We have all heard the old adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but is it true? Are our older dogs unable to learn any new tricks? Absolutely not! In fact, as they say, “you are never too old to learn!” As your dog ages, he may be slower to learn then he was as a young pup, but offering the mental stimulation of learning new things can help keep your dog’s mind sharp and greatly increase their quality of life!
When deciding on new tricks for your old dog, you will want to consider both the physical and mental condition of your dog. If you believe your dog has a condition you feel impedes your dog performing any behaviors, consult with your vet, these problems may just be those associated with aging and can be treated.
If your dog suffers from things such as arthritis or other join and muscle disorders, movements such as lying down, jumping, or repetitive sitting to standing may be uncomfortable for your pet. This doesn’t mean your dog can’t learn anything new, it just means you need to take care to choose behaviors that your pet won’t find painful. Try slower, less repetitive movements such as heel, speak, or give kisses.
Another physical limitation you may run in to with older pets is hearing and sight problems. If your pet has trouble seeing or listening you may need to adjust how you train, for example you may need to change verbal cues to hand signals with a dog that is hard of hearing, or vice versa for a sight impaired dog. Or you may just need to speak up, giving your commands in a loud, clear voice, even the best of us have a hard time hearing a mumbler!
Like people, as your dog ages cognitive problems may begin to develop. Older pets may start to forget some learned behaviors, sleep patterns may be disrupted, or anxiety may develop. Spending time teaching your dog new tricks may even help improve your dog’s mental capacities! If you’ve adopted an older dog, one easy trick you can teach is how to respond to their new name. Say your dog’s new name, when he looks at your, give him lots of praise or a treat. Repeat this over and over, calling his name until he knows to respond. Tricks don’t need to be elaborate; it is the learning that is important.
Teaching your dog, old or young, new tricks are a lot of fun, you will both enjoy the time you spend together, training. You have nothing to lose if your dog doesn’t learn how to high-five, but the time you spent together trying is invaluable and the bond you develop or strengthen will help promote better behavior from your dog.
Don’t be frustrated if your old dog doesn’t pick up a new trick right away, or if your dog seems to “get it” one day, but had completely forgotten it the next. If you are patient and stick with it, your dog will eventually have a fun assortment of new tricks under his belt!
Need an idea for a new trick? Why not try one of these!
- Wave or high-five
- Put away your toys
- Get your leach
- Ring a bell (great for alerting you when it’s time to go out!)
- Walk backwards