How to Train an Older Dog

You have undoubtedly heard the phrase, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. Fortunately, this is not the case. Professional dog trainers will agree that this is a myth and that with patience, a senior dog can be trained. Keep in mind that the older the dog, the longer it has rehearsed the behavior that you may want to change. As a result, it may take longer for your adult dog to learn the new behavior. On the other hand, older dogs are calmer than puppies and may have better focus and attention, which can work to your advantage. When learning how to train an adult dog, there are several things to keep in mind.

Physical Limitations

Before you learn how to train an older dog, be sure to have your veterinarian rule out any medical conditions that may limit your dog physically. Even a dog that was once house-trained may relieve itself indoors for a number of medical reasons that may or may not be related to the dog’s age. For example, urinary incontinence may be a result of a urinary tract infection, bladder stones, kidney disease, or neurological problems, among other causes. Age-related afflictions such as arthritic conditions, impaired cerebral functions, and weakness may also be a cause of house soiling. Once you and your veterinarian have ruled out any underlying medical conditions, you can start house-training the way you would house-train a puppy. Remember that senior dogs may have to eliminate more frequently than younger dogs, so be sure to provide plenty of opportunities for your dog to go outside. Be especially mindful of whining, pacing, or obvious discomfort, as these are often signs that your dog has to go out. If your dog has an illness that makes house-training impossible, there are also products you can buy to better manage the situation, such as doggie diapers.

Give Your Dog Time to Adjust

Many dogs experience anxiety upon undergoing a major change in their environment and may relieve itself indoors as a result. These accidents usually pass once the dog gets accustomed to its new surroundings and schedule. If your dog has an accident, do not scold them. Dogs learn from the immediate consequences of their behavior and cannot make connections to past events that happened hours or even minutes ago. This rule should be applied throughout the entire house-training process. If you catch your dog in the act of urinating or defecating indoors, get their attention by clapping loudly. Once startled, the dog should pause what it is doing, and you can lead it outside, where it can finish. After your dog finishes its business outside, you can reward your dog with praise and a treat. Treats should always be accompanied with praise; this way, your dog will eventually work for praise alone. Be sure you always accompany your dog outside during the house-training process so your praise can be given at precisely the correct moment.

Set Reasonable Expectations

Even if your older dog is healthy, you still want to set reasonable, age-appropriate expectations. Older dogs may not be able to perform tasks that require excessive strength or stamina. Stick with simple commands like “sit,” “down,” “stay,” and “come.” You can teach these commands by using treats to guide the dog into the proper position as you provide the verbal command. Always accompany verbal commands with hand motions, as hearing loss is common in senior dogs. Eventually, your dog will be able to perform these actions with hand motions or verbal commands alone. It takes about a month of repetition for a behavior to develop into a habit, so short and frequent training sessions are crucial. Remember that praise should be consistent and timed appropriately.

Provide a Safe Space Outdoors

Knowing how to train an adult dog is important, but the best thing you can do for your dog is provide a safe space for them both indoors and outdoors. You do not need to purchase a traditional fence to protect your dog, however. These can be expensive and require routine maintenance. An underground, wireless dog fence is an affordable and effective alternative. Dog Guard’s out-of-sight fencing gives your dog the freedom to roam your yard while also ensuring its safety. Contact a Dog Guard representative to schedule a visit and free consultation today.