It’s amazing how often I hear dog owners say their dog is old and it’s too late to train them. As a dog trainer, I can tell you how upsetting that is because it’s simply not the case.
There is hope. There is ALWAYS hope. Dogs do change and you certainly can teach an old dog new tricks. However, this is only possible by doing the following steps:
- Accept you are having trouble.
- Find a qualified dog trainer. One you feel good about in your gut.
- Be honest about the dog’s behavior and your limitations (work, time, physical, etc)
- Actually, do the exercises. Bond with your dog.
What Are Some Challenges You Can Expect to Overcome?
Let’s be honest, it’s going to be challenging but that doesn’t mean it will be impossible.
One cause for the challenge when working with dogs that are older arises because longer a behavior (or habit) has been occurring, the harder it is to break.
This means it may take some time. An easy way to offset this is to give the desired behavior a new cue. If your dog was inconsistent with an old cue (or command) then training the behavior to a new cue is often much easier then fixing consistent behavior with the old word.
You’ll want to examine why the dog was not consistent with this old cue before you train a new one. Perhaps the dog did not completely understand what you wanted them to do.
The other challenge is finding out the function of the behavior for your dog. B.F. Skinner, the father of applied behavior, taught us that animals only do what works for them.
For example, my dog steals shoes because my 4-year-old and 6-year-old children chase him to get the show back. My dog loves a good game of chase, so he’s provoking them to play with him!
Think about when your dog is barking to get a cookie. That often leads your dog to bark to get the cookie as other things that they want.
Since you are not a dog, uncovering the reason behind a dog’s behavior may be tricky. This step is rather important because we cannot change a behavior if it serves the dog in some way. Discussing this with your chosen dog trainer should provide some insight.
Once we understand the function of the behavior, we remove any reward attached to it (the cookie is the reward for barking). Then we can teach an alternate behavior, of course, one that we approve of, to serve the dog. Then barking for a cookie becomes sitting quietly for a cookie.