The old adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is an incredibly old saying that dates back to the 1500s when the original author, Anthony Fitzherbert, used it to express that once a person has spent more than half their life in bad habits, it is difficult to teach them a different path. The ignorance of this statement has been proven to be false, as now we know it may not be as quick, but it is possible to learn new things and change ingrained ideas. Dogs, who are much smarter than the average man, are also incredibly capable of learning new tricks well into their lives. We believe this saying does a huge disservice to our furry friends and this myth is one of the main reasons it is hard for older dogs to find new homes. As puppies, it may be easier to train them because they simply don’t know better and motivations are different. However, you can, indeed, teach an old dog brand new tricks! In today’s post, we offer some tips and tricks to keep your dog learning his whole life through.
Before we dive right in, let’s review a few key trick training tips that are relevant any time you want to train a dog. First, it takes patience. Your dog does not speak the same language as you and it may take some time to translate what you say to what you mean in canine speak. And, it just takes a little patience. If your dog has previous owners or you adopted an older dog they may already have learned some commands or have been trained differently. Secondly, it is important to be consistent. Dogs, like children, learn best with repetition and learning what to expect. The dog trainers at Sit Means Sit Manassas are happy to help with private lessons, virtual dog training, and dog training.
1. Take it slow.
Learning new tricks and unlearning old behaviors both take time. Don’t attempt to rush it, as this causes a lot of frustration for both you and your dog and can lead to demotivation on both of your parts. Don’t attempt to force training into a set time or expect a single crash course to teach your pooch. Take the time to practice and remember that all the good boys need rest and playtime too!
2. Trust is paramount.
Just like in your human relationships, if you don’t have trust, you don’t have much. Dogs are known for their unconditional love, but a wagging tail and blind loyalty is not the same thing as trust and respect. Earn your dog’s trust before you attempt to teach them tricks. You can earn your dog’s trust by being consistent and fair, giving him his own space, comforting when he’s afraid, praising him when he is good, and being his protector. None of this is to say you have to coddle him or show him more physical affection than you are comfortable with, but simply that he should be able to depend on you and know what to expect from you. He should trust that you will provide for him and mean no harm. Discipline and punishment are very different training tools that elicit very different outcomes.
3. Positive reinforcement is king.
When it comes to puppy training, dog training, or effective canine discipline, there is no better method than positive reinforcement. Your furry companion wants nothing more than to earn your trust, love, and respect, and the only way he knows how to do that is by pleasing you. It’s for that reason that positive reinforcement is the best way to train a dog of any age. To know what positive reinforcement methods will work best for your dog, you’ll have to know your dog well and gauge their motivations. For instance, while one dog may be food motivated and a treat may be a good reward, another dog may prefer for you to throw their ball and not view a treat as anything more than a morsel of food, and, others yet, may be more motivated by a simple pat on the head or an enthusiastic “good boy!” Your dog trainer will assess your dog’s motivation prior to implementing a reward for positive reinforcement training.
4. Stick to one trick.
Your dog is, undoubtedly, smart. However, even the best and brightest can get confused or overwhelmed when there is too much information being presented. Overwhelming your dog can lead them to regress in their training and even act out. Teach one trick at a time, and once they have grasped it, you can then review others for mastery before moving on.
5. You must both commit.
Training your dog is not simply a matter of giving a command and him reacting the way you want. Training your dog is a give and take relationship of conditioning and training between both dog and human. Combining all the elements we have learned and applying them to anyone who is bonded to your dog in addition to you, you and your dog must both make a commitment to the training. You must be willing to be patient and consistent and reinforce the teachings. Your dog must be motivated and attentive.
Is Your Old Dog Ready to Learn New Tricks?
There are a few caveats to whether or not your old dog is ready to learn new tricks. Before you dive in, consider a few things.
- How old is your dog? A dog who is five or six is still ripe for training, however, a 14-year-old dog is better off following a better dog adage “ let sleeping dogs lie.”
- What was their previous life like? If you adopted an older dog, learn more about the commands they may already know, how they were trained, and how they were disciplined. You’d hate to inadvertently trigger your dog’s previous nightmares.
- Is the training for a purpose or is it simply to show off fancy tricks? If it is basic commands that will set your dog up for success or the ability to go more places, then do it. However, if you are attempting to train an old dog to do show tricks, perhaps reassess your own motivations and decide whether or not it’s fair to put your dog through said training.
- Do you have the time, commitment, and motivation? Training your dog is not a one-sided event. If you’ve got the dedication, you can bet your dog will follow.
Get Support From Sit Means Sit Manassas
At Sit Means Sit of Manassas, our dog trainers can help you and your old dog new tricks with group training classes, virtual training, or private training. From basic commands, useful obedience behaviors, or socialization and unlearning poor behaviors, our professional dog trainers are equipped with the skills and experience to help you and your good boy learn a few things together and strengthen your unconditional bond.