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Whether you’re adopting an older dog or realizing a long-time family pet needs training, you may be asking yourself, “Is it ever too late to train an older dog?”

Some may think that dogs have a limited timeframe to learn tricks or habits and that, once that window of time passes, they just are what they are. That isn’t true. Dogs of any age can be taught or even retrained entirely. Not only does a training program for your senior pet help you maintain order, but it also keeps them happy and healthy. 

The importance of mental and physical exercise 

Just like with humans, dogs will live longer and be happier with regular mental and physical exercise, and ongoing training is a great way to accomplish both. Dogs like to have a job to do. Humans often take on various odd jobs, projects, or even start entirely new careers after they retire. It’s important to realize that dogs have similar desires in that, just like us, they want to feel useful. Also just like us, mental and physical engagement will keep them healthy and happy, extend their lifespan, and strengthen the owner-pet bond. 

Tips to train an older dog

It’s important to train an older dog (or any pet for that matter) with positive reinforcement. Whether you are trying to stop some bad habits for a long-time furry family member or have just added an older dog to your pack, focus on training methods that reward good behavior rather than those that punish bad behavior. 

Training also requires patience and consistency. Dedicate some time each day to doing training exercises with your older dog, and be patient with them as you work through it. Most dogs learn pretty quickly with consistent practice and positive reinforcement in the form of treats and praise.

Clicker training method

A clicker is just a simple mechanical device that makes a clicking noise, and that noise marks a moment. You can train an older dog with this method by associating the clicking sound (or whatever unique sound you choose) with instant reward. Make the unique sound and then immediately give a treat. Repeat this several times until they begin to associate this sound with good things to come. If your dog has a hearing impairment, use a gentle tap on the shoulder instead.

Once your dog understands the association between noise and reward, start working on basic commands. It’s important to ensure that your dog understands what they are being rewarded for, so timing is extremely important. When you start working on commands like sit, be sure to command/click and then give them the treat while they’re still sitting, so they understand they are being rewarded for that specific action.

The importance of the clicker comes in those moments when it’s difficult to immediately reward their behavior, like when they’re fetching something on the other side of the yard and not close enough for an immediate reward. In these cases, the clicker will act as their signal that a reward is coming. They hear it and will start to anticipate something good, which they then receive as soon as they are close enough to you. 

Regardless of what method or unique sound you use, just remember that it’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks!