You can’t teach an old dog new tricks — or can you? If you’re going to try to prove the old saying wrong with your dog, here are a few things you should know.
Unlearning Old Tricks Is Harder Than Learning New Ones
If Mythbusters is correct, the old saying about teaching an old dog new tricks isn’t true. Old dogs generally don’t have a problem learning new tricks — it’s forgetting their old training that tends to be a problem.
If you’ve adopted an older dog and you’re trying to train them, you may want to start by finding out about their old owner and their training habits. If you suspect that their old owner didn’t train the dog at all, try having them perform some basic commands like “sit” or “stay.” If they can’t do those, they probably were never trained.
You might be thinking, “Wait, if they were never trained, then what would they have to unlearn?” But a dog’s owners shape their dog’s behaviors whether or not they’re aware of it. Your dog may be unlearning a lifetime of reinforced behaviors, if not actual training.
Rewriting the old scripts for dogs may take extreme time, and extra patience. If your dog doesn’t follow you right away, don’t give up. They’re not impossible to teach; they’re just taking their time to unlearn everything else first.
Consistency and Structure Are Important
Just like puppies, old dogs benefit from structure during training. Try to do some training with them every day, to keep training consistent and fresh in their memory. Some old dogs may take longer than a puppy to learn new tricks, but the best policy is usually to simply keep practicing with them until they get it right.
Positive reinforcement is also important. Remember to reward your dogs for good behavior or for successfully performing a new trick. If you’re trying to keep them on a diet, remember to pet them and give them lots of praise for doing well.
Keep Their Limitations in Mind
It’s not impossible to teach an old dog new tricks, but it may be difficult for them to learn certain things or perform certain behaviors. If your dog seems to be having difficulty learning new things, ask yourself whether they’re not learning or if those behaviors are beyond their control.
Owners who try house-training their old dog have this problem. If your dog is getting old and they seem to resist house-training, the problem may have less to do with your dog being unable to learn and more with the fact that dogs may have trouble with house training when they’re older.
In this case, you might have to be more patient with them as you try to train them. Reinforcing good behaviors will almost always help good behavior increase, even if some older dogs may have trouble remembering it.
Keep The Sessions Short
Old dogs may be slower and tire more easily than younger dogs, so take this into account when you’re training your dog. Keep your training sessions short in order to avoid wearing your dog out.
In addition, you’ll to be on the lookout for signs of exhaustion as you’re training your dog. If your dog yawns frequently, moves more slowly than usual, or seems to have difficult paying attention, end your training session for the day.
You don’t want to wear your dog out. Besides, doing a training session with an exhausted dog probably won’t do either of you any good.
Old dogs may have a hard time learning, but the old saying isn’t completely true — you can, in fact, teach an old dog new tricks. Just keep at it and be patient with them, and they’ll get it soon enough.