6 tips to teach an old dog new tricks.
Our professional dog trainers have spoken to many clients who feel their dog is “too set in their ways” for any formal dog training. There is a misconception that if obedience, socialization, and structure are not taught during adolescence then you have missed your chance. The oldest dog to date at Highland Canine Training would be a 12 year old Shi Tzu with aggression issues. The owners of this dog had purchased a new puppy and were concerned that their old dog would teach the bad behavior to their new dog, which in all honestly does happen. We worked with both dogs and were able to establish structure back into the home in a short period of time. The following tips can be used for dogs already in the home or one that you have adopted or rescue that needs an introduction to their new surroundings.
1. Keep the sessions short and sweet. Start with a positive reward like food or toys if your dog will eat or play for you. This is a great time to introduce clicker training if your dog is highly food motivated. If you have just adopted your dog simply let him get adjusted to his surrounds and simply reward him for being near you and your family. Start out with a new command each week for example: sit, down, come, stay, heel, place, stand, and of course dog tricks.
2. Be consistent in your training methods. Your dog must understand exactly what it is you are asking of him; otherwise you can’t expect him to succeed. Always use the same verbal commands for the same tasks and keep your tone even unless you are praising or correcting. Try not to ask too many commands at once, as it becomes confusing for the dog. If you are having a bad day do not train with your dog, as that frustration often transfers to the dog. Once your dog masters the command say in your living room, move him outside in the yard or to a different room with a different type of flooring.
3. Make it fun for the dog. Your dog should consider this extra quality time with you; shower him with affection and praise both when beginning and ending each session. Buy new toys that you can use to play once the work is out of the way and partake of his favorite activity, such as a walk to the park or extra-long fur-brushing session. If you are having trouble finding something your dog is interested in, you may have a more severe socialization issue and she seek out a professional dog trainer for advice.
4. Take your dog to the vet for persistent problems. If your dog is non-responsive to training, there may be something going on with him. Rule out any medical issues by visiting your vet and discussing the situation in-depth. Stomach, ear, and dental issues are just a few things that can off-set your training sessions. If your dog has a clean bill of health you may need more intense training or advice and should seek out a professional dog trainer.
5. See it from the dog’s point of view and be patient. Pay close attention to his reactions and try to determine what he is thinking: Does he simply want to get back to his nap? Is he afraid of not being able to do what it is you’re asking? Does he expect punishment to come out of this? Having a little empathy for him can serve you both well in that you can modify training to better suit him and achieve the success you both are looking for. Not all shelter or rescue dogs have been abused; more often they simply were never socialized. This lack of socialization can trigger shyness, fear, aggression, confusion, and simply unruly behaviors that can in most cases be easily fixed!
6. Never punish your dog for not getting it right. No matter what comes of each training session, don’t be too hard on him. Punishment will lead to fear and he will never be able to focus on the task at hand. So long as he knows you still care for him, he will be willing to try and try again. It’s up to you to formulate a plan that works for him and to reinforce that program with positive rewards that are worth the effort he has to put in.
Hopefully these tips give you a big jump-start on training your older dog. With time and patience, he will adjust well and be a healthy, happy addition to the family.