Thursday, July 29, 2010

Can An Old Dog Learn New Tricks?

I hear this question time and time again, usually in the form of: "Can they still learn?", "Is it too late to teach them?", etc. Time and time again I answer: "Dogs are never too old to learn, assuming there's nothing neurologically that would inhibit them."
What I really want to ask is: "Are YOU too old to learn?" You see, when most people come to me with this question, it is usually because they have put up with some behaviors, or settled with mediocre obedience/interaction for years and are finally wondering why other people seem to have amazing working/companion dogs. So the answer to the question does not lie entirely on the dog's capability.
To start though, because I am sure that if you are reading this, you have wondered whether your own dog is too old to be trained. Please don't take offense to my previous thought, it is merely an observation from my own experiences and it also is a great starting point to turn things around for the owner. In short, dogs, like us, are never too old to learn... unless senility has set in or some other disease. It is simply a matter of understanding that the dog has had numerous years to "get away" with certain things, or had few expectations put on them and that has become the norm... the routine. Dogs tend to be creatures of habit and they can get very comfortable very quickly. So... remember the old adage: "If you don't use it, you lose it!"
The important things to remember in taking on the task of training an older dog is that you simply must make it enjoyable and at least somewhat exciting! For many dogs, this is easily achieved because they relish the extra attention and interaction that they receive. Be creative! Make teaching come when called a game of chase or hide and seek (my personal favorite with my boys)! You will find that they will eat it up and learn very quickly when there are games and super rewards to be had!
Now... the tougher question I posed earlier: "Are you too old to learn?" My guess is NO! You just haven't been "using it!". There are a whole host of opportunities and resources for you to learn the tools you need for success and to have an amazing dog! The simple fact is that in clinical trials, positive methods are THE most effective way to train. I can speak from personal experience, that when I was first interested in training a dog of mine... in retrospect, I knew next to nothing about canine behavior! But I had a voracious appetite to read what I could and learn tools to improve my middle aged problem child! Then it donned on me: all too often we finish our schooling, find careers, and become soo specialized that we in essence forget how to learn or become to lazy to choose to actively learn! Please, please, please... do yourself and your dog a favor if you are in this position. CHOOSE to learn and to grow! CHOOSE to be the person your dog thinks you are! The reward will be soo much more than an obedient dog. In my case, that dog continues to be my inspiration as to just how capable not only an older dog can be with the right methods... but how capable we can be if we aren't content to let our minds go stale on learning.

1 comment:

  1. There was a lady who came to petsmart wednesday with a 1 1/2 year old boxer that she couldn't control (her husband, who worked with the dog, saldy passed and left the dog to her). i suggested training to her and she asked me the same thing. when i said yes she asked if i was just saying that for a sale. nope. my own dog didn't even start training til she was 1! she's great! lol