How to Train an Older Dog

Adopting a full grown dog from a rescue shelter or acquiring an older dog by any other means can be wonderfully rewarding, but can also require a great deal of patience while you learn each other's personalities and learn to live together. While becoming familiar with your new dog, you may find that he has some bad habits or behaviors that are not acceptable or that may need some retraining. Although training an older dog may be more difficult than a puppy, it can be done with persistence, patience and some helpful guidelines.

Things to Remember

A dog entering a new home may be nervous, confused and even frightened by unfamiliar surroundings, startling sounds and too many strangers at once to allow him to be relaxed. Here are some things to keep in mind as you begin training/retraining your new dog:

  1. Be calm, gentle and patient as the new dog surveys his surroundings and becomes acquainted with his new home.
  2. Pay attention to any special comments or instructions you received from the dog’s previous owner or shelter regarding personality, behaviors or any information about things that easily startle or anger him. This information will be very important in order to avoid similar situations during training which may create unwanted stress, obstacles and distractions.
  3. Ask questions about the dog’s habits, medical conditions, any special needs or disabilities that may limit or require special attention during training. Training is a stressful time for any dog at any age, so the more information you have about your dog, the better prepared you will be to communicate with him and the quicker he will become comfortable with you.
  4. If you are a new dog owner, or have never owned your dog’s breed before, it is a good idea to talk to people who have the same breed, in order to get helpful tips on handling and useful information on behaviors and personalities common to the breed. Keep in mind, although there are generalities that apply to any breed, every animal is unique and individual personalities will manifest themselves, requiring you to make adjustments accordingly.

Training Basics

If you have never owned a dog before, you will be unfamiliar with training one effectively. Keep in mind that if your dog came from a rescue shelter, he may have been left there because of unacceptable behavior. When you are training an older dog, you need to remember several things:

  1. Be patient and make sure your dog is completely comfortable with you. Pet him and always speak using a calm, gentle voice before you begin each and every training session. Keep your voice exactly the same throughout the training session, so that your dog does not become stressed and realizes the training is not a punishment.
  2. Your dog may have been trained previously – so retraining may be more difficult than normal because you will have to untrain bad habits and replace with them the desired new behavior.
  3. Your dog may not have been trained previously – which means training needs to be complete and cover all routines and acceptable behaviors.
  4. Keep training sessions short and remember to reward your dog when he performs as desired, but do not hit or shout or discipline when he fails. This experience needs to remain a positive experience for both of you. We all learn by doing, and doing repeatedly until we get it right.
  5. When giving commands, give each command once and keep them simple one word commands, so your dog does not become confused.
  6. Teach the basic obedience commands like:
    1. heel – pause beside you and do not move until given permission to do so
    2. sit – stop what you are doing and sit where you are
    3. stay – do not leave this spot
    4. come – it is okay to move to me
    5. lay – down where you are and do not move until given permission to do so
    6. stop – do not move
    7. no – stop what you are doing and listen

  8. Keep training simple and fit it into daily routines so that what you have trained your dog will remain fresh in his mind and he will also come to expect it as a normal part of his day.
  9. Remember to talk to your dog constantly, as the sound of your voice to him is pleasant and he will find comfort in hearing it, no matter what you are doing, whether it is just interacting together or during a training session. The sound of your voice will always set him at ease, which will be very important during training sessions.
  10. Older dogs are calmer than excitable young pups and aren’t distracted as easily as a young dog. Older dogs have a better attention span, so they will find it easier to focus on what you are teaching them, but may be a bit more stubborn to learn it, simply because they’ve had more time to practice the behaviors they are already familiar with.

Behaviors to include in training:

  • Kennel training – if necessary to place your dog in a kennel while you are at work during the day or away from the house, or at night while you sleep
  • House training – when you will be out of the house for long periods
  • Socialization training – if your household has other pets or small children. Even if you have no children at home, socialization training will help your dog feel comfortable around visitors and their children.

Remember there are always resources for training dogs. If you got your new dog from a rescue shelter, they have personnel who have experience with problem canines and behavior difficulties. Some shelters even provide people to help you train your dog.

Did you ever adopt an older dog? Share your older dog training experiences and tips with us in the comment section!

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1 Response

  1. PW says:

    These basic commands are definitely useful, and changing the training attitude from strict obedience, as my dog obedience class recently taught, to communication and cooperation gets much more satisfying results, as in what you said about how the dogs likes hearing your pleasant voice, no matter what age the dog. I agree about being gentle, patient, and kind, and find it is important to tune in to what your dog hears and understands. For example, when I took my dog to a dog "obedience" class, the focus was that the dogs must obey every single "command" every single time. The attitude wasn't really militaristic, but the instructor was bragging about winning points as militarily perfect competitions, which is really irrelevant to the daily lives of dogs and their caretakers.

    What I discovered was that by talking WITH my dog instead of just to her, she was delighted and SO happy to cooperate. For example, when I need her to heel for safety, to not bother others, or for comfort on the leash for both of us, telling her heel when she is pulling is ineffective. I can use the methods taught by the instructor, which do work, but are slower than just talking with her conversationally — instead of repeating "heel" and anything else taught in the class, I just say, "Relax, Sadie," in a soft, sweet voice after the first "heel." She immediately relaxes and walks easily by my side. Sometimes when she is off the leash, I'll just say, "Walk close to me" or "Stay with me," and it has the same effect.

    You mention that …"your new dog" might have "some bad habits or behaviors that are not acceptable or that may need some retraining." My dog, whom I adopted at age 18 months, had been surrendered twice because she was "untrainable" — the last person to "give up on her" said she was "useless."

    In fact, Sadie is the gentlest, smartest, easiest to train and communicate with dog I have ever had, and
    I have had dogs nearly all of my almost 70 years of life. She is a medium sized herding dog, the kind that is supposed to be hard to satisfy because she is so intelligent, but I find that much of her need is the verbal and mental conversation and communication. She and I were made for each other, and I think that is another factor in dog training.

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