future.

Understanding Your Older Dog

An older dog will have had a lifetime of experiences and encounters with humans. Through these interactions, bad habits have probably been instilled in them. You need to take the time and identify all the bad habits that have been established. Understand that it is not the dog’s fault. The fault, more likely than not, rests with the human(s) this dog has spent time with. Or more plainly put, a lack of training. You need to be patient and be prepared for their training to take time. If you experience setbacks, that is ok. Stay positive and make sure the training sessions you do have keep your dog engaged.

Beyond the bad habits your dog has picked up, you should keep a keen eye on your dog’s body language. Training is not just sit and stay, it is proper socialization, teaching them self control and rules and boundaries. To better understand the issues that may arise while training your older dog, you need to understand common dog behavioural issues. Take your time and make sure you are properly educated to give your dog the best chance at success.

Training An Older Dog

We won’t be going into the specifics on the training methods behind each element but rather run you through the steps needed and what to consider. The reason being, training an older dog commands is the same as teaching a younger dog (feel free to look through our site for tips on specific training practices). The only real difference in training an older dog is, it may take longer, and you may have to “un-teach” a number of things. The below guideline isn’t necessarily in any specific order, more realistically, you’ll have to learn as you go and adapt to the needs of your dog.

High Value Rewards:

It is key that you identify the best high value reward for your dog’s training. If they are food motivated, your training will be a bit easier than if your dog is driven by toys. Regardless, knowing the best high value reward for your dog will be essential in its training. Take time to experiment with treats, kibble, toys, and affection to help you understand what best motivates your dog to engage with you.

Your Environment:

At first, you will want to take your dog somewhere there are few distractions. This will make it easier for your dog’s attention to stay on you and the training. Once you have started to establish obedience and control in your training you can start moving into environments with more and more distractions. Ensure you always have a handle on your dog and that the environments you are bringing them do not cause anxiety or create opportunity for them to lash out. As noted above, understanding your dog and their body language will help with this.

Their Name:

This seems so simple, but it is a great place to start getting your dog engaged. You must teach your dog to react to their name. Start here. Make sure that they know their name and that they look to the handler (you) when their name is called.

Their Name:

This seems so simple, but it is a great place to start getting your dog engaged. You must teach your dog to react to their name. Start here. Make sure that they know their name and that they look to the handler (you) when their name is called.

House Training:

Who knows what their conditions were before they came to you or what their access to the outdoors was. House training your older dog should be high up on the list of things to do. Not addressing this is cause for frustration and frustration has no place in training.

Creating A Solid Foundation:

Starting off you will want to teach your dog the basic commands that will help you in multiple situations. Start with sit and then move on to down, place, recall and heel. With these you will be able to disengage your dog from distractions or dangerous situations and more easily keep the dog’s attention on you.

Socialization:

Proper socialization is when your dog can be neutral in any environment without the need to engage. This is an essential skill for your dog to have, no matter their age. You dog needs to know how to interact with others. We have a post on how to properly socialize your dog with other dogs that is worth reading in regards to this element.

Un-Learning:

This will be the hardest part. You need to identify all the bad habits that your dog has picked up and show them that they are unwanted. You will need to use a balanced approach to your training and keep in mind that all positive dog training isn’t ideal.

Reinforce Everything:

Everything you do with your dog is and will be a training opportunity. If they are waiting for their meal, have them sit. Only allow them to take their food after you release them. They are chasing a squirrel in the back yard, recall them to you while they are in the middle of the chase. Always be training and you will create the best opportunity for your dog to thrive.

The ITK9 Way

At ITK9 we train dogs of all ages and skill level. We always start by building a solid foundation and ensure to train in multiple environments. If you have any questions about how we can help, please do not hesitate to reach out.

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