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Articles are quick to highlight that as dogs age they become more calm and wise. What they don't often tell you is that they also become more and more stubborn, and bad habits turn into deeply entrenched behaviors. For a dog that has been trained and loved his whole life, these traits are mostly just endearing - like the grumpiness of an old man. But for dogs who missed out on key learning when they were young, old age only makes things more complicated.
Rescue dogs often come with one or two serious behavioral issues. Many of the owners that surrender a dog really weren't ready for one in the first place. Most of them were unable to successfully train their dog, hence why the dog is now in a shelter.
This poses a problem for adoptive doggy parents. How do you bring one of these misbehaving grown-ups into your home? The majority of new-to-you dog owners do not want to sacrifice their houses (or their friends) because of their new four-legged friend.
Thankfully, old dogs can learn new things! If it's a brand new behavior that they're taking on, the learning process should be quick. If you're teaching them not to do something that they may have been allowed to do their entire lives, it's going to take a lot more work.
There are things you can do before the pooch even comes home to help prepare for those first few weeks. If you're physically and mentally ready, you're more likely to succeed in retraining your mutt. To prepare, be sure to:
- De-clutter the House: Some doggos are very destructive. Make it easier on you both by removing any extra objects in the areas that the pup will be in.
- Buy Treats: To help your new dog learn, have a good supply of treats on hand. Be sure to reward good behavior as it's happening so the dog gets why he's being praised.
- Get a Crate: Just because a pooch is older does not mean you should trust him to roam free when you're not around. When you have to leave, crate him up!
- Be Realistic: It can take weeks of persistent training before your canine shows progress. Don't expect change to happen overnight!
It's also important to note that all household members should be aware of how you're training the dog. If everyone is doing the same things, the dog will get the picture much faster. Remember, with dogs, consistency is key!
Below are some great methods for teaching an old boy or gal some manners. See which ones work for your family and your dog, and give them a whirl!
The Basic Care Method
Go on daily walks
They don't have to be hours long, but try to top twenty minutes.
Feed them right
Provide a healthy, appropriate diet for your dog. This can be done with raw food, supplements, or high quality dog food.
Play with your pup
This can help the two of you bond, and helps build trust.
Focus on the positive
Really watch for areas you can praise your dog, and follow through quickly.
Be firm but calm
Bad behavior should be stopped using a low but strong tone of voice as the action is happening. Dogs don't respect a leader who freaks out all of the time.
The Stubborn Dog Method
Try to teach only one command per day to keep things simple.
If this isn't working, call a professional trainer to help lay the groundwork.
Keep working on it
Practice what the trainer has taught you every day for a few weeks.
Join a class
If your dog is responding, sign up for a training class with other dogs.
Use the training
Implement what you learn at the class and be persistent!
The Social Butterfly Method
Watch the dog
Observe how your pupper responds to new people, places, or things to identify issues.
Bring in stressors
Try to introduce things that make your dog uncomfortable--in a controlled situation.
Don't overwhelm them
Keep it short and praise the dog if he keeps his composure.
Ask a pro
If your dog doesn't do well, talk to a dog trainer or behaviorist to see what they suggest.
Listen and learn
Follow their direction closely whenever your dog has to be around what bothers them.
By Abby Clark
Published: 10/16/2017, edited: 01/08/2021