Puppy to Older Dog; What Can My Dog Learn?

Thanks New Dog World for the Photo

Thanks New Dog World for the Photo

I recently got an email from a person considering adopting a 1 year old dog.

They liked the dog, but could it actually “Learn” anything or were they stuck with whatever was sitting there rotting in a shelter kennel.

I think our misconceptions are so silly, and they often just take me by surprise, while putting such a young dog at risk for death simply because of age.

Would you go to an adoption counselor and say, we are considering adopting a 3 year old baby, will he or she be capable of learning?

Doesn’t it sounds silly when you say it in those terms?

Older children and older dogs are capable of probably learning and retaining more than their younger counterparts.

Actually the older we get the more capable we are of understanding and empathy and excelling in our learning.  And, older dogs have longer attention spans.  Puppies can learn but they have short attention spans and we must deal with them being easily distracted.

A One Year Old Dog is Still a Baby

I used to take dogs out of shelters at 2 years (or so) and I then began teaching them Service Dog skills.  How to pick a shelter dog click here.

I didn’t want puppies (they have such short attention spans) and I wanted them to be old enough be fully grown so they could be effectively x-rayed.  And, puppies go through developmental stages; sometimes they like people, sometimes they don’t… you can’t get an 8 week old puppy and be sure what you are going to have when they are a year old.

But by the time they are about a year or two old what you see is what you get as far as temperament and who the dog has become; a social dog will probably stay social and a scared dog will probably always have some fears that need to be dealt with throughout life (which isn’t a terrible thing if given coping mechanisms and training).

And with training and a new environment, it is fairly easy to break bad habits.

But I guess I have never seen 1 year old, as being OLD.

Even a 5 or 8 year old dog that is a good dog is like finding a diamond in the rough, already trained, have learned their manners and easy to live with.

I'm kind of a Sucker for Old Dogs.  Thanks West Flamingo for the Photo

I'm kind of a Sucker for Old Dogs. Thanks West Flamingo for the Photo

Click here for why I especially love rescues.

Dogs are like people, there is no time limit on learning.  Did you know the oldest living person to complete college was 95?  How is that for too old to learn.

I dare you to say to her face she was too old to learn.  Now don’t get me wrong I am sure she had her haters and her doubters but there is no time frame on learning.  I’m only guessing she had the highest GPA and probably did the least partying.

The Same Comment Makes Me Laugh About Puppies

They are Too Young to learn…

We begin sending our children to formal school at about 5 years old, but does that mean they get NO LEARNING at home?

Parents never swat them away from open outlets, they allow them to throw fits, they don’t make them give up dangerous items, or teach them not to run witch scissors?

Of course they do; or our society would die out.

Put a baby in a shed for 5 years, feed and water it and see what you have (no seriously don’t do this…. DO NOT do this).

All interactions come with lessons.  Lessons about what works, what doesn’t work, what hurts and what feels good.  No interaction (ignoring your puppy or constant crating) also comes with learning, but usually in the form making wrong decisions or bad behavioral decisions (like jumping and biting).

Typically we seek what “works” and what “feels good” but we also learn from “what hurts”.

That is why the most important thing to your dog training is rewarding good behavior.  If we don’t give our dogs information about what we like and what we don’t, they choose things that THEY like; like jumping up, digging, barking and other “dog behavior” we find undesirable.

For more on rewarding good behavior and the #1 most important thing to your dog training click here.

It Doesn’t Matter

So essentially it doesn’t matter whether your dog is 8 weeks old or 13 years old, he is capable of learning!  Just remember your building blocks of training and be patient rewarding good behaviors and being patient with the learning process!

For more on teaching an old dog new tricks click here 

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  1. Sandi Clegg says:

    My dog tugs on his leash! Make him stop!!help


  2. Laura says:

    I rescue a year and a half old she’s almost 2 now German Shepherd beagle mixed.we are going to the obedience training at Petsmart, my question is I want to make her my service dog (I have rheumatoid arthritis)but I am finding a very difficult to find training for that purpose any suggestions? anf no one can tell me anything about testing.can you please help me
    thank you


    Minette Reply:

    Most dogs are not suited for Service Dog work, they have to have excellent health (no hip, shoulder or elbow dysplasia) and they have to have a temperament that doesn’t mind being stepped on and petted by everyone. The percentage of dogs that can and want to do this is very small. Having run my own nonprofit and working with others for many years I know how hard it is to find a dog that is happy and safe doing this.

    I would contact Assistance Dogs International to find out more about organizations in your area and their Assistance Dog testing.

    And, I would look into our Companion Dog Course where I will teach you advanced obedience and retrieve. Although I can’t guarantee your dog will be a service dog, I can teach you more of the skills you need.

