Teaching old dogs new tricks

It is never too late to teach an old dog new tricks! If you adopt an adult or even a senior dog, you may be amazed at their ability to concentrate and learn new things.

Adult dogs are often even easier to train than pups, simply because they have the ability to focus for a longer period of time. Most adapt fairly quickly to new routines, so housebreaking is not difficult if you are consistent in taking the pet out to the same place every time to go potty. An adult dog has more control and normally does not have to go outside as often as a pup.

Regular training commands such as sit, down, and come when called can be taught using small food treats to lure the dog into the proper position. Be sure to give quick praise before you give the treat, so the dog will eventually work for praise alone.

Occasionally a dog is not motivated by treats, in which case you can gently place the dog into position, praise, and repeat several times until the dog begins to understand what is expected. It takes three to four weeks of repetition for something to become a habit, so be sure to include several short training sessions every day for about a month whenever you are teaching a new behavior.

To prevent behavior problems such as destructive chewing and digging (yes, these are activities enjoyed by all dogs, not just pups), make sure your dog is well-exercised, and has appropriate chew toys. Having a large fenced yard is wonderful, but does not ensure that a dog is getting his ya-yas out. Nice long-leash walks or playing fetch until the dog is truly tired will help insure a well-behaved dog in the evening when the family is trying to relax while watching TV.

Be sure to consistently reward your dog when he is doing good things, and manage the environment to prevent him from doing inappropriate things. Should you have any problems that cannot be resolved easily, don’t hesitate to call your veterinarian to ask for help.

Most dog behavior problems are easily resolved once the pet has settled into his new home and understands what is expected of him, but occasionally a problem may be related to a medical issue or lack of socialization in the dog’s early years. Your vet can rule-out any physical cause, and refer you to an experienced trainer or behavior counselor if you need additional help.

Source: Adapted from the American Animal Hospital Association