Training older dogs
It’s always easiest to train a puppy from day one, but sometimes you don’t have that luxury. Whether you’ve just adopted an adult rescue dog or your dog has begun to get into bad habits, training adults is often necessary–and still totally possible, with patience and persistence.
Why adopt an adult dog?
Older dogs are often calmer, require less exercise than puppies, and can be left alone safely for longer periods of time. They may also come to you already housetrained or obedience-trained by former owners–but even the most well-behaved adult dog will need some help settling in and learning the rules around your house.
Maybe your new dog was allowed to sleep on the couch in his last home, or likes to bark aggressively at neighbours even though he’d never hurt a fly. These are habits that even a dog you’ve raised from puppyhood can fall into, over time. Trying to break bad habits isn’t fun, but even an old dog can learn new tricks.
Twice the patience
If you thought training a puppy took patience, think again. Retraining an older dog will take twice as much calm persistence as a puppy because you’re fighting the weight of years of habit. That means you have to untrain the bad habits and teach new ones.
Much like training a young puppy, the trick is to remain calm, loving, and firm. Delicious treats or clicker training are both good ways to instill new habits. You may need to get inventive with especially stubborn dogs by making the furniture Fido loves to chew taste bad (using products like Bitter Apple spray) or rigging up a startling noise to scare him if he goes near the cat food again (such as a plastic jar filled with coins).
Lots of professional dog trainers share their advice online, so if you’re struggling with an annoying bad habit that you can’t seem to break, try looking around on the web to find ideas that might work for your dog.
If you need help training your adult dog
Despite the many upsides of adopting an adult dog, there are disadvantages, too. When you adopt an adult rescue dog, you take responsibility for that dog’s mental and emotional well-being, sometimes without knowing exactly what might be lurking in their past.
Some dogs end up in rescues due to an owner’s illness, or because their families couldn’t afford to keep them, but others have been neglected or abused and may have fear or aggression triggers. If your dog is highly reactive and you feel like you’re in over your head, it’s always best to consult a professional dog trainer who specializes in the kind of anxiety or phobia your dog experiences.
It’s never too late for any dog to unlearn bad habits, but your adult dog can’t solve his problems on his own. It’s up to you to find the right solution for you and your best friend.