My Dog & I: Old Dogs, New Tricks

One of my favorite questions is “Is my dog too old to train?”

I love this question because there is nothing more fun than making a positive change in the dog world. Working with a dog that already has some years always teaches me something.

I am sure that any continuing education teacher will tell you about how much the mature student has to offer. He has some life experience, is aware of the basic expectations of his society and his character is pretty much formed. “What you see is what you get..”(to start with). The relationship between an older student and his teacher is geared towards working as a team.

Instead of your schooling being formative, it becomes informative. And instead of establishing behaviors, you are very often redirecting established behaviors.

Now, this requires a different approach to your canine student. A puppy will often simply say “yes” to your teaching whereas an older dog may ask “why?” An older dog, therefore, is a “harder sell” and will force you to use your wits, your charm and your patience… I am very persevering and will try to make something happen until long after many people have packed up and gone home…BUT I am not good at s-l-o-w-l-y and so working at a more measured pace is hard for me.

Working with older dogs helps me slow down, use my brain and become more creative…In short, they help me become a better trainer.

So it was with great delight that I recently journeyed to Massachusetts to work with THREE of them!!

An old friend had recently been “gifted” her dear friend’s two older Irish Terriers. As she was already the proud Mom of her own “Irish” and this was a fairly big change in her pack dynamics, I was asked to assist in the assimilation of the new additions.

Her own dog was already 10 years old and was quite comfortable being the only child, thank you. The newly arrived “brother” and “sister” were 10 and 12 respectively, a venerable pair who had been accustomed to a fairly sedentary life with few expectations. Suddenly, we are a “family” Let the “training” begin!!

We began with my favorite training tool, going for walks using a long line. This allows everyone to feel as though they are “on a journey” together and encourages a “pack” comraderie. Everyone went out together with the “new guys” on long leashes until they could be trusted not to take off on their own missions! My friend’s dog was already trained to the Remote Collar and had really good leash manners so we allowed her to “lead the way” until we remembered that one of her favorite things to do was run the geese off the fields!! Not such a bad thing with one dog and easy to interrupt with the remote but when you have three…well, you get the picture. It’s a PACK!

Back to the drawing board and lets get the leader back into the fold…

Over the week that I was there we gradually worked on the issues that presented themselves from door crowding, eating together, walking in Town on leash together, recall obedience and paw-wiping at the door. The events that occur were never what we expected and problems we anticipated refused to surface.

Each member of the pack (including Mom) had to constantly evaluate and reconsider their actions and attitudes and all members had to rethink their established patterns, including ME!!

I had to approach each pack member (including Mom) with some tact and sensitivity and be VERY considered about the pace, timing and abilities of all, (including ME!!)

I had to work with each student one at a time and at a different pace. The oldest boy needed me to be very clear and consistent but implacable The newest girl needed lots of encouragement and reward for confidence building and the “only child” needed to have some new challenges and skills to keep her interest and help her feel part of the program.

Mom had become accustomed to her habits too and although eager to make changes, found it a bit sticky to shift gears sometimes! My goodness, what an experience! How lucky I was to have such a learning opportunity!

So yes, your dog can learn new tricks at any age…BUT be prepared to learn a few new tricks yourself as you help them reshape their lives and remember to approach the training as a joint venture.

– Janine Lazarus, HashtagWV #99. March 2018. Follow Janine on instagram @goodladd_dogtraining and hire her at!

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