Can Old Dogs Learn New Tricks?

I LOVE old Dogs!

Lately I have gotten a lot of questions as to when a dog is too old to learn something new; the answer NEVER!

Not only is your old dog capable of learning, it is crucial for his mind and body to continue to learn.

As our dogs get old, we fall into a rut.  We begin to exercise them less because they can’t keep up and their bodies are arthritic and creaky.  Instead of getting up early and getting ready for a walk, our dogs are happy sleeping in and wandering about the house.

Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Lore Haug says “A lot of old dogs get what I call, “shrinking world” syndrome. Their owners get into a rut with them; they start walking the dog less, they don’t train the dog or teach him tricks.  The dog doesn’t get as much stimulation and enrichment-maybe they stop taking the dog to the dog park-and there is a significant decline in mental and physical challenges.

Sometimes I think our old dogs get depressed and senile simply because we are not providing them with enough stimulation.

My oldest dog is almost 12, has meningitis and has seemed to age several years in the past 6 months. 

In August we went on our last big hike together.  We hiked 2 miles up a mountain with an elevation of 4524 and almost 3 miles straight up when his little body just

Swimming is Great for Joints

gave out.  For many months I had started hiking slower and slower with him, but this time he just couldn’t finish.

He stopped on the hiking trail, laid down lateral (on his side) and refused to get up.  I knew he wasn’t in distress, just old and tired and unable to continue so I sat with him as my husband and my other two dogs finished their hike.   We sat together for over an hour.  I knew if I had petered out he would have sat with me!

But, it was devastating for me, because I knew our days of big, long hikes were over.  I shed some tears with him that day as I rubbed his feet and we reminisced over old times.  In his younger years, he could clear a six foot fence with no problem!

It is my job now, to keep him stimulated!  He may not be able to hike straight up a mountain, but I can still teach him new tricks (yes he can still learn at 12) and I can spruce up some of his old tricks!

Whether you have a puppy or a geriatric dog, it is important to keep them stimulated.  Dogs, like people, need to use their brains in order to keep sharp.

Like puppies, an older dog may have a shorter attention span and take a little longer to learn a new command, but it is never too late for your dog to learn.

Last I heard, some of the agility organizations were going to lower the jumps for senior dogs so that they could continue to compete and do what they love without jarring their joint!

Senior dogs need to learn and get involved in mental stimulation!

Imagine an 80 year old person who never gets out, reads, or really has anything to do but sit or sleep all day.  Humans that are the most active physically and mentally age the best.  Dogs that are physically and mentally stimulated also age with dignity and grace.

Nose Games are Great Fun!

How You Can Help!

  • Remember no dog is ever too old to learn!  If your dog’s learning seems a little slower, understand that his attention span may be a little slower.  Get a book on teaching your dog tricks and get started!
  • Swimming is one of the best exercises for aging bodies and joints.  If your dog likes to swim, frequent the water and let your dog get some exercise.
  • Even if your dog can’t walk very far; take him for a daily walk to stimulate his mind and keep his muscles stimulated.  Muscles atrophy if not used regularly, so help your dog stay as strong as possible for as long as possible.
  • Use mentally stimulating toys.  I love putting my senior dog’s food in a Buster Cube and let him wiggle and wobble the toy around to get his food out at night.   This “play” is a lot more stimulating than eating from a sterile bowl.
  • Old dogs also like to utilize their noses with games.  Senior dogs often lose some hearing, and their keen sight, but their noses are often still quite capable of finding hidden toys and treats.  So I play lots of nose games to keep them busy during the day read my articles about scent discrimination and more nose games by clicking on the word links.

It doesn’t matter how old your dog is 4 months, 1 year, 3 years, 8 years, or 15 years old he still needs exercise and mental stimulation!  The older he gets the better he gets (like a fine wine) and the more he needs your love and compassion to help him (his body and his mind) age gracefully!

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  1. Dana says:

    I love your post on “Can Old Dogs Learn New Tricks?” I agree with you about a dog needing to use his brain. There is the old saying, “If you don’t use it, you lose it”. Mental stimulation is very important to your dog’s health and well-being.

    Thanks for sharing,



  2. dawn lane says:

    What a sad article but I do empathise with it as I have kept all my pets living up to the age of 23 years.Its a joke among my veterinary friends that I obviously inject them with formeldahyde! But the heart gets heavy when the realisation hits that your dog has got too old to do all the things it did when it was young and agile, full of beans and raring to go.
    I have an 18 years old dachshund that was about to be put down 4 years ago because the elderly couple were unknowingly cruel to her. Their idea of exercise was half an hour each day in the garden. The rest of the time she was kept in the kitchen because the rest of the house was alarmed. When she made a mess, she was beaten with a rolled up newspaper. Sadly, due to a very unfortunate accident in France, she went blind through the stress. She got locked in the car for 4 hours, in temperatures of 86 degrees. The owner wouldnt break the glass because it “would cost too much” and waited instead for the French equivalent of the AA to come and open the doors. Following that incident she developed bloat, alopecia, went blind within 5 months and had no toilet training. For a while we thought she had gone mad but with lots of love and kindness, change of diet, patience and supplements, she is now a lively dog who loves being taken for walks in the park, has a garden to use at will and has got back to some semblence of a pet. She is feisty, loving and now playful but I feel sad that the good things have come into her life so late. I am hardening my heart for that day when its time for her to go to The Great Kennel in the Sky but not yet….please god, not yet.


