Training Older Dogs

Some people think that once a dog is past his puppy stage that it is too late to train him to behave properly.  This is not true.  While it may be easier in some ways to train a puppy, training older dogs is certainly achievable.

In some cases, you may know the background of the older dog that you are trying to train.  In other cases, such as if you have rescued a dog from a shelter or taken in a stray, you will not.  If you do not know the dog’s history, it is important to approach the training with a gentle spirit.

The dog may have been mistreated or abused, and will not react positively to any type of harsh scolding. In fact, there is no reason to ever yell at a dog that you are trying to train, no matter what their age.  Also, it should go without saying that hitting is a definite no-no.  Gentle training with positive reinforcements is the best way for training older dogs.

Remember that yelling and hitting are not proper training methods. These actions do nothing but make your dog fearful, and that is not what you want.  A fearful dog does not make a good pet or a good companion.

The tips below will help you in training older dogs, and some can also be applied when trying to train a puppy. 


Remember that your older dog not only has to learn proper behavior, he also has to UNLEARN unacceptable behaviors.  If the dog came from an environment where going to the bathroom inside was acceptable (and this is the case at many shelters) he will need to be taught that going the bathroom inside is not ok.  

The training really starts with you.  EXPECT him to go the bathroom inside.  Why wouldn’t he? That has been acceptable behavior for some time. He isn’t magically going to know that it is not okay just because he is now in your house.

The best thing you can do is to catch him in the act.  When you do, say “NO” in a firm clear voice and then gently lead him outside.  Yelling, rubbing his nose in it or hitting the dog is not going to be helpful in teaching the correct behavior. 

The same is true for digging, chewing and other unacceptable behaviors.  When training older dogs the key is to expect that these actions will happen.  Decide how you will handle them ahead of time. That way when he makes a mistake, instead of getting upset, you will be ready to help him relearn the correct way to behave.

Take Him Out Often

When trying to housebreak an older dog that is used to going the bathroom inside, one of the best things that you can do is to take him outside as often as possible.  Remember that he is not going to alert you of his need to go outside.  Instead, just take him out several times a day. 

Anytime that he goes to the bathroom while outside, praise him lavishly and give him treats. 

Firm, Commanding Voice

The most powerful tool that you have when training the older dog is your voice.  You need for your voice to be firm, but you do not need to yell.  The older dog needs to learn that you are in charge. 

For example, when you want your dog to come to you, say “COME” in a firm, clear voice.   Do not keep repeating the command, instead, couple the command with a hand gesture and say it and make the hand gesture just one time.

If the dog stops what he is doing and looks at you, just keep looking back at him until he comes.  If he does not come, wait a minute and then say the command and make the hand gesture once more. 

Do not sound angry or upset.  You need to sound completely in control.  If he still does not come.  Go to him and say “BAD DOG”, then step away and repeat the command and hand gesture again. 

When he does come, offer lavish praise and a treat. 

One Word Commands

When training older dogs, or any dog for that matter, it is best to use one word commands. It is much easier for a dog to understand “no”, “sit”, “come” than it is for them to understand “Come here, boy” or “Go sit in your spot”. 

Instead, combine one word commands with corresponding hand gestures.  You will notice over time that will often no longer need to say the command as the dog will respond to just the hand gestures.

Reward Good Behavior

One of the most important things to keep in mind when training any dog is that rewarding good behavior is more effective than punishing behavior that is unacceptable.

Anytime the your obeys a command, goes to the bathroom in the correct