5 min read

Is it Ever too Late to Train a Dog?


Written by Mel Lee-Smith

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 12/18/2020, edited: 02/01/2023


The old saying goes, "You can't teach old dogs new tricks." Is there any truth to this proverb? Let's do some digging to discover if it's possible to train a dog who's been around the block.

Is it ever too late to train a dog?

Absolutely not!  Dogs learn throughout their lives.

Every dog learns at different speeds, and that includes senior dogs. Many older dogs — especially those without any obedience training — have shorter attention spans and will move at a slower pace. Meanwhile, others might learn quicker than they did as puppies.

Think about it: puppies are excitable and easily distracted. As they develop and grow into adults, dogs usually mellow out. This could make dog training easier later in life. (However, this is the exception, not the rule.)

Trick training is one thing, but obedience commands are a whole different ball game. Generally, senior dogs face significant challenges if they begin basic obedience and socialization training outside of the critical socialization window.

dog trainer kneeling on a wood floor to high-five a brown dog

The importance of training during puppyhood

There's a reason why so many dog trainers and canine behaviorists encourage training from a young age. Cognitive development during the first 3 to 4 months of a puppy's life shapes how they will behave and interact with their environment as adults. This period is called the critical socialization window.

This window varies in length depending on the puppy's breed and individual personality. For some puppies, the window of socialization starts to close as early as 8 weeks. For others, it can last for up to 16 weeks.

Lack of socialization training during puppyhood can lead to major behavioral issues, like:

  • aggression toward other people and pets
  • fear of children or riding in a car
  • destruction
  • submissive urination

Tips for training an older dog basic commands

We won't lie to you — obedience training an older dog will likely be a long journey. But there are a few things you can do to ensure your training sessions go as smoothly as "pawssible"!

Be patient

This is the number-one rule of training an older dog basic obedience commands. Trying to train an older dog to obey house rules can get frustrating. That goes double for pet parents attempting to train on their own and with limited knowledge of canine psychology. Never punish or hit your dog for not following commands or learning quickly enough, which leads us to our next tip.

Use positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement training using treats and praise is a proven training method for dogs of all ages. Dogs are more likely to perform the desired action when they know they'll get a reward!

Treats are a go-to for many pet parents, but not all dogs are food-motivated. Some pups will go dog wild for praise, while others will respond best to playtime. Identify what motivates your dog and use it to your advantage during your training sessions.

Related: What Are Negative Reinforcement Methods in Dog Training?

Do your homework

If you're training solo, learn as much as you can about canine psychology, body language, and best dog training practices. Whether you're simply reading articles on the internet or want to go the extra mile and take a course, you'll find a variety of training resources to help you on your journey. Some dog training schools even offer short, affordable courses for pet parents!

Need a place to start? Check out our favorite dog training resources:

Make it fun!

This professional dog training tip goes hand-in-paw with positive reinforcement. Dole out plenty of praise for every small win and keep things upbeat.

Take things one step at a time

Attempting to train too many commands at once or moving too quickly from one command to the next could overwhelm your dog and hinder their progress. Keep training sessions short and focused on a single step of the command until your hound gets the hang of it.

Consider physical and mental limitations

Senior dogs often live with physical and mental conditions that affect their behavior and ability to perform certain commands. For example, dogs diagnosed with hypothyroidism are known to be more aggressive as a direct result of the condition. Before starting a training regimen for an older dog, it's a good idea to visit the vet to rule out underlying health causes of bad behaviors.

Call in the pros

For the average pet parent, dog training certainly isn't a walk in the dog park, even for puppies in their prime. Consult a professional dog trainer for a personalized training plan and advice.

Of course, you'll have to review your dog's training outside of class often and consistently. But enlisting the help of a certified dog trainer who's well-versed in canine psychology can remove some friction and frustration from the process. When searching for a trainer, compare your options, and try to find someone who specializes in working with dogs like yours.

Related: Dog Training Classes vs. Training a Dog at Home

dog trainer wearing a fanny pack standing in front of an adult german shepherd dog who's sitting in the grass

A note on rescues

Responsible pet parents enroll their puppies in a training program and expose them to as many new sights, sounds, and experiences as possible during the critical socialization window. Sadly, not all pet parents take these responsibilities seriously. (Which is just one reason why animal shelters are so overcrowded with abandoned and neglected pets.)

Good samaritans who rescue an adult or senior dog from a shelter often face a double whammy. Not only do they need to help their fur-baby adjust to their new environment, but they may also need to teach their dog the basic house rules.

Even without issues like trauma, fear, and separation anxiety, this process takes time — a year or longer in some cases. When training a rescue dog, take things extra slow. It's a good idea to let them adjust to their new home first before diving paw-first into training.

As your rescue is settling in, monitor them to learn about their triggers and behavioral issues. Do they tend to hide when they hear loud noises? Do they bark constantly? Once you know their triggers, you can try to avoid them during the adjustment period. Then, once your rescue is a bit more acclimated, you can dive into socialization training to help resolve some of these issues.

Related: Why Socialization is So Important for Dogs

Need help training an older dog?

Check out our guide on teaching an older dog obedience commands. If you'd like more personalized advice, scroll to the bottom of the page and submit your question to our dog training professionals.

Need a helping paw with your training sessions? Book a professional dog trainer near you through the Wag! app. Dog trainers on our platform will bring the obedience classes right to your living room for a fraction of the price. It's the "pawfect" option for pet parents who can't commit to a class!

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