How to Train Your Older Dog to Behave

Medium
5-20 Days
Behavior

Introduction

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.

Defining Tasks

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.

Getting Started

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

Effective
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Step
1
Go on daily walks
They don't have to be hours long, but try to top twenty minutes.
Step
2
Feed them right
Provide a healthy, appropriate diet for your dog. This can be done with raw food, supplements, or high quality dog food.
Step
3
Play with your pup
This can help the two of you bond, and helps build trust.
Step
4
Focus on the positive
Really watch for areas you can praise your dog, and follow through quickly.
Step
5
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.
Recommend training method?

The Stubborn Dog Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Go slow
Try to teach only one command per day to keep things simple.
Step
2
Get help
If this isn't working, call a professional trainer to help lay the groundwork.
Step
3
Keep working on it
Practice what the trainer has taught you every day for a few weeks.
Step
4
Join a class
If your dog is responding, sign up for a training class with other dogs.
Step
5
Use the training
Implement what you learn at the class and be persistent!
Recommend training method?

The Social Butterfly Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Watch the dog
Observe how your pupper responds to new people, places, or things to identify issues.
Step
2
Bring in stressors
Try to introduce things that make your dog uncomfortable--in a controlled situation.
Step
3
Don't overwhelm them
Keep it short and praise the dog if he keeps his composure.
Step
4
Ask a pro
If your dog doesn't do well, talk to a dog trainer or behaviorist to see what they suggest.
Step
5
Listen and learn
Follow their direction closely whenever your dog has to be around what bothers them.
Recommend training method?
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Written by Abby Clark

Published: 10/16/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
baby
Bich-poo
13 Years
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baby
Bich-poo
13 Years

Excessive urinating in the house, despite numerous outings a day. We have taken her to vet and had numerous testing done no medical issues, thinks its behavioral. Use a gate to keep her contained, chews gate and gets out anyway, then urinates on carpets. Took up all carpets and now urinates on floors. Help don't know what to do. She does drink a lot of water and urinates large amounts.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
776 Dog owners recommended

Hello Jo Anne, I suggest looking into doggie diapers. You can buy both disposable and washable diapers with pad inserts. You can even use feminine pads and human incontinence pads instead of the dog pads inside the washable diapers. Based on what you have described this sounds very related to age. This could even be indicative of mental decline (I am not a Vet though). Since she is drinking large amounts of water and peeing large amounts, that does suggest a medical condition. Several common medical conditions can include those symptoms and are easily missed in their early stages before they begin to effect other areas in the body. It may be worth getting a second opinion from a Vet if she continues to get worse. (I am not a Vet, so cannot give medical advice). Either way, at her age you are likely looking at management rather than going back to how things were before. You will likely need to use doggie diapers or confine her to an Exercise Pen and put a real grass pad in it. Use carabinners to reinforce the exercise pen and give her something interesting to do while in the pen, like chew on a food stuffed chew toys. Introduce the diaper using lots of treats and fun, then let her wear it around and give her time to adjust to the way it feels, like you would with a puppy and a new collar. Interrupt her with toys, games, and training sessions if she starts to bother the diaper. Be sure to change the pads often once they get wet to keep her skin healthy and avoid irritation. Real grass pad: https://www.amazon.com/Fresh-Patch-Disposable-Potty-Grass/dp/B005G7S6UI/ref=asc_df_B005G7S6UI/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=309763115430&hvpos=1o2&hvnetw=g&hvrand=4628430177348674255&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=1015431&hvtargid=pla-568582223506&psc=1 I am so sorry you are going through this. Many of us have been there with our own dogs as well. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
milo
Beagle
3 Years
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milo
Beagle
3 Years

Hi,

Milo is a reactive dog(leash frustrated). And I think it has to do with the lack of socialization. How can I let him socialize without him barking and scaring off other dogs he tries to greet? Also, I think he might be becoming a little aggressive. He snipped at two dogs and he didn't act like that when we got him(we got him 6 months ago). I think the behavior is getting worse. I want him to get trained but I don't know if I should put him in group classes or a private lessons because he may try to bite other dogs, it might be too much for him to be surrounded by so many dogs and he might not focus. When he sees another dog it kinda hard to control him, he doesn't listen. I thought about putting him in doggy daycare so he can get the socialization he needs and it is professionally supervised, in case something happens. Also, I thought about taking him to a dog park but I don't think he can handle that. I just don't know what is best for him.

