Raleigh Dog Training Myth: Teaching Older Dogs is Too Difficult or Impossible
Since I was a boy, I always heard that tired, obsolete phrase: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks! When I became a professional dog trainer and started my business here in Raleigh, North Carolina, I’ve had that saying brought up to me by clients and even random strangers that happen to see my Sally Said So! logo on my shirt or car. Following that, I typically get the inquiring raised eyebrow look, and the serious question: “Do you believe that’s true?”
And all I can reply is, “No way, no HOW!” In fact, I think it is unfair to discredit older dogs like that! That’s like saying all small dogs are supposed to be yappy and prone to nipping just because of their size and “natural” proclivity to fear-based behavior. With older dogs, some of my best clients were dogs peaking in their middle age (doggy years, of course!), and some of my easiest cases were the canine “senior citizens”. This is not to say that training an older dog is always a piece of cake, but they should be given the same chance that the young bucks receive.
In the end, age really has little to do with it. Examining the phrase, You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, it clearly serves as a metaphor, not a literal interpretation. It is synonymous with the motto, Old/Bad habits die hard, which is normally employed to humans, but it is applicable to any creature with the will to dominate and lead. Honestly, I end up bringing up the habits motto during my training sessions. Most of the time though, it is not directed to the dogs, but the clients!
When I begin training with a client and their dog, I always find the first lesson to be the most interesting and rewarding. It is also often the most difficult, because both owner and dog are adopting a brand new regimen and are now committed to utilizing the training structure as part of their daily life. Their previous routines are tweaked, and maybe some feel like they are stepping out of their normal comfort zone. But from beginning to end, I always ensure the clients that as a commitment-based dog trainer, I am there with them every step toward the success we are all seeking.
From something as simple as how to properly hold a leash to administering effective, timed reward and commands, there will usually be a little bit of stumbling in the beginning stages of training. Sometimes clients become natural handlers of their dog in the first lesson, and at times, there are some who finally are comfortable with everything much later on. This has nothing to do with the client’s age though, nor their gender, background, whatever. Every person is an individual that works at their own pace, learns in their own manner, and a lot of times, it IS about breaking habits they’ve been practicing for many years. It’s the same with the dogs as well!
For instance, I actually had to help a client learn how to praise their dogmore. It sounds silly, but the constant frustration they would build up from their dog’s behavioral problems made them develop the habit of constantly using negative punishments, such as yelling “No! Bad dog!” or spraying water in the dog’s face. This client was so used to the dog’s inappropriate behavior that when the dog did behave, the owner would hardly recognize or notice it! With this client, I showed the beauty of balanced dog training and how rewarding the dog can bring rewarding results for everyone! Not only is the dog learning to behave better, but the bond between dog and owner has grown tremendously. Oh, and how old was this dog? A whopping twelve years! The dog was not “too old” to be unteachable; the dog simply needed to have their bad habits be broken down and shown alternatives where the dog can succeed and experience reward and less anxiety! Empowering the owner with necessary information and tools brought more trust and confidence to the dog, and they were both able move forward and reach their training goals!
No dog is too old for training. If there are health issues or disabilities at hand, I always take that into account and consult both owner and veterinarianbefore commencing any training. Still, neither being a puppy or reaching doggy retirement age does not mean learning positive behavioral changes is impossible. Every dog, no matter what age, deserves patience, commitment, and a consistent reward-based training protocol. With those elements present, success can happen, and speaking frommy thousands of individual experienceswith clients, I’ve seen it and can help YOU make it happen for your dog! If you have any questions about my training program and are interested in scheduling an initial consultation, please give me a call at 919-427-4775! Our door is always open to you and your furry family, young or elderly!