Old Dogs CAN Learn New Tricks!

Recently, I have had a handful of older dogs sign up for classes. By older, I mean over 10 years. This is quite new for me, as I have never had people interested in taking classes with their senior dog. While I commend the owners for seeking higher learning for their aging dogs, I don't think training is for all elderly dogs.

One of the dogs is a 10 year old small breed rescue that prior to class, knew zero obedience commands. His owner sought classes because she felt that even though he is a great dog, she would like him to know how to sit, come when called and walk nicely on a leash etc. Poor little guy has had a few road blocks that have made training more difficult. The biggest challenge is his allergies. His owner doesn't know what he is allergic to and he is on a strict diet which really limits what treats he can have. Unfortunately, the approved treats aren't to his liking and he rarely will eat them while in class. Another road block is that he has never had any prior training for 10 years! That is quite a long time to go without challenging the brain to learn something new. While I am sure he learned about his world and socialization etc, learning in a more structured way can be frustrating to some dogs that have never had to do a command when asked. Great thing is that he has been learning. He will be done with his 6 weeks next week and can now sit, stay, come, leave-it and is much better on the leash as well as interacting with other dogs. His progress was much slower than a younger dog as we had to utilize a training method called capturing, rather than relying on lure and reward. There were times I felt guilty that he wasn't progressing like the other dogs in class, though I never felt his owner held it against him. I had to frequently remind myself that his progress will be slower. Thank goodness I had this experience with him, because just last night another, even older dog, signed up for classes!

Dog #2 is an 11 year old maltese mix who has been with her owner since 8 weeks old, but never has had any training. The owner sought training due to some new behavior problems that surfaced from a stressful move (potty training issues, separation anxiety), and hoped that she could get some answers to her issues by signing up for a class. I gave her some guidance on her two top issues and we dove in with teaching her some obedience commands. Surprisingly, the dog picked up the new commands right away! She was thrilled to be learning and seemed to soak it all in like a sponge. The owner was likewise, surprised and so proud of her little old dog.

I realize that my own dog, Lucy, falls into the senior dog category. She will be 9 in December. She enjoys learning new things and learns at an insanely fast rate. I think a life-time of training has helped her love using her mind and even as she ages more, she will only be limited by her body.

When I remember Lucy's age, I feel slightly guilty about judging old dogs learning new tricks. Older dogs CAN learn new things and their past, their breed and their owner's skill level, are all going to be factors in how fast they learn and how well.

However, there are still some cases where an older dog shouldn't be subjected to training class. Thankfully I have only had to talk one person out of training class that fits this category. If your senior dog has trouble hearing or seeing, a class in a new environment probably isn't a good idea. If your elderly dog can't get around well or has medical issues, a class isn't a good idea. If your aging dog rarely leaves the house, is grouchy towards other dogs and strange people, he would be much happier at home. Teach him some new things within his comfort zone and take it slow. After all, it has been said that humans who keep their minds active live longer, so why not our dogs?