Can You Teach An Old Dog New Tricks? No More Kidding!

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For a long time, there goes around an old saying that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” to denote the unwillingness to take up new skills during old ages. However, it stands baseless that senior dogs are incapable of learning new behaviors or they cannot be trained anymore after reaching a specific range of age.

Provided that a dog is healthy and active enough, there is nothing standing in their way. When it comes to training, older dogs might even prove quicker on the uptake in comparison with puppies. For the clearer answer to the question “can you teach an old dog new tricks?”, keep reading!

Why Is It More Difficult To Train Senior Dogs Than Puppies?

It is understandable that training a senior dog requires a greater amount of time and effort than training a younger one. After years of familiarity with old habits, getting out of them is the first and foremost thing to do before adapting to new ones. Therefore, it costs trainers a little more patience to deal with old dogs. Nevertheless, they turn out easier to train in terms of their greater ability of concentration and calmness.

According to a three-year research on border collies at Vienna University, older dogs show a more impressive performance of logic skills upon being taught new tricks. Because they are stuck with what they have learned, they tend to do better on tasks using exclusion and inferential reasoning abilities. These skills are even proved to stand the test of time, leading to the conclusion that there exists no profound age-related differences in dogs’ long-term memory.

Most Important Tips For Helping You Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

It should be unchangingly born in mind that tried-and-true treats and reward systems are the best ways of training a dog with no exception of senior ones. Make sure you are wholeheartedly devoted to the task of training because your success will be attributed to your level of patience and allocation of time. Moreover, using quality treats, especially dog treats specially made for training, are highly advisable to enhance efficiency.

Find Out Your Dog’s Training Background

If you raise a dog since he was a puppy, no wonder you fully understand what methods of training work best for him. On the other hand, in case you have just adopted an old dog, you will possibly find it difficult to figure out their training history and everything will have to start afresh.

Make Use of Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is a training method of orientation your dog to the targeted behavior by using rewards instead of penalties. In particular, you will give your dog a good treat (meaning you’re paying compliments to him) each time he does something good rather than punishing for his wrongdoings. Food treats aren’t necessarily handed out after every successful try, indeed treats given on a random and frequent basis are likely to bring about more encouraging impacts.

Such act of consideration is reportedly inclined to provoke positive responses out of dogs, followed by their repetitive patterns of behavior in the hope of similar treatment. This method takes greater effect when applied to older dogs with unknown training history.

Whereas, training based on punishments won’t work on them, especially dogs being exposed to abuse or neglecting for a long period of time. Things may even get worse when dogs become increasingly aggressive under harsh treatment.

One important note is to make sure the treat is always in good condition. So, a good dog treat pouch is a must for proper storage.

Focus on Short-Term Training Sessions

Despite the greater ability of concentration than puppies, senior dogs tend to easily get sick and tired of repeating the same training exercises over the time. At the sight of their exhaustion including yawning, drooping ears and lip licking, you had better stop for a while to let them recharge their energy for the next training.

It may be too much for pooches to pick up many tricks at the same time. Therefore, you should divide the training program into separate steps and draw up a detailed schedule outlining each day’s training exercises. Start with basic skills and then move on to more challenging ones after progress is made.

Realize Their Shortcomings

Like human beings, dogs’ bodies are susceptible to deterioration when they reach a certain age. Arthritis and dementia, also known as Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome, are two common diseases which can adversely affect their ability of moving and memory respectively. Personality changes, signs of disorientation and confusion are also easily detected in dogs diagnosed with these illnesses.

Thus, it is imperative that you turn to a vet for consultation to help decide whether to continue with physically demanding tricks or not. Dog bones tend to get weaker as time passes by, so they may encounter with pitiful injuries during the course of training. Some dental issues also impose limitations on their capability to carry out tricks with using mouths involved.

In addition, changes inevitably take time, so there is no point in pushing your dogs to learn a new trick quickly. Normally, a dog needs around four weeks to master a new command. As a result, you are required to remain patient enough to follow your pets until they can actively respond to your commands.

Suggested Tricks

On the basis of each dog’s natural instincts and physical strengths, you can start training from fundamental obedience commands to chains of commands.

Basic Tricks

These include sitting, touching hands, yawning and jumping over a fence. More challengingly, you can consider teaching your dogs to put things away, fetching objects by hearing names, walking backward, ringing a bell to go out and even opening the door by themselves. These exercises are designed to train their mental and physical agility without demanding much effort.

For example, you can create a game for your dog to play in exchange for rewards by using his nose. This little game is particularly suitable for those with hearing or visual impairments as a result of aging process. Through this activity, they are taught to use their noses following scents to seek hidden items. If your dog is in the list of dogs with the best sense of smell, he will really enjoy this game!

Chaining Commands

After having done with basics, you can go on to combine a few tricks to teach your dogs.

For example, in order to shake a paw, your dogs need to learn to come, sit and then do the trick. Upon giving the command, you should tenderly lift the paw and at the same time speak out complimentary words. After putting the paw down, it is advisable that you give out the treat right away, which serves as an instant acknowledgment of the dogs’ effort. Clickers can come in handy as a means of auditory feedback for the dog to continue with the trick the next time.

From the beginning, remember to bend your body downwards to keep the distance short enough for the dog to lift up his paw. After many times of practice, the dog will learn to raise his paw higher to touch your hand once you give out a similar command.


On contrary to common knowledge, the majority of old dogs can still learn new things as young generations although it takes longer time periods until they master a brand new trick. As long as you are willing to invest your time and patience, nothing is impossible.

Interestingly, constant exposure to thrilling activities is likely to lengthen your dog’s life expectancy as well as health span. A dog which is kept occupied with learning all the time tends to stay mentally active with strong agility for a very long time.

Therefore, you ought to pay greater attention to training your senior pets regardless of their age.

So, “can you teach an old dog new tricks?” You now know the answer. Good luck with your training!

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