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How to Train an Older Dog - and Teach Him New Tricks

Training a brand-new puppy basic obedience skills is challenging on its own, but much like children, they have the brain-building benefits of youth in their favor. 

This puppy was just born - you get a clean slate to work with that hasn't yet been affected by outside influences. 

But, how to teach an old dog new tricks?

Training an adult dog comes with a very different set of hurdles to jump. Older dog brains don't absorb information as readily as the young pups, and senior dogs have already learned a set of behaviors that they may need to break. And sometimes, older dogs have physical ailments that might affect their mobility, which affects the tricks they can learn. 

When we adopt a senior dog, they've already had a ton of life experience, for better or worse. We usually don't know exactly what these dogs have been through - neglect, abuse, and living as strays are the worst-case scenarios but happen all too often. 

Don't let that get you discouraged - you can absolutely teach an old dog new tricks by implementing a steady training regimen with a few easy adjustments.

Your obedience training for dog will incorporate some of the same tools as puppy training, but parts of the approach need personalization.

Our guide explains the differences between puppy training and older dog training and how to train your dog to get the very most out of your time and efforts.

Is a dog too old to be trained?

No. A dog is never too old to learn and be trained.As we mentioned, training a dog can get a little more difficult and complicated with an older dog, but it's not at all impossible. 

Extra patience is needed when training an older dog. They will have some bad habits to break while trying to learn new practices, which can be confusing and time-consuming for both of you.

They may also have some physical limitations from aging that can affect training.

How long does it take to train a dog?

With regular daily training for 20 minutes a day, a puppy can be well-trained by 6-7 months of age. 

There are so many complicated factors in the equation for adult dogs, making it impossible to estimate - health, brain function, and behavioral issues all play an essential role.

The trick here is consistency. The more often you work to train your dog, the faster it will happen for you.

You will notice small changes immediately with regular work. It's a growing process, not a switch that will turn on one day. 

And to keep a dog well-trained, it never truly ends - keeping consistent rules will help your dog thrive and feel secure about his role within your household.

How to teach an old dog vs. a puppy

These are specific methods you can utilize in your dog training regimen to adjust to an aging dog

Minimize distractions

Find a quiet space to train your dog away from noisy distractions. If you live in a busy household, head outside or find a quiet room and close the door.

Approach the training 1-on-1 for the first few weeks. Too many "cooks in the kitchen" during training can be confusing for an adult dog. Get every member of your household on the same page about training approaches, but work to train the dog separately. 

Keep the sessions short

Older dogs no longer have the boundless energy of puppies. Train your adult dog in shorter training sessions to get the most out of your work. 

Keep each session 10-20 minutes long, tops. If your dog struggles to pay attention or tires quickly, split the sessions up. Try a 5-minute session, 4x/day, if that's all your dog can manage at first. As they progress through the training, their attention span should expand. 

Positive reinforcement vs. negative reinforcement

Positive reinforcement or a reward training system is far more effective than a negative reinforcement system, which involves punishment. 

Negative reinforcement can confuse a dog and negatively impact their temperament, especially for previously abused or mistreated dogs.

Use treats and praise with your adult dog to reinforce the good behavior and strengthen the trust and bond between you two. 

Use a crate

An older dog benefits from crate-training just as a puppy would, so employ its use regularly!

Slowly introduce the crate, enticing the dog in with treats and keeping them there for short periods at first. An older dog learns to use a crate as a place of comfort, just as a puppy would. 

Never, ever, use a crate for punishment. 

Mobility issues

Your adult dog may have some mobility issues to contend with during training. If your dog has stiff joints, fragile bones, and weak muscles, introduce any physical activity very slowly. Even sitting can cause stress on the hindquarters, which can be painful for arthritic dogs. 

Pay attention to the signals your pup is giving you, and respect the limits of their bodies. 

You can introduce some tools to help your adult dog maintain mobility and independence into their old age. Use a bed ramp for dogs, and train your dog to come and go from the bed, couch, or car without jumping, which some older and small-sized dogs shouldn't be attempting on their own. 

Housetraining

This is where the crate-training we mentioned comes into play. 

If your adult dog isn't housetrained, introduce them to their crate and use it whenever you can't keep a close watch on them. 

Only keep them in the crate for as long as their bladder allows. For mature dogs with fully-grown bladders, they can hold their urine longer than young pups. 

Let your dog pee outside every time after being crated. Praise the dog when they do their business outside. 

Basic obedience

How to teach a dog to sit and obey

Training your adult dog starts with the basics. There is a specific list of commands that you should teach in this order: heel, sit, stay, and come. 

Use verbal cues combined with associated hand gestures for each move, which helps speed along and solidify learning. 

Say the dog's name before the verbal cue to remove any confusion and establish training patterns with them. 

Professional training

Employ the use of professional training programs to build your dog's skills to the next level. A trainer can work one-on-one with you and your pup to reinforce and create even better habits. 

They're also professionally trained to assess and work with dogs that need a unique approach due to major behavioral issues from abuse or other traumatic pasts.

Making friends: how to dog train social skills

Socializing should be done throughout a dog's life to build up strong skills - if you inherited an unsocialized dog, they could be dangerously aggressive around others or painfully shy and timid. 

Once your dog shows that they will follow your command and trust your leadership, start very slowly with social introductions.

You may want to muzzle, and you certainly want to keep your dog leashed as you teach your dog how to play with others well. Keep a close eye and step in as needed.

If your dog struggles with significant emotional issues around socializing, it's something you shouldn't take on yourself. Take your pup to a professional trainer who can take you through the next steps in a safe way for everyone. 

Last notes on adult dog training

Training your adult dog takes some extra time - old habits won't break, and new ones won't build overnight. 

Tenderness and compassion go a long way with our furry ones, especially since training can feel overwhelming for them. 

Dogs, much like humans, thrive in an environment of consistency. Asserting healthy dominance will help your pup understand their world and feel security and love from their home. 

Don't forget to use any extra resources you need. Employ the use of a professional trainer if you ever feel in over your head with old bad habits that seem unbreakable or severe emotional and behavioral issues. 

Enjoy building that human/dog bond with your little one!

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