We all know the saying: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But yes… yes, you can. And furthermore, you should. Training your older dog is important for a lot of reasons, but let me emphasize: training your dog at all phases of life is equally as important. We’re just talking older dogs here because that is the subset that people make negative assumptions about.

Did you know that older dogs can still even compete? Check out this video.

So please, get on the older dog training bandwagon and quick!

So why should you be training your older dog?

For one, it’s a great way to spend time with them and give them the socializing that they need and want. Sometimes as our pets get older, they get quieter, and we, too, get a bit quieter in our interactions with them. We see them sleeping more and don’t bother to wake them for play. Having them on a training schedule is great for both of you.

Second, it’s good for their minds. Just like humans, older dogs can develop dementias. The more we stimulate their minds, the better for their mental health.

Third, it’s obviously good for them physically. The less active they are, the more likely they are to develop arthritis and other chronic diseases. Keep them moving.

Fourth, dogs like to feel like they have purpose. Most of them love that sense of having a job. Again, this will help with their mental health and overall happiness as they get older.

What should you take into consideration when training your older dog?

The most obvious thing that comes to mind is their physical health. Where are they at currently? If they already have arthritis, for example, then teaching them tricks that involve jumping is not a great idea.

If you’re confused about what you can and can’t do when training your older dog, make an appointment with your vet to get clear on their current health and challenges, and then create a plan for training that takes all of that into account.

If you have adopted an older dog, you might not know their full history and what they already know or can do. Take some time to figure this out. Can you tell what training they’ve already had? Perhaps take them to a professional trainer if you don’t feel like you can assess this. (Check out our approach to dog training at Sundance Retrievers.)

Some tips for training your older dog

Training an older dog is like training any dog but there are some slight adjustments that can be made to make it more enjoyable and fruitful for both of you.

  • Keep your training sessions shorter. Your older dog might get physically tired faster but they also might not have the attention span they once did.
  • Keep things positive (of course) and make sure you come to the training with an extra dose of patience because everything will likely be slower.
  • It’s always recommended that you break training tasks into small parts, but for your older dog, think even smaller.
  • Likely you know your older dog well if you have had them since they were a puppy so figuring out what motivates them should be easier than with a puppy.
  • Your older dog also has a pretty set personality at this point so consider that when you’re thinking about what you’ll train them to do. Older dogs, like older humans, can be stubborn.
  • If your older dog has some bad habits, it’s never too late to train them out of those bad habits.
  • Train in quiet places. Your older dog might be extra sensitive to sounds and therefore more distractible, or they might have hearing issues and too much ambient sound will be a problem.

Dogs and humans are alike in so many ways and this is definitely one of them. We should be lifelong learners and so should they.