How Late Is Too Late to Train an Older Dog?
Is it ever too late to train an older dog? Although some adult dogs might learn more slowly, it's never too late to teach an older dog to listen and obey. Some adult dogs might even learn better because they're less distracted than when they were puppies. Whether you're retraining a dog who needs to unlearn some undesirable habits or you're training an older dog for the first time, it's never too late to teach an old dog new tricks.
How to Retrain Your Dog
Adult dogs might pick up a few bad habits that take some time to train away.1 The good news is that older dogs are still eager to please; they want to learn what makes you happy. Focus on positive reinforcement so they eventually see the new habit as more appealing and use treats they love.
One area where older dogs might need a little retraining is housebreaking. If you need to re-housetrain your dog, start by establishing a routine. This way your dog knows what to expect and when. Give him lots of praise and use the same phrase every time you take him out, like "go potty."2
You might also need to use a crate when house training an older dog, just like you would with a puppy.3 If he's not used to crates, introduce the crate slowly and keep a soft crate pad inside so your pup's comfortable.
Socialization can be a challenge when training an older dog. The best time to socialize a dog, so he's not so timid around other people or pets, is when he's a puppy (less than 16 weeks old).4 But if you miss that window, it's not too late. Just be patient, give extra rewards, and remember that setbacks might happen. You might not have the most social dog in the world, but you can definitely help your pup be friendlier and less scared.
Keep Age in Mind
While your older dog may be eager to please you, what you're asking of her may be too painful or tiring to do. Your dog's not a puppy anymore. She may not be able to catch a ball on command over and over. Getting up and down to sit might hurt her hips. If you notice your dog obeys at first and then stops, it might just be that she's tired.
Some less physically demanding tricks you can teach include speaking, shaking, pushing a ball, or giving a high five.5
Older dogs might have other physical limitations that interfere with obedience, like trouble hearing or vision issues. Talk with your veterinarian if this seems to be a possibility.
Be Patient and Positive
The keys to training an older dog are patience and positivity. Your dog may be a little slower to learn, but she really wants to learn. Give her the time she needs to catch on and keep the training positive. If you adopted her when she was older, you don't know what kind of bad experiences she might have had with training in the past. And she might have some "older dog" aches and pains that distract her. Focus on making your training a positive, fun adventure.
Try an Obedience Class
There's no shame in needing a little help. If you're not getting very far, it might just be that you're using the wrong techniques. Try enrolling in an obedience class for some help. This can be a fun new adventure for you and your dog, and you might pick up some great tips that will help you along the way.
Training Is Good for Older Dogs
Not only is it fun, but training an older dog obedience tricks is also good for his health.6 Training stimulates him mentally and physically and helps him feel useful. If he's physically able, you might even enroll your dog in agility competitions and scent work classes.
Just because your dog's not a puppy anymore doesn't mean you can't still teach your dog new tricks and commands. Training can be a great chance to bond and have a lot of fun together while you work toward a common goal.
- Buzhardt, Lynn. "Can Old Dogs Learn New Tricks?" VCA, https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/can-old-dogs-learn-new-tricks.
- Paws. "Re-Housetraining Your Dog." Paws.org, https://www.paws.org/resources/re-housetraining-your-adult-dog/.
- Bender, Amy. "How to Train an Older Dog to Do New Tricks." The Spruce Pets, 4 November 2019, https://www.thesprucepets.com/training-tips-for-adult-dogs-1118253.
- Nicholas, Jason. "How to Help a Dog That's Missed Early Socialization." Preventive Vet, 26 February 2019, https://www.preventivevet.com/dogs/how-to-help-adult-dog-with-socialization.
- Buzhardt, Lynn, https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/can-old-dogs-learn-new-tricks.
- Gibeault, Stephanie. "The Importance of Training Your Senior Dog." AKC, 21 April 2017, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/training-your-senior-dog/.