    Contact Dana at customer service at info@thedogtrainingsecret.com to find out when our next course will begin.


  3. Wilma says:

    Five weeks ago I adopted a 13 yr old Lab. She has fit right in just as though I had special ordered her. The reason she fits so well is she watches my 11 yr old Lab mix and does what he does. Since my 11 yr old has perfect house manners she also does. They each have their own beds, both in the living room and the bedroom. Neither gets on the furniture or jumps up on you. Both use the dog door to the back yard and both can be loose in the front yard without a leash. It only took a long lead, then a 12″ lead snapped on to her collar. Since she now knos the boundrys of the front yard, she needs nothing to remind her that I am the one in charge. I had been looking for a puppy for my 11 yr old to help me train, but then she needed an immediate home due to the health of her former owner. I think I fell in love with her and knew I had to have her even before I saw even a picture of her. Then when I met her I knew I had made the right decision. So, yes, I completely agree an older dog is capable of learning.


    Minette Reply:

    I’m in love with you 🙂 thank you for adopting an older dog that needed some love!!! I love older dogs!


  4. Kennie says:

    I have had my 6 year old just over 1 year. She had only been in a kennel her first 5 years of life. She had never been in a house, a car, out in public, no life experiences at all. She just earned her CGC Title. I’m so proud of her!


    Wilma Reply:

    Congratulations, Kenny. It’s such a good feeling and TEAM accomplishment. My 11 yr old Lab mix has his CGC, is registered with AKC as a mixed breed. Also we are a registered Pet Partners Team (for visiting nursing homes, etc). He also holds an AKC Therapy Dog Title. So I know how proud you are of her. You now have a community acknowledged well behaved dog. You should be proud of youseslf as well for helping her to get there.


  5. Connie Soltis says:

    I have a 3 yr. Poodle Shizu mix. I cannot get her house broken. I take her out all the time and she comes in and goes on my carpet by the be. I really dont know what to do with her. She is really smart and ver spoiled. PLEASE HELP iM tired of cleaning my carpet.


    Minette Reply:

    Perhaps too spoiled!

    I keep my dogs on leash until they are potty trained. Read these articles http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/category/puppy-potty-training/


    Jackie Reply:

    Crate training worked well for me. Also used an x-pen indoors when my two Shih Tzus were first brought home. You keep them confined except to go out and can keep them out for about 30 min. after they potty, then back into the crate they go. You’ll need to bring them outdoors frequently at first and don’t go by their age in months plus 1 to get the number of hours they can go between times. That doesn’t always work. Praise praise praise and then praise them some more. Training treats work well, too, if the dog is treat oriented. My pups got the idea that outdoors was the place to go but still had their own ideas. It was a battle but now at 9 months old they are completely housebroken. One other word. If it’s raining outside, get out the potty pads…there are cloth pads available thru Petco and Petsmart to help keep down that expense. Good luck.


    Minette Reply:

    I always caution against potty pads because some dog will pee on laundry or bath mats, or pull down towels or pee on the carpet because it reminds them of potty pads.


  6. Donna says:

    We rescued a little ShiuTzu from the shelter about nine months ago. She was a stray and was very frightened and nervous, especially around men, she was very fearful. It took several days for her to accept my husband and she followed me everywhere I went. As the months went by, she became more trusting but she is very frightened around other dogs mostly large dogs and becomes very aggressive so much so that I avoid taking her walking where we might encounter other animals. Strangely enough, she gets along quite well with my sons’ 80lb Boxer.

    But the main problem is her incessant barking. She’ll bark at the door bell, the phone, even doorbells and phones on TV. Her arch enemy is the gardener and she becomes almost out of control running though the house when he is around. I’ve tried everything to calm her and the only thing that seems to work is for me to pick her up and hold her on my lap until he is gone. Is there anything I can do to help this otherwise smart adorable dog to become a little less high strung. We love her dearly, just the same.


    Minette Reply:

    She needs more structure and less lap time. By picking her up and petting her, you are rewarding the behavior of barking at people. Instead I would make her do a down stay on a bed somewhere where she can’t easily see the gardener. http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/place-command-important-dog/

    I would also teach her eye contact and focus to keep her from being aggressive when you are out and about with other dogs and people http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/eye-contact-focus-behavior-broken/

    And, I would contact Dana at customer service at info@thedogtrainingsecret.com to be put on the list for our next dog aggression course. I think you will find the videos more helpful


  7. christa says:

    We have a 9 month old Aussiedoodle and he won’t stop nipping at us. 2 have tried “OUCH”, NO, WHERE’S YOUR TOY ÀND NOTHING SEEMS TO WORK. Any suggestions. Thanks in advance for any help.


    Minette Reply:

    He needs more exercise. He should be too tired to nip and bite! If he is showing you this behavior he needs more mental and physical stimulation. You should be providing him with exercise at least morning and night and training 3-5 times per day 10-15 minutes on obedience.

    Read this http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/land-shark/


  8. Marino fernandez says:

    We just rescued a Chihuahua, Parmarainian, Daschhound mix. About 8 pounds and 3 years old. Was constantly held, by edlerly couple and developed some un desiriablle habits. Begging at table during breakfast, lunch and dinner. We have had 5 days now. Loveable and is now attached to me. I have almost broke her habit of begging useing your teaching method. She has her mat to go to during this time till we are finished, then I acknowledge her whith her treats. She is doingwell. Breaking her to a leash and harness for walking the river tails this is new to her, but is accepting it!
    She is learning new boundries and transforming into a permanet family member. Your help over the years has taught this Old Dog
    some new tricks. 2 82 yr old couple.


  9. Linda Piel says:


    I have a MinPin that is almost two and is quite the barker. Today at the vet she had a barking fit because someone came in the office, and we were in the exam room and she could not even see the animal. So, as my vet was leaving, I asked if she had advice on her barking and she laughed and said, “She is a Min Pin” and they bark. Hmmm, we have tried everything and she still barks, any advice?


    Minette Reply:

    You need to learn to control it read this http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/top-5-reasons-dog-quiet/


  10. Jeannie says:

    our largest dog is a gigantic American Foxhound. We adopted her when she was about 2 years old. She’s extremely intelligent and easy to train for the most part – HOWEVER – do your research first, not afterwards like we did. She was feral, living in a park by the river for about a year and a half before one of the no-kill shelters here could capture her. We were told she spent months living at the director’s house because she was nearly starved and needed a lot of extra care. This was true – but she lived in a crate outside at the house. She had never been inside a house when we walked in the door with her. Foxhounds are also bred to be stubborn and independent actors. So we had a 60 lb, non- house trained dog who was and is very attached to the survival skills she developed. She learns new things very well; unlearning is a bit harder. Fast forward a couple of years, she’s definitely very much more a household member, but still cannot be trusted unsupervised in the house. Of our six dogs, she is by far the most challenging, and if she had been my first dog I would have thought that I’m just not a dog person. I’m very glad she ended up here, for her sake. The moral of the story is, do your research and make sure that you understand the dog you’re taking on. But adopting an adult dog is a great experience, and it gives a real life to a difficult to adopt out animal.


    Minette Reply:

    I have written this and like to pass this information along to those looking for shelter dogs http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/pick-shelter-dog/


  11. Cori says:

    Hi Minette, I was in the earlier dog training session, from Ohio, have a mix St. Bernard. Just didn’t seem to find the time to write this to give you a big thank you on how to get your dog use to a gentle leader. When I read your advice and put it into practice in no time I found I could safely walk my now 81 pound, and still growing puppy. He even sits when I show him the leader since he knows he will be going out. Thank you again, still working on other areas from the class. Money well spent.


    Minette Reply:

    Thank you, Cori, for your kind response! I am always happy to hear when people are finding success with my methods 🙂


  12. Hi Minette.

    4 years ago I rescued a 6 year old Kelpie x Labrador who had been kept in a chook run with the chooks.She now has completed Canine good citzenship, can now swim,jump jumps,go through tunnels, manage the weave poles, stay on her mat, great recall, walk on a loose lead, behavior around and play with other dogs. I assist in training dogs for service and therapy work. My dog is the one the pups come to,to be taught good manners around dogs and how to play. I say well done to the older dogs help.


    Minette Reply:

    I love me an old dog 🙂


  13. Nataly says:

    Hello, wasn’t sure where to post this or under what topic this is. Any help would be greatly appreciated! I have a 8 year old mini pincher, 8 years of babying him lol we recently got a little pup, I am not too sure of her breed, she was a gift from my parents. Bandit our eldest dog started getting really jealous of Betty who we have had for a month, we got her at 4 weeks old, so she is 2 months old..Lately Ive noticed bandit start to rub his face on my husbands stomach, or in between his legs, and if Betty would come near my husband, bandit will start barking at her. My husband always tells Bandit to be nice afterwards, immediately Bandit starts to rub his face on my husbands stomache. I am not sure if it’s something we should be concerned about or it’s just part of Bandits jealousy? Again any help is greatly appreciated and I am sorry if this veers off topic to the original post.


    Minette Reply:

    Dogs do mark by rubbing.

    However I would work more on obedience with the two of them than be overly concerned about the rubbing.

    Don’t allow the older dog to bark aggressively at the puppy.

    And, make sure the older dog still gets one on one attention as well as the puppy and work on obedience with them both.


    Nataly Reply:

    Thank you so much for the advice! We will start training ASAP


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