Training a Senior Dog

  • Be mindful of what will set the dog up to succeed
  • Be aware of your dog’s physical abilities and adapt
  • Get creative and tweak your old tricks and cues

Training should be a part of your dog’s life, no matter its age. It is important to be mindful of your dog’s cognitive and physical abilities throughout its life, especially when you are training your dog.

Always take into consideration your dog’s age, as well as traits that are part of each life cycle. Puppyhood, adolescence, adulthood and the senior years each come with their own unique challenges.

With a senior dog, you will want to be mindful of issues like arthritis, deteriorating eye sight, a decline in the ability to hear, and so on.  When training a puppy, take into consideration that it may not be able to hold a “watch me” or pay attention for as long as an older dog; puppies can also experience growing pains so that is also something to be aware of.

As with humans, a dog’s body will change with age. These changes can be small and easily managed or they could be very apparent and require you to adapt.

Having a senior dog at home, I have noticed he’s not as comfortable performing some cues and tricks as he once was. It would be unfair for me to ask him to perform the number of “sits” and “downs” that I might ask of a younger dog.

You can poison a cue, or at the very least create a negative association/hesitation, if you drill a senior dog with arthritis/mobility issues on certain cues because if overdone they can cause pain and discomfort.

Be mindful of what you ask of your dog at any age. Sometimes repeatedly sitting on cue can be painful, especially if it has been over-drilled but also if it is new for the dog. The second scenario is like if you just started a workout regime and did 100 squats – you’d be sore, right?

Holding a long sit-stay may be painful for a dog with arthritis, adjust and instead cue a settled “down-stay”. There is always a way to modify a trick or cue to ensure that the dog is comfortable.

This brings about the opportunity to work on new cues/tricks. With a senior dog you have the option to play games of “find it”, work on the “touch” cue, a longer duration “down-stay” and other cues that are not as physically demanding. Recently he learned the “wave” cue, which is as cute as it sounds! He’s also to using his sense of smell as nature intended to play “find it!”.

Don’t stop working with your dog just because of age and/or mobility issues. Having your dog use his brain will help keep him sharp and is always a positive bonding experience. Challenge yourself to get creative and find new ways to engage your dog.

Older dogs need mental and physical stimulation just as much as younger dogs, it may just require some tweaking to your old routine/repertoire of tricks. You can always teach an old dog new tricks – and your dog will thank you for it!

© Kate Godfrey 2018, ABDCT-L1,