Having an old dog is bittersweet: lovely, wonderful, and sad. It doesn't matter if he came into your life as a wriggling puppy, an adult, or even an old friend from the pound - the white muzzle and cloudy eyes always come too soon.
Since old dogs do seem to slow down (they love a good snooze, don't they?), can they still be trained to do new tricks?
And furthermore - should they be?
Why train at all?
Sometimes we need our dogs to change their behaviour just to keep the peace. They're jumping on us, or dragging us around by leash ...so before we pull out our hair, we pull out the training manual and a pile of treats. But often old dogs are, well, behaving! We've long ago reached a point where the family just works.
Old dog, new trick?
Old dogs can absolutely learn new tricks, and are just as much fun to train as young dogs. Research shows that it's a good thing to keep our old dog's brains engaged - and training is very much a brain game. It's healthy for their brains and bodies. Let's do it!
How to train an old dog.
Luckily, training an old dog is no harder than training a young dog. First, you need to get your dog wanting to work - this usually means skipping a meal and having a bowl of healthy but delicious treats. He may have worked for a ball toss as a young guy, but that's just not a paycheque anymore. Second, you need a plan: what trick are you training? The trick should be one he can still comfortably do with aging joints. Get your paws on a great training guide (one which uses treats and sets realistic, step-by-step goals - shop for books by Jean Donaldson, Pat Miller, or other reinforcement trainers). Third, have fun. He loves learning and earning that special snack. Keep your sessions as short as you want, but no longer than the point when he doesn't care about your treats.
You may just find a new twinkle in his eye.