Is there anything
I could do to help the behavior a little better? I don't want to use shock collars or anything like that. I want him to be comfortable around dogs and to not whine, lunge and bark at other dogs. I want to walk past another dog without him acting crazy and if he wants to greet another dog for him to be calm.

Thanks!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
776 Dog owners recommended

Hello Jala, First, don't put him in daycare, don't take him to dog parks, and don't enroll him in a typical obedience class yet. The daycare and dog parks can make it worse since that environment will add stress, lack structure and very easily lead to fights which is stressful and dangerous for him and the other dogs. A normal obedience class won't benefit him and will ruin the entire class for everyone else who is there to work on obedience with their own dogs. What you CAN do is see if there is a G.R.O.W.L. class in your city or driving distance. A G.R.O.W.L. class is a class for dog aggressive or reactive dogs who all wear basket muzzles for everyone's safety and are intensively socialized with each other while practicing structured things like heeling. If you can find one of those classes close enough to you, that would be a great way to socialize him. If you cannot find the class or would prefer one on one training, then I would recommend hiring a private professional trainer to help you. Look for someone who has access to a training facility with several friendly dogs on property where the trainer can get Milo around a lot of other dogs and work on his fear and his response in a quicker amount of time than you could in your neighborhood. Teach him commands like "Watch Me"- which means look at me. Work on teaching a structured heel where he walks behind you and is focused on you. Interrupt him as soon as he starts scanning the horizon looking for other dogs, staring at another dog, or trying to get in front of you during walks - don't wait until an outburst, catch it early if you can - notice what he is thinking at that moment. Start your walk out making him sit before being leashed, wait at the door and walk behind you - how you start the walk will effect his arousal level during the walk. Work on heavily rewarding him for obeying commands and staying focused on you - keep your energy very calm and pleasant though. When you start to approach another dog, give him the "Watch Me" command and reward him for focusing on you. Also reward him for normally looking at you when another dog is present even if you have not told him to. Reward him for looking at the dog and staying calm (not tensing up and fixating), looking at the dog and then back at you, and generally being calm. You want to make the presence of another dog pleasant for him and also encourage focus on you instead of that dog. Go to places with a lot of space, like the park, where you can control how far he is from other dogs and train where he is close enough to notice the other dogs but far enough away to still look at you for treats and stay a bit calm with your help. All of this will go much faster if you attend a G.R.O.W.L. class or hire a trainer who has access to other dogs to help you. Getting him around other friendly, polite dogs while he is wearing a silicone muzzle can also help if you have a trainer there to show you how to train his responses to the other dog. If it is done wrong if may lead to worse problems though, so do that under the supervision of a trainer. For maintenance, once he is doing better around other dogs, see if there are other pet parents who go on heeling walks with their dogs. A regular structured heeling walk with other dogs is a great way to socialize reactive dogs. His focus needs to be on you though. He is more likely to do poorly if he starts getting aroused so keep all energy around other dogs right now calm. The goals is NOT for him to be chasing and rough housing with other dogs - that actually causes reactivity for some dogs. You want him to learn how to calmly hang out with other dogs, doing things that stimulate his mind and keep his energy calm. Once he is great around other dogs, then you can consider joining an obedience class - at that point that would be a great thing for him. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
POGO
Pug
9 Years
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Question
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POGO
Pug
9 Years

We just rescued a deaf dog.She has a loud bark, which bothers my other dog. Other dog is appearing to be aggressive when new dog barks. Is this a bad sign?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
776 Dog owners recommended

Hello Jill, Many dogs expect another dog to abide by dog social rules and may try to correct a dog when they aren't doing so. Barking loudly at nothing can annoy other dogs too when there is nothing reasonable that the dog is barking at (because they are deaf). It's not a good situation among the dogs because you don't want a fight to break out. Some very socially savy dogs will be gentle and careful with their corrections, but others lack self-control and might harm another dog. Without knowing your dogs I can't say which case it is, and with multiple dogs there may be some of both. Work on laying a lot of boundaries down for all the dogs. Teach pup's (with hand signals with the new dog) commands like Place, Wait, Out (:Leave the area), Leave It, Quiet, and Down-Stay. Use commands like those to give the dogs instructions and show them that you are managing the household and it's not their job to manage each other. Work on rewarding the new dog for being quiet during times of quietness, and rewarding your other dogs for being tolerant of the new dog (Reward them away from each other though when other dogs aren't watching so food fights don't start over treats). You want to teach boundaries, work on the barking issue with the new dog, and rewards pups for good behavior when you catch them doing well. Use treat, a leash, and your body language to enforce commands with the new dog - especially since they can't hear. Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O75dyWITP1s Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Out - which means leave the area: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Quiet method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Down-Stay: https://www.thelabradorsite.com/train-your-labrador-to-lie-down-and-stay/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Charlie
Labrador Husky
2 Years
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Charlie
Labrador Husky
2 Years

He digs in the couch constantly

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
210 Dog owners recommended

Hello! It sounds like he needs an outlet or release of some sort. If long vigorous walks are possible, I would start there. Hiring a dog runner or having him spend a few days in doggie day care is also a great way for him to get his energy out.

