Almost universally, when people talk about dog training, or dog obedience coaching or whatever other phrase they use for it, they have in the back of their mind an image of working with a young dog, often not much more than a puppy.
And, again, it’s a widely held belief that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. So, how true is that? Is it possible to train an older dog?
Well, yes and no!
The cliché mongers are partly right, because a more mature animal does need a heck of a lot more training and dedication from the person involved than a younger dog will. This is primarily because dogs are, to a large extent, like people, and by the time they are grown, they are much more “set” in their ways.
A more mature animal will certainly have gone through, and possibly way past, that crucial period in his or her life when what they are learning will have any profound changing influence on their future behavior. In basic terms, and again you can make a direct comparison to mankind, your dog is already of the formed opinion that it knows how to behave and thus, trying to change that perception and belief by attempting to teach him other ways is bound to require a great deal of both time and effort.
Whilst it is certainly not impossible to convince the older dog that new tricks do have some merit, you must accept from the outset that you simply cannot train an old dog in the same way that you would train a puppy.
You definitely have to learn to be a little bit stricter with an older dog simply because he has a good deal more native intelligence than a puppy and he also knows how to drive you crazy!
So, how do you train an older dog? Well, not only do you have to be a bit stricter, but you have to be a good deal more cunning as well! In the same way that the more mature canine is a good deal more cunning than his younger siblings, you have to be the same!
Get him convinced that your ideas are really his ideas, or, make him believe that everything he does was his idea in the first place, and he will be far more likely do something whatever it is you ask!
For example, if he goes to sit down of his own accord, say “sit” and then praise him!
Thus, he believes that it was his idea and after a while, if you just keep on repeating the methodology, eventually you will have him sitting on command.
This system will work for many of the necessary commands, like, come, stay, fetch and heel.
Now, of course, this is, by nature a broad generalization and, as all pet owners are only too aware, not all animals are the same, or learn at the same pace. So, you might find that your particular more mature pet is wonderfully easy to train. On the other hand, some dogs have a wide streak of stubbornness which will mean that they are much more resistant to change and thus, they are more difficult to train, irregardless of what you do.
Nevertheless, even an older dog must be trained to your ways in order that any acquired or indeed natural bad habits are broken and banished.
Although you may find it hard to believe, if he could speak, your dog would probably thank you for it in the end, simply because the less tension there is between dog and owner, the happier and more calm the relationship will be, to the obvious benefit of both parties!
But, do not carry any “rosy colored” illusions! It is important that you face the fact that training a more mature dog could be a grueling and thankless task at times.
It is therefore vitally important that you try to make it as much fun as possible. You could start by joining a dog training or obedience class (contrary to popular belief, they are not just for “puppy people”) and don’t hesitate to gather as much support as possible from family and friends. Perhaps you could afford to invest in some good quality, durable training products like toys and treats, but, remember, your dog is more mature and intelligent, so try to pick toys that will challenge and stimulate him.
Whatever you do, the only certainty is that, however long it might take, once you’ve managed to teach your older dog everything it is necessary for him to know, the bond between you will become unbreakable, and the pleasure that you both get from such a relationship will remain a wonderful constant over the years.