Training An Older Dog New Tricks

By Sally Gutteridge | Posts

A saying used daily in many circles is “you can’t teach old dog’s new tricks”. This is simply not true. A dog of any age will learn when motivation and circumstance permits. A human being can obtain a higher degree whilst simultaneously drawing a pension. A middle aged or elderly dog can learn equally well.

It is undoubtedly true that a puppy is usually very trainable. Alongside the training of a puppy an owner must also tend to the socialization needs of their dog.

Many adult dogs are re-homed or rescued every day. Each of these dogs will learn to cope and interact within their new home. Many settle with few problems. Even if no tricks are taught or formal obedience learned, the new owner is training an older dog.

Military and some assistance dogs are all trained as adult donated or rescued dogs. The learning process often begins late in life for them.

If a hearing dog moves from one deaf recipient to a different one in latter canine years he will learn new things. Each hearing dog is catered to a particular recipient therefore new sounds have to be learned. Using the motivational technique of reward based training the older dog usually learns quickly and easily.

Training an older dog – The benefits

There are great benefits to training an older dog. Learning can help focus your dog’s thoughts, mentally stimulate him and help to slow any onset of confusion or dementia. Training will make your dog mentally happy and healthy regardless of his age.

Training an older dog can be a culture shock for both of you. It can be harder if you have lived with the dog for a long time. Asking your dog to do something out of the ordinary can come as a surprise. The dog will usually enjoy the change of routine and individual attention very much.


As with all dog training regardless of the age of dog, positive and reward based methods will get the best result. Motivation is sometimes more effective for an under stimulated older dog than a young keen puppy.

Work out what best motivates your dog. If he has received no training for some time or is a new dog to you then this can take a while.

You will see when your dog is motivated by something by his behavior when the thing is produced. His eyes will light up, tail will wag and he may become physically excited and attempt to take the rewarding item from you.

Treats are a regularly used motivator. If you are considering treats for motivation it is worth starting by experimenting with the less tasty end of the scale. By doing this you will leave yourself with the option of a further and more motivational reward later on.

Toys are another good option. If your dog likes toys then find a great one that he prefers. Only get the special toy out during training times. Put the toy away at the end of each training session whilst your dog is still excited by it.

Physical praise and handling is all some dogs need for motivation.

Training an older dog that has not learned anything new for a while means that you must put some effort into motivation. A dog that is in the habit of settling down and staying in routine for many years may not be keen to change this.

Clicker Training

Clicker training is a fabulous activity for dogs of any age. It is also great fun for a handler. Watching a dog that you have known for a long time display new facial expressions, whilst they learn, is wonderful. Clicker training provides an “I am working this out” look. It builds confidence and makes dog training fascinating and fun.

Bad Habits

Training an older dog that has established bad habits can be difficult. Removing unhelpful habitual behavior and replacing it with something more useful usually calls for an approach of ignore the bad and reward the good. The dog needs to learn to offer a different behavior to the unhelpful one.

By completely ignoring any unhelpful behavior you remove attention away from the dog. If the behavior is to seek attention your dog will not receive his reward until he offers a different behavior. If the better behavior is not automatically offered then it should be quietly prompted.  This is an approach that works well when training an older dog.

Human benefits

Local dog training classes are not all full of puppies. Many providers offer specific sessions that include training an older dog. Training classes are fun and social.

Stimulating your dog and working out how to help him learn is great for the human mind too. Research on positive dog training will open up a new world to you. You will certainly wonder why you didn’t teach your old dog new tricks before.

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  • ruby leuty says:

    My name is ruby and i recently adopted a shelter dog that is about 3 years old. She seems to have had some basic training. She knows to “sit” and is house broken about 98% of the time. She loves to fetch a ball almost to the point of obsession. Also loves tug of war. She is very fast. For that reason i think she would enjoy and benefit from learning some tricks to stimulate her playful side and to take her mind off the ball so much. She needs her ball all the time. She will play tug of war as long as you can distract her from the ball but leaving it where she can see it. She is like linus with his security blanket in the “PEANUTS” cartoons.

    I am very interested in classes to teach her some skills such as catching a frisbee, running an obstacle course, etc. She can catch a ball if its thrown or bounced consistently and i am far from being consistent.

    I will appreciate it if you could point me in the direction to accomplish our goal. I don’t expect her to compete in agility shows or anything like that, just want to stimulate her while she is young and can enjoy being a dog. “Her name is Lola, she was a show girl” from the song “Coca Cabana” by Barry Manilow.’

  • Jean Cote says:

    Hi. Thank you for your comment. I am not sure exactly what your goal is, it sounds like you are trying to mentally stimulate her by getting her to do tricks and stuff. Which is great! But I think your dog would thrive in tricks that are also physically challenging.

    Once you’ve mastered the basics of positive reinforcement training, you can even download my free eBook to learn all about it (The Power of Positive Reinforcement), then you can start to think outside the box…

    Think of everything as an opportunity to train your dog and challenge your dog’s problem solving skills. For example, when I go for a walk with my dogs, I bring them to the school by my home. And then I trained them to run across the parking lot, and put her front two paws on the brick and run back to me.

    Or running and going around the basketball pole/net. 🙂 Just be creative, I’m sure that you will find all sorts of cool tricks that you can teach your dog.

    As for the Frisbee, try using the soft pink & green ones so that you can tug and feels more like a toy.

  • Amber says:

    Hi and thanks so much for posting!! I have a new 2-year-old husky/German shepherd. She is very friendly towards me and my family, but she gets aggressive towards other dogs and jumps up on people when she meets them. How do I train her not to do this without getting a lawsuit (if ignoring her is the solution)? I’ve heard that to train dogs not to jump up, you just turn away from the dog, (ie. ignoring her), I could try this, but the socialization with other dogs, I’m just not sure how to ease her into.

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