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Question
biggie
pitbull
10 Years
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Question
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biggie
pitbull
10 Years

our 10 year old dog cannot be left alone and will whine and bark until we come home. No matter what we give him and He will also get into treats and even dangerous items such as coffee beans by ripping open the bag. He whines whenever he is put outside just to go the bathroom or hang out with other dogs. He whines and begs for food no matter what and no matter how many times you say no he will keep begging. We recently are fostering a dog and he snaps at the dog anytime he comes near or attempts to play with him. Any Advice?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
776 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sidny, I do recommend hiring a professional trainer who specializes in behavior issues to help you in person. There are a couple of routes you can take with the separation anxiety. The first step is to work on building his independence and his confidence by adding a lot of structure and predictability into his routine. Things such as making him work for rewards like meals, walks, and pets. Working on "Stay" and "Place," commands while you move away or leave the room, and teaching him to remain inside a crate when the door is open. Change your routine surrounding leaving so that he does not anticipate alone time and build up his anxiety before you leave - which is hard for him to deescalate from, and be sure to continue to give him something to do in the crate during the day (such as a dog food stuffed Kong to chew on); this is the general protocol for separation anxiety. It is gentle but can take a very long time on its own for some dogs. I also recommend practicing pup staying on Place when you eat to help with the begging. Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omg5DVPWIWo Another protocol involves teaching the dog to cope with their own anxiety by making their current anxious go-to behaviors unpleasant, giving them an opportunity to stop those behaviors long enough to learn something new, then rewarding the correct, calmer behavior instead. This protocol can feel harsh because it involves careful correction, but it tends to work much quicker for many dogs. If you go this route, I suggest hiring a trainer who is very experienced using both positive reinforcement and fair correction. Who is extremely knowledgeable about e-collar training, and can follow the protocol listed below, to help you implement the training. Building his independence and structure in his life will still be an important part of this protocol too. First, check out this video from SolidK9Training on treating anxiety. It will give a brief over-view of treating separation anxiety more firmly. This trainer can be a bit abrupt with his teaching style with people but is very experienced working with highly aggressive, anxious, and reactive dogs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5GqzeLzysk Make sure you are implementing what he teaches there in other areas of his life too. Second, purchase a remote electronic collar, e-collar, with a wide range of levels. I recommend purchasing E-Collar Technologies Mini Educator or Garmin Delta Sport or Dogtra for this. If you are not comfortable with an e-collar then you can use a vibration collar (the Mini Educator and Garmin should also have a vibration mode) or unscented air remote controlled air spray collar. DO NOT use a citronella collar, buy the additional unscented air canister if the collar comes with the citronella and make sure that you use the unscented air. (Citronella collars are actually very harsh and the smell - punisher lingers a long time so the dog continues to be corrected even after they stop the behavior). The vibration or spray collars are less likely to work than stimulation e-collars though, so you may end up spending more money by not purchasing an e-collar first. The Mini Educator has very low levels of stimulation, that can be tailored specifically to your dog. It also has vibration and beep tones that you can try using first, without having to buy additional tools. Next, set up a camera to spy on him. If you have two smart devices, like tablets or smartphones, you can Skype or Facetime them to one another with your pup’s end on mute, so that you can see and hear him but he will not hear you. Video baby monitors, video security monitors with portable ways to view the video, GoPros with the phone Live App, or any other camera that will record and transmit the video to something portable that you can watch outside live will work. Next, put the e-collar on him while he is outside of the crate, standing, and relaxed. To learn how to put the collar on him, check out this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLxB6gYsliI Turn it to it's lowest level and push the stimulation button twice. See if he responds to the collar at all. Look for subtle signs such as turning his head, moving his ears, biting his fur, moving away from where he was, or changing his expression. If he does not respond at all, then go up one level on the collar and when he is standing and relaxed, push the stimulation button again twice. Look for a reaction again. Repeat going up one level at a time and then testing his reaction at that level until he indicates a little bit that he can feel the collar. Here is a video showing how to do this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cl3V8vYobM A modern, high quality collar will have so many levels that each level should be really subtle and he will likely respond to a low level stimulation. It's uncomfortable but not the harsh shock many people associate with such collars if done right. Once you have found the right stimulation level for him and have it correctly fitted on him, have him wear the collar around with it turned off or not being stimulated for several hours or days if you can (take it off at night to sleep though). Next, set up your camera to spy on him while he is in the crate. Put him into the crate while he is wearing the collar and leave. Spy on him from outside. Leave however you normally would. As soon as you hear him barking or see him start to try to escape or destroy the crate from the camera, push the stimulation button once. Every time he barks or tries to get out of the crate, stimulate him again. If he does not decrease his barking or escape attempts at least a little bit after being stimulated seven times in a row, then increase the stimulation level by one level. He may not feel the stimulation while excited so might need it just slightly higher. Do not go higher than three more levels on the mini-educator or two more levels on another collar with less levels right now though because he has not learned what he is supposed to be doing yet. For example, if his level is 13 out of 100 levels on the Mini Educator, don't go past level 16 right now. The level you end up using on him on the mini educator collar will probably be low to medium, within the first forty levels of the one-hundred to one-hundred-and-twenty-five levels, depending on the model you purchase. If it is not, then have a professional evaluate whether you have the correct "working level" for him. If he continues to ignore the collar, then go up one more stimulation level and if that does not work, make sure that the collar is turned on, fitted correctly, and working. After five minutes to ten minutes, as soon as your dog stays quiet and is not trying to escape for five seconds straight, go back inside to the dog, sprinkle several treats into the crate without saying anything, then leave again. Practice correcting him from outside when he barks or tries to escape, going back inside and sprinkling treats when he stays quiet, for up to 30 minutes at first. After 30 minutes -1 hour of practicing this, when he is quiet, go back inside and sprinkle more treats. This time stay inside. Do not speak to him or pay attention to him for ten minutes while you walk around and get stuff done inside. When he is being calm, then you can let him out of the crate. When you let him out, do it the way Jeff does is in this video below. Opening and closing the door until your dog is not rushing out. You want him to be calm when he comes out of the crate and to stay calm when you get home. That is why you need to ignore him when you get home right away. Also, keep your good byes extremely boring and calm. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5GqzeLzysk Continue to put a food stuffed Kong into the crate with him. Once he is less anxious he will likely enjoy it and that will help him to enjoy the crate more. First, he probably needs his anxious state of mind interrupted so that he is open to learning other ways to behave. Once it's interrupted, give him a food stuffed Kong in the crate for him to relieve his boredom instead of barking, since he will need something other than barking to do at that point. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Puff
Pekingese
10 Years
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Puff
Pekingese
10 Years

