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Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks - Six Things You Should Know

More people are adopting older dogs, according to recent news reports and books, but this raises a question: Can you actually train an older dog?

The answer is a resounding yes, in spite of the time-worn cliché that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  So the veterinarians at BluePearl Veterinary Partners encourage dog owners to promote positive mental and physical activity for their dogs at all ages.

“Adults and senior dogs require just as much interaction and stimulation as puppies,” said Dr. Jill Sackman, a BluePearl veterinarian who is a clinician in behavioral medicine. “It’s never too late to enroll your dog in a training class, and it’s never too late to teach an old dog a new trick.”

Here are six things you should know about training an adult or senior dog:

  1. Start with the basic commands, especially if you are training an older dog with an unknown past, such as a rescue dog. Train your dog to “sit,” “lie down” or “stay.” This can help your dog bond with you and integrate into your home. If your dog already knows these commands, move on to others.
  2. Use training tools such as clickers and treats to train older dogs, just as you would with puppies. (See below for more information on these tools.)
  3. Contrary to myth, dogs do retain the capacity to learn even as they age. In fact, older dogs may have a more developed attention span than puppies, which can actually make the training process faster.
  4. Nonetheless, your dog’s cognitive mental health can decline slightly over time. Fight this by keeping your dog’s brain stimulated on a regular basis. Give your dog interactive toys or practice “nose work” – which involves hiding birch, clove or anise scents around your home and rewarding your dog for finding them. (See below for more information on interactive toys and nose work.)
  5. An older dog may have had more time to develop bad habits, and reversing these habits can be challenging – especially if the dog was previously rewarded for them. With consistent training, most behaviors can be corrected. Just keep in mind that it may take extra time and patience.
  6. Keeping your dog in great physical shape can also aid mental health. Take your dogs on walks, play fetch and don’t let them get overweight.

For more detailed information on some of the techniques mentioned above which can be useful in training an adult or senior dog check out:

  • More info on interactive dog toys can be found here.
  • More information on “nose work” can be found here.
  • An article on teaching basic commands to puppies (with techniques that apply to older dogs as well) can be found here.

About BluePearl Veterinary Partners

BluePearl Veterinary Partners is a national provider of emergency and specialty veterinary care. The rapidly growing company currently operates more than 60 hospitals in 21 states. BluePearl hospitals offer specialty care services such as cardiology, neurology and oncology, and most offer 24-hour emergency care. BluePearl’s clinicians use innovative procedures, high-tech equipment and the latest treatment methods to provide remarkable care for pets. BluePearl also participates in clinical trials to study the effectiveness of new drugs and treatments, providing access to medicine that is not yet commercially available. Learn more at

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