Can you train an older dog?
Training an older dog is totally possible, and in some cases might even be easier than training a puppy. Dogs are lifelong learners, and generally speaking they love to please their owners and receive attention. You can leverage these characteristics to train any dog, no matter their age or training background.
The approach you take to training an older dog will vary slightly based on the dog’s breed (if known), background and training experience. We’re going to get into that more in the tips below. But in short, every single dog is capable of being trained, some just might take a little more time and patience than others.
If you’re new to this whole dog owning thing, and recently adopted or rescued an adult or senior dog, you can find tons of great info in the Monster K9 Field Guide for Large Dog Owners. It’s the complete reference guide you need on all things dog (including more in-depth training tips!).
Figure out what your dog already knows
This tip mostly applies to owners who have newly adopted adult or senior dogs. Before you can begin training, you need to figure out what they already know. Pretty quickly you’ll be able to tell if they have general household manners, and if they respond to common commands like sit, down and paw.
Over the first few days, pay attention to their bathroom habits and any cues they might be using to let you know they need to go outside.
If this is an older dog that you’ve had for it’s whole life, it might still be worthwhile to take an assessment of what they know. So many of us drill in basic command training when we first get our dogs and then it kinda falls by the wayside. My own 5 year old lab knew a lot more tricks at one than he does now.
Take account of what they know and remember, then start training them to do new things from there.
Approach training an older dog just like a puppy
If the older dog has recently joined your home and doesn’t seem to have any former training, approach training just like you would a puppy. In fact, the whole process of bringing them home should be a lot like your first day home with your puppy.
Let them have time to get acquainted with their surroundings, and start potty training right away. You should take your dog out regularly and praise them extensively any time they use the bathroom outside to create a connection. If you do see your adult dog go in the house, immediately get them outside. This will all click for your dog quickly if you are consistent!
Beyond house training, you can start working on basic commands right away too using a positive behavior method. You can get detailed info on how to go about this in the Monster K9 Field Guide to Adult Dogs.
Dog Training 101: How to Train ANY DOG the Basics
Ideally dog training starts the day that you bring your new puppy home. It is easiest to show him great behavior and skills right from the start. The less a dog rehearses unwanted behavior such as leash pulling, jumping up on people or running away on walks, the less time you have to spend un-training and re-training the behavior.
But what if time has already passed and you have a now adult dog? Can you teach an old dog new tricks?
There are many reasons why you might not have started training early on. Regardless what the cause is: Its not too late to start now. More than half of the clients’ dogs I see actually are older than one year, with some as old as 8-10 years old.
Some dog owners will also train their puppies in basic obedience and manners and then suddenly experience issues years down the road – such as reactivity that sets in later in life, difficulties in getting along with another dog or having potty accidents.
If you adopted an adult or even senior dog from a rescue, he will likely come with some “baggage”. This does not necessarily mean that he was abused. Every family is different, and every rescue dog had gotten used to a different lifestyle and habits.
Maybe your rescue dog formerly lived with a retired person and now has to stay home while you go to work. This could result in mild separation anxiety or destructiveness. Or your rescue dog had a doggy friend in the same home, and how he is an only dog that is bored.
I have also worked with many adults that got adopted and suddenly lived in a very different environment – such as dogs that come from rural areas and suddenly live in an urban environment, where they cannot roam around, bark excessively or chase cats.
Whatever the reasons are for training your adopted adult dog – know that it is never too late!
If you have big changes happening in your life, you might want to teach new skills to your dog that are suddenly required.
Maybe you have lived in the city so far and have only taken your dog on on-leash walks, and suddenly you move to the country and need him to come when called on a large property. Or you are expecting a baby and need your dog to learn some new, baby-compatible skills – such as quietly settling on a mat while you are changing diapers or walking next to a stroller without pulling.
The older your dog is when your life changes, the more you might wonder: Is it ever too late to start training a dog? But don’t worry – it’s not. You can start training any time, with any dog – whether this is when you bring your puppy home at 8 weeks old or when your dog is already 12 years and needs a new skill.
Many dog owners live with bad habits of their dogs for years. While they are annoyed by a dog who for example tries to steal food off the table any chance he gets or pulls on leash just enough to make walks unpleasant, they do not have the time, nerves and motivation to really do something about it. Only when they finally get fed up with the bad habits of their adult dog, they want to start training.
You would be surprised at how many local dog training clients I have had who come to me to fix behaviors their dogs have shown for years.