Puff is behaving aggressively. He has bitten my boyfriend and growls at me sometimes

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
210 Dog owners recommended

As a dog owner, you probably get upset when your dog growls. Your first reaction may be to suppress the growling by scolding or punishing the dog. This is never a good idea. By teaching your dog that growling isn't acceptable behavior, you're taking away its ability to warn you that it may bite. You may have heard stories about dogs that bite with no warning. But, in many cases, this is because the owners trained their dogs not to give a warning growl first. The key to getting a dog to stop growling is not to suppress the growls, but rather to deal with the underlying problem. Once the pain, fear, possession aggression, or territoriality has been dealt with, the dog will no longer need to growl. In-Depth Training Territoriality, possession aggression, and fear are serious behavior problems. Depending on the degree of the behavioral problem, the dog may respond well to a training program or may need a much more in-depth behavior modification program. A dog trainer or animal behaviorist can help you evaluate the dog, and determine the best course of action for dealing with these issues. As you work with this type of trainer, be as specific as possible as to what you think triggered the growling. The trainer will likely work with the dog to slowly condition it to accept the trigger and not growl in its presence. Next Steps While you're working to determine the cause of the growling, don't ignore it or it's likely to get worse. Be careful around your dog until you figure out why it's growling. Additionally, you may want to help your dog modify its behavior until the situation is under control. For example, if your dog always growls at the mail carrier, close the window shades and eliminate any sightlines while you work on the problem. If possible, eliminate triggers, avoid stressful situations, and caution others (both dogs and humans) to keep their distance in order to prevent a dog bite. For example, you may not want to introduce your dog to new dogs, bring it to a dog park, or host a loud party until you get help.

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