    Juliette Reply:

    Dawn Lane, what a lovely story and such a kind heart you have. I’m so glad your dog found you to take her and give her a happy life. God bless compassionate people and God bless dogs.


    jean Dawson Reply:

    wot a lovely story you are so kind hearted. i have a beautiful 2yr old bichon. when i got her the speck on bichon’s said they are quite happy to live in a flat and dont need much walking. wrong on both counts.she can walk 6 miles and wanting more,she loves to go out, run and play with the other dogs in the family especially when the family have a doggy day, the dogs love it. god bless our little four legged friends.


  3. Terry Masi says:

    That was so great for the dashound. Thank you. Grew up with dashounds and my husband and I had 1 named Blu till we had to have him put to sleep due to spinal cancer. We named him Blu because our youngest didn’t talk alot due to ear trouble and that was the name he came up with. Dogs do many wonderful things. Life would be very sad for us with out them. Since Blu we have 2 JR’s.


  4. Eileen says:

    This blog post touched a sore spot with me. I used to volunteer in a no-kill animal shelter as a dog walker. Most of the dogs were between 2-6 years old. There was one sweet, Rotweiler-Lab mix who had the gentle, clown like disposition of a Lab, who stayed in the shelter because she was an older dog, about 8 years old. She was in the shelter for months. Puppies got adopted within few days. Our fascination with youth carries into the dog’s we choose to adopt.

    My dog is approaching 8 years of age. I’m also in the Pacific Northwest where it rains a lot. I love this blog post because my dog loves to smell plants, flowers, trees and even car tires. The idea of setting up a scent game when I get tired of being cold and wet is a great idea, especially since I live in a tri-level townhouse. The scent toy can be hidden upstairs and downstairs so she has to climb the stairs to find it.


  5. Voula says:

    Awwwwwww I know this all too well. My buddy Dalmy is a 16 year old beagle spaniel mix whi has gone from running and chasing water bottles to sleeping and walking around the house. I try to take her for walks but we can never go too far.
    She is happiest when outside 🙂 Her sense of smell is so intense. If I am cutting red peppers she makes her way to the kitchen and waits by by side in case any find their way to the floor. I real sweetie. I too thought her time had come when her hind legs gave out, but with some glucosamine and gentle nudges she is better. She may not sun around the block but she still has a great appetite and is in no hurry to go anywhere.
    Thank god.
    she is my best friend and I can not imagine life without her by m side.


  6. How does one get an adopted dog, who was abused and probably never was played with, get it to play. He has no interest in balls, squeaky toys, or soft toys. The only time there is any semblance of play is when he gets a treat he can’t chew because it’s too hard (given to him by an admirer) he them jumps around it for a bit then tires of it. He is 8, part Chihuahua/some kind of Terrier.I am in a power chair so can’t get down on the floor with him to try different things.


    Laura Reply:

    My dog is also a rescue and a terrier/chihuahua mix, and I encounter the same problem. He is about five, very energetic, yet has absolutely no interest in toys (unless it is a bone he can eat). Would love some advice on how to get him interested in play.


  7. Bettie says:

    Our most recent adoptee is 3 and not blind, but was definitely abused. She barks @ strangers and hen cowers with her tail between her legs when a new person tries to pet her. With a lot of love & patience on our part, and maybe with the examples set by our other 10-yr-old, also adopted) dog, she’s coming around. She started basing a ball after we teased her a little with it – close to her face, pulling away, etc. hang in there. You mean the world to your dog. You *are* the world to your dog!!


  8. Sandra says:

    Late January 2003, we adopted a 3 month old beagle. She had been a “take it back! gift”. We took her home. She did not bark [would whimper], did not chew, seek attention or romp, but crouched down & hid, and she shivered when reached for / picked up. Although food & water were down all day, she did not touch it until after 5:30pm. Any different or sudden sound [crinkle of plastic or papers]scared her and she would yelp and hide. I took a couple pillow cases from the laundry [unwashed] used them so she could have our scent with her 24/7.
    Loosely bundled, We’d hold her and rock her like a baby. Talk and even sing to her. Dogs may not do colors, but that set of pillowcases becames hers, and she claimed the others of the same color when she got a little older older….and tried for the pillows in them, so she was given her own little pillow. NOSE GAMES: using lean treats, single pieces of kibble, green beans, cut-up baby carrots, hide 3 of them in easy places, like in front of a chair leg, in the doorway, on a step and show your dog the 4th treat…quickly toss it say “find it, find it,Sable!” It’s okay when you begin, to help her find it, and tell her she is good when she does find it.


  9. Shera says:

    Looking for something stimulating to do with our family dog of 13 yrs and I came across this article. I agree w/ all of your thoughts that dogs not only need physical but also mental exercises all through life. I will be sure to pull out our OLD books of dog training we used with him when he was a pup and try some new training and also keep up with the tricks he knows.
    Thanx so much
    Shera and Snoop


  10. Brandon says:

    Like your story doing a project on it


  11. I have a 7 yr.old mixed breed fur factory…she was given to me by someone who moved out of the country. This is the greatest dog…she has learned ..without much work an incredible number of new behaviors. SECRET…spend time with your dog..maybe only 30 min perday and talk to your dog. She was ok when I got her but now she is super.


  12. I have a 7 yr.old mixed breed fur factory…she was given to me by someone who moved out of the country. This is the greatest dog…she has learned ..without much work an incredible number of new behaviors. SECRET…spend time with your dog..maybe only 30 min perday and talk to your dog. She was ok when I got her but now she is super.
    Have fun with your dog,Ruta


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