Can Old Dogs Learn New Tricks?
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
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.
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!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.