Training Tips: Can You Teach An Old Dog New Tricks?

Posted by Amber King
Sweet Old Hunting Dog

It's time to forget everything society has taught you about old dogs.

Voices throughout the pet world all agree the old saying, "you can't teach old dogs new tricks," is flat-out wrong. It turns out that older dogs may actually be easier to train than puppies, simply because they're able to focus for longer amounts of time.

Even a senior pooch who's had no prior training has potential to catch on quickly to new commands and tricks. In most cases, senior dogs are willing to learn and shouldn't be counted out only because of their age.

Here are a few tips for teaching your old dog new tricks.

Get Yourself Ready


So you've recently adopted an older dog, and you're ready to start training. Before you get started, you need to make sure you're up for the task. Your success will depend on having three main things: treats, time, and patience.

Motivating your dog with tasty treats is one of the most effective training methods. But you don't want to pay minimum wage. If you want to encourage your dog to meet all your training goals, invest in quality treats that are guaranteed to grab her attention.

Proper motivation is important, but you could have a full t-bone steak at your disposal and still fail at training if you don't have the time or patience to do it right. Dog training, regardless of the age of the dog, is a commitment. You can't force it, and you can't expect a senior dog to automatically understand what you want.

Discover Your Dog's Training History

senior labrador retriever

If you've had your dog since he was a puppy, you already know his training history. You know what worked in the past, and the odds are good that those same methods will work again in this later stage of life. But if you've recently adopted an older dog from the shelter, learning their training history may be impossible. And they might not even have a training history.

Try giving your dog different basic commands, like sit and lay down, to gauge where they're at. If they stare at you with blank misunderstanding, you'll likely have to start from scratch.

Believe in Positive Reinforcement

small dog walking on leash

Positive reinforcement is a training method using rewards to steer your dog toward a desired behavior. Instead of punishing your dog when he does something bad, you throw him a treat or shower him with praise when he does something good.

Dogs respond to this positive attention, and they'll repeat the action in hopes of receiving the same outcome. This strategy has been especially effective when training older dogs with unknown histories. Dogs that have been abused or neglected rarely respond well to punishment-based training.

Short and Focused Training Sessions

german shepherd in crate

Older dogs have longer attention spans than puppies, but shorter training sessions are still best. They tire more quickly and may still get bored by doing the same thing over and over again. Try training in ten-minute bursts multiple times throughout the day. If your dog starts showing signs of exhaustion, like yawning, drooping ears, or excessive lip licking, it's time for a break.

You also don't want to overwhelm him by teaching too many tricks at once. It's tempting to try and "catch up" an older dog, but too much too soon will only result in their confusion and your frustration. Start with the basics, and don't add anything else until they've made progress with the first trick.

Recognize Their Limitations

dog running through field

It's extremely possible for an old dog to learn commands such as "sit," "lay down," and "heel," but don't expect your senior pooch to be turning flips in your living room. His mind is still there, but he doesn't have that youthful energy he did when he was a puppy.

If you plan on teaching your older dog more advanced, physically demanding tricks, it's important to first check with your vet. Older dogs are more prone to injuries, and you could end up ruining the experience for both you and your dog.

The most important thing to remember when teaching an old dog new tricks is that it won't happen over night--but it will happen. Research shows it takes up to four weeks for a dog to fully learn a new command. Commit to a regular training schedule, and give your dog the chance to learn at his own pace.

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Training Tips: Can You Teach An Old Dog New Tricks?