Monday, October 14, 2013

"Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks"

It seems like every time I turn around I am being asked questions pertaining to the age of one's dog for training. Questions like, "Is she too young to start training?", "Is she too old to be trained?" Or statements like "You can't teach an old dog new tricks."
It is a misconception about dogs that they can't learn new tricks once they are older but they most certainly can. Every day a dog is learning, regardless of age. It is more ideal to start working and training your dog at a younger age because habits are less formed.

Dogs learn every day whether you directly teach them a trick or interact with them as you go about your day. The thing with a dog who is older is he has had more time to have developed habits. Habits are hard to undo but it can be done. Think of someone who smokes, chews their nails or a kid who sucks his thumb, it takes many weeks or months to break those habits and to redirect the behavior to something else. The longer the habit is exercised the longer the process will be to change it. It takes consistency and patience.
With a puppy we work on preventing unwanted behavior. We work on teaching a puppy bite inhibition, how to sit instead of jumping on us, what are appropriate items to chew on and what are not. If a puppy grows into adolescence not having learned these behaviors at a young age just means you will spend a bit longer working on teaching behaviors that are more desirable. If you don't like the path your dog is on, start now to change the ending.
The same steps for preventing behaviors in puppies can be applied to treating the same behaviors in older dogs with established habits. In the end, even old dogs can learn new tricks.

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