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How to Train Your Dog -- From Pup to Senior Dog and Everything in Between!

Rebecca Desfosse
Aug. 13, 2015

Don't believe the old cliche about teaching an old dog new tricks. It CAN be done! Here are 10 expert tips for training a dog of any age.

"Sit." "Stay." "Come!" Does your dog know these simple actions? If not, you may want to know how to train your dog but are avoiding the task because you think it's next to impossible. Not to worry, dog training experts say. You can teach your dog new tricks whether he's a pup or a senior dog. The truth is no dog is ever too old to learn new tricks -- it's even beneficial for your pet to learn something new.

"Learning new things requires a dog to use his brain to solve a problem successfully," says Matt Tuzzo, owner of Jersey Shore Dogs, a provider of dog training services. "This success not only leads to the dog learning a new behavior, but also improves his state of mind by building confidence and lowering stress." With that in mind, here are tips for how to train your dog at any age:

  1. Begin Each Training Session With Play
    Puppies and young dogs can be full of zest and short on attention. Instead of starting a training session when he's bursting with energy, spend some time playing with him first. This will help get the session off to a good start because he's already in a playful mood. "At that point, he is already asking to engage with you, so take that opportunity to start something new," says Amy Robinson, a certified dog trainer.
  2. Do It Slowly
    Dogs of any age can get overwhelmed, so don't expect too much from your dog all at once. Start off by breaking your training sessions into short bursts that leave your dog wanting more. Also, learn to spot the signs that your dog has had enough. "Look out for signs of avoidance," says Robinson, "like if the dog turns his head away or does a displacement behavior, such as scratching his ear. He may be confused and just hoping you give it up already." If you see any of these behaviors, hold off training for another time.
  3. Have Patience
    As your dog gets older, you'll find that it's more time consuming than training a puppy. "Patience, patience and more patience is what is required in training an older dog," says Dianna Young, coauthor of THINK Like Your DOG -- And Enjoy the Rewards. Your dog may be more resistant to learning new behaviors and changing old habits. Don't give up if he doesn't catch on right away -- the reward will be more than worth it.
  4. Be Consistent
    Consistency is the key to success when training your dog. Being consistent means using the same cues and enforcing the same rules all the time. Make a plan and stick to it. Also, ensure that all your family members are on the same page so that your pooch doesn't receive mixed messages.
  5. Ramp Up the Praise
    Whenever your puppy or dog does something good -- like learns a new trick or comes when called -- reward her with positive reinforcement, such as a tasty treat or plenty of praise. Likewise, when you end each training session, lather on the attention so she will show up at the next session excited and ready to learn.
  6. Be Generous with Rewards
    You might find that your dog isn't all that excited about learning new tricks, but don't let that stop you. "If motivation is a problem, try working with higher value foods and rewards," says Tuzzo. And if your dog is older, bribery might be the key to success. "Just like with humans, older dogs might require a little more incentive to get up and go." Dig out your dog's favorite treat just for training time.
  7. Watch Out for Health Problems
    Be mindful of any aches or pains that your older dog might have. "While a younger dog might have an easier time sitting or lying down, an older dog with arthritis or inflammation may experience a fair amount of pain doing these behaviors," says Tuzzo. Stick with behaviors that your dog can do comfortably. If you're in doubt, run it past your veterinarian.

Turns out, you can teach and old dog new tricks. "Dogs, like humans, can learn new tricks or behaviors throughout their entire lives," says Tuzzo. Knowing how to train your dog can increase your bond with her and improve her sense of well-being for the rest of her life.


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Rebecca Desfosse is a freelance writer specializing in parenting and family topics.

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