Dear Miss Behavior: We adopted an older dog from the shelter. I’ve heard you can’t teach old dog new tricks. The shelter said she was nine; is that too old to take an obedience class?
No way! That old adage is wrong, wrong, wrong. Keeping a dog mentally fit is as important as keeping them physically fit. Just as a retired person can learn a new language or to play a musical instrument, a senior dog can learn to do just about anything.
Dogs don’t lose the ability to learn, but when dogs have learned a bad habit it can sometimes take a little longer to teach them what to do instead. A good rule of thumb is three weeks to forget the old behavior and three weeks to learn the new behavior. Sometimes it can take longer. Don’t expect any dog (regardless of age) to change their behavior overnight. If it was that easy then humans would easily be able to lose weight or stop smoking.
Once you take a class or two you can consider taking a Tricks class or even Agility! Just don’t push her too fast, and make sure you check with your veterinarian before starting something really active like Agility or Flyball.
Thanks to this feature goes to Greater Lincoln Obedience Club, who ran the Miss Behavior Dog Advice Column in their newsletter. Appreciation also is extended to Marcy Graybill, a trainer at GLOC and the expert behind this column. She also hosts her own blog, Dog Log, where she talks about training adventures with her dogs.