Old dogs can learn new tricks, and November is the ideal month to spend some time with your senior pet and work on at least one new command. It is often easier to teach senior dogs as they are less easily distracted and more focused, and they also want to work to do things that they know you want.
When working with an older dog, remember that multiple repetitions are not always an effective teaching tool. Old dogs can easily get bored, so keep training short and positive, and also remember to be patient and to start with something the dog knows, building on to a new and more challenging trick.
Start with a Primer
It is always a good idea to review the basics with your senior dog, especially if you may not have been actively working on training and obedience in the last little while. Remember, older dogs may have trouble sitting or lying down on slippery surfaces, so consider training your dog on a carpeted area or invest in a cheap area rug and use it as your training space.
Avoid Jumping Tricks
While older dogs may be able to jump, it is not good for their hips and joints. If you want to teach them to go through a hoop or over an obstacle, keep it low to the ground in balance with the dog’s size. This allows the dog to learn to go through the hoop or over the jump, just without the stress of launching into the air and the impact of the landing on the other side.
Training by Adding On
A simple way to teach an old dog a new trick is to use a process called chaining. Think of it as adding on to a trick he or she already knows. For example, if your dog already is an expert at come and sit, it is natural to then move to “shake a paw.” When the dog is sitting in front of you, bend down and gently lift one front paw a short distance off the ground, say “shake a paw” and give the dog a treat.
Repeating this a few times from the sit command will reinforce this for one training, then go on to another command the dog already knows. Repeating this over several days will soon have the dog lifting his or her paw on your command.
Remember the Treats
Older dogs love treats, but it is important to keep the treats small and healthy. Consider little pieces of boiled chicken or perhaps a small slice of apple or carrot as a treat. You can always make your own treats, or use very small commercial dog treats that are low in calories and designed for older pets.