We’ve all heard the saying concerning old dogs learning new tricks-it’s been a motto for many years! However, it’s one mantra that you can now throw out. When it comes to training a senior dog, you’ll likely find that it isn’t that different from showing a younger dog what you want them to do. There are even advantages to training a senior dog versus a younger dog; for one, they have a better attention span once they are in their older years. Of course, we asked dog expert Dave Miller, owner of Cozy Crates, about what to consider when you start working with an older dog. So check out the following tips that will help when your mission involves a senior pooch.
Speak with your vet first
Even if your senior dog seems to be in tip-top shape, it’s best to talk with your vet before you start training him. This is especially true if you are hoping to train them to do something more strenuous than they are used to. Every dog is different, so you want them to have a clean bill of health before starting your new adventure. Once your vet gives you the green light, you’re good to go!
What does your dog already know?
There is a good chance your dog already understands a lot of your words and commands, especially if he has been a part of the family for years. But if you have just adopted a senior dog, you’ll need to figure out what commands he already recognizes. Many dogs understand the basic words to simple commands, such as sit, shake paw, stay, and rollover. Simply run through the basics to find your starting point.
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Avoid too much repetition
A young puppy will love learning new tricks and commands for hours. An older dog with sore joints and slow movements? Not so much. Senior dogs won’t want to hear the same words over and over, and they won’t want to do the same thing repeatedly. Asking him to sit down a dozen times in a row could cause pain and discomfort for your dog, so make sure you take plenty of breaks as you train him. Look for cues that he is getting agitated as you train him and stop when you feel it’s coming on.
- Keep your training sessions short
Just like repetition, an older dog isn’t going to like long training sessions. He may get bored or even feel like he is receiving too much information at once. Long sessions with an older dog may also cause them to experience excess fatigue and joint pain. Keep things short and simple.
Positive reinforcement is important
Using positive instead of negative reinforcement is going to be your best bet for a dog of any age. However, it’s even more crucial to use positivity with a senior dog, especially one that you have just adopted. The best way to teach him new tricks and commands? Treats. Most dogs are motivated by food as they learn, so keep the treats coming when you want them to listen to your commands.
If your dog has some health issue that makes it difficult to give him too many treats, don’t despair. Use lots of praise and petting to show him he is doing well. You may even use a favorite toy to reward him when he listens to your words and commands.
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Cut out distractions
Senior dogs will be more distracted than younger ones, so make sure you find a quiet area when it’s time to give them lessons. If your kids or significant other are being loud, find a quiet room or head to the backyard. It’s also a good idea to keep other pets away while you train your senior, especially other dogs. They will easily distract your senior as he is trying to work.
Hand signals and verbal cues work the best
Your senior dog may be losing his hearing or could already be deaf. If so, incorporate hand signals with your words as you teach him. It’s a good idea to use both at one time, in case your hearing-impaired dog ends up deaf in the next few years. This will make it easier for him to transition to hand signals in the event he becomes completely deaf. If your senior pooch has a vision problem, lean heavily on your words to teach him new commands.
Train him somewhere comfortable
An older dog will often have difficulty sitting on a hard surface, so why would he want to listen if you train him on a hardwood floor? Find a comfortable place to train your senior, whether in a carpeted room or on a soft mat. You may even use the soft grass outside as a training space. This will help your pup be more comfortable as he is learning to respond to your lessons.
This is also a good time to mention temperatures. An older dog will be more sensitive to the cold or heat than a younger dog. Keep an eye out for signs that he is uncomfortable or stressed out due to the temperature. If he is, stop.
Be patient yet persistent
While you CAN teach an old dog new tricks, be prepared to put in the time. Be patient with your dog every day you work with him, and make sure he can actually do what you are asking of him. Take your time, don’t force him to perform, and stop if you think he is in pain or agitated. It’s okay to call it a day if you think it’s too much for him. Never push an older dog past his personal comfort level-this could lead to a serious injury.
Training a senior dog may take more time and patience than working with a younger one, but it can be done! Above all, have fun and enjoy the time with your dog. We know he is enjoying this time with you no matter what you’re doing!