Reader Q & A: Are Older Dogs More Difficult to Train?

Thanks to those of you who are submitting questions. It takes time to get to them all so I’ll just start with a couple of recent inquiries:

Is it more difficult to train an older dog?
It depends. In traditional training, most trainers prefer to start dogs after they are about six months of age. This is for a few reasons. Dogs that are older have a better attention span, these dogs are usually settled into the household and have completed their vaccination schedule. The animals are usually neutered by this time as well.

In my view, that is an older dog and I prefer to start training pets the moment they arrive in the new home for a multitude of reasons which I’ll get into in a minute.

Dogs that are older have established patterns of behavior and many behavior problems are really solidly entrenched. Having said that, you really can train a old dog new tricks–but you often have to untrain bad habits and retrain the owners…which is the hard part!

The oldest dog I remember having in one of my group programs was a bassett hound at the ripe age of 12 years! She learned but moved in slow motion–as any species ages the reflexes and responses slow down. It took her a bit longer to process things and she moved in slower motion than her classmates but she still learned and it was a pleasure to have the whole family participate and to illustrate that it is never too late to get good behavior or to train basic manners or obedience.

Personally, I think every animal should be enrolled in school because it is mentally stimulating and teaches them the rules for successful living in a human environment. Plus, good manners allows animals to experience a fuller life–one with travel, dog and human friends, and a variety of environmental enrichment opportunities.

This year I have focused on teach Pet Parenting courses. Puppy training is easier in most instances but harder because puppies have the attention span of a gnat. So the training is vastly different than working with an adolescent or older animal.

However the perks in training a young animal is that it is very positive and nips the behavior problems in the bud (no pun intended…) and so life within the household is pleasurable instead of a pain.

In early pet parenting classes the young critters learn not to nip, to chew only on appropriate items, house training and toileting is not a problem that ruins the carpet or flooring, and other behavior such as jumping, excessive barking, not coming when called, or dashing through doors or gates just don’t become issues–because the young animal learns what is required.

So, you can train an older dog but the only reason it is difficult is because you have to retrain owners (who have to practice those changes for 30-60 day to form new habits) and extinguish bad behavior. It is a matter of perspective–personally my answer is no–but I’ve been training a long, long time. For you, the answer is probably yes…but give it a shot, the results are worth it!

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