Many people believe that it’s next to impossible to train an older pet to do…well, pretty much anything. Is there any truth to the old adage “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks?” Positive-reinforcement trainer Laurie Luck, owner of Smart Dog University, took a few moments to share some insights on working with more mature pets.
“It’s not harder at all to teach an older dog, as long as you’re training a new behavior,” Laurie says. “If you’re trying to un-train a bad habit and then train a new one, it will definitely take longer. But dogs are capable of learning at any age.”
While working with older dogs, keep in mind they may have some physical limitations (such as hearing or vision loss, or arthritis) that make training more of a challenge. It’s best to train the word along with a hand signal, and to train on a non-slip surface like a mat or carpet. Shorter sessions are best, because more senior dogs may not have the physical endurance that a young dog does. If the dog doesn’t have any previous training, he or she needs to “learn how to learn” before training can progress. The easiest way to do this is to start with a simple command like “focus” or “touch.” Finally, cut back on Rover’s regular rations if using food to train; less active
pets can pack on the pounds quickly if too many extra calories become part of their diets.
On the flip side, there are a lot of great advantages to training an older dog! Their attention spans are much longer than that of puppies, and they are less distractable. Going into training with a senior dog also means knowing their likes, dislikes, and triggers. For example, is this a food-motivated dog? Or does a favorite toy work better as a reward? The best benefit of all, though, is that “training an older dog is really a kindness,” Laurie shared. “Physically, maybe they can’t go for walks anymore, but they can definitely use their brains!”
Cat lovers, take note—it’s absolutely possible to train cats, too! Cats are just as smart as dogs are, but they tend to not be as motivated to please or to respond to commands as are their canine counterparts. A favorite treat or even catnip can be a reward. For some cats, pieces of dry cat food work well too. Cats can be taught to sit, speak, come when called, and even fetch! The Humane Society of the US has some great beginner’s advice on training cats here.
Laurie Luck completed the Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training and Behavior. The academy is, according to a company statement, “An innovative institution committed to educating, certifying and promoting the next generation of animal trainers.”
Luck, who holds a master’s degree in psychology from George Mason University, has become a faculty member of the academy, skilled both as a trainer and teacher.
Luck founded Smart Dog University in 2001 to help owners improve their dogs behavior.
She served as president of the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, is a Delta Certified Pet Partner and offers community outreach through Your Dog’s Friend and Reading Education Assistant Dogs.
Luck’s experience as a KPA student provides unique insight to the curriculum she teaches as a faculty member, she said.
“I’ve had firsthand experience with every piece of material — every video, every assignment, every facet of the course — from the student’s perspective,” she said. “I’ve had to teach my dog everything the students have to teach their dogs. So my frustrations and successes will aid me in my approach to teaching the material. I can share my successful trials (and my not-so-successful trials) with students, showing that I’ve been in their shoes, that I’ve experienced similar thrills and frustrations — and that I made it.” Frederick News Post