Yes, you can teach old [we like to call them senior] dogs new tricks. However, while creating a training schedule bear in mind your senior dog’s physical and mental abilities. If you’ve an arthritic dog don’t expect them to jump high bars or obstacles. Sometimes you may have to adjust the way you communicate with your senior dogs, because some may not be able to see your hand gestures clearly. While some may not be able to hear your verbal cues if their hearing is compromised. Find out what really motivates your dog and use it to reward them. Importantly, remember positivity and patience are crucial while training any dog.
We spoke with Dubai-based trainer Enric Girones to understand what training senior dogs entails.
Is it a myth that adult/senior dogs are untrainable?
Enric: It is a myth. Dogs have the capability to learn regardless of their age but, more importantly, depending on their previous experiences. On the one hand, there are some adult dogs who are more capable to learn than younger ones due to their good training foundation when they were young. On the other hand, some younger dogs might find it difficult to trust people due to not-so-pleasant prior experiences. Regardless on the case, there is no reason to not put efforts on helping them. However, we need to have realistic expectations and start from there.
Currently my wife Anna [who is also a trainer] and I are training husbandry and conducting medical training with adult dogs (apart from other things). Adult dogs often need regular treatment and examinations, helping them to cooperate with humans to accept these procedures make the daily routine easier and stress-free. Some examples are using nebulizer, blood drawing, injections, body examination etc. In some cases, adult dogs have had previous bad experiences making these procedures become more challenging. It is advisable to start training when the dogs are young, but it may not always be possible.
What is the most important thing to remember while training a senior dog? Especially if the dog has had prior traumatic experience(s)?
Enric: The most important aspect is to understand the dog. Remember that every dog is different and that every dog has had different experiences as well. Each dog is unique. We need to get as much information as possible about previous history, likes, dislikes and so on. However, we can’t only rely on this information, we need to keep checking and studying the dog to get to know more.
For example, if a dog has had prior traumatic experiences, it gives us a lot of information and allows us to create a training plan accordingly. The last thing you want to do is put the dog in a position in which he/she feels uncomfortable. Instead, we need to build trust and take it one step at a time. We will eventually get there. But it is important to reach the desired goal by making sure that you are following the correct steps and that the dog is having a positive outcome from every single interaction. In other words, we must be consistent while training and have patience.
What are some challenges that pet parents must be aware of while training senior dogs?
Enric: I’d probably say that the most challenging part for some people is to accept the dog with his/her own experiences, likes and dislikes. Training a dog does not mean changing the dog to behave the way we want. Training means teaching and we need to teach them considering their previous history. Even though we can do some counterconditioning, we shouldn’t expect to counter-condition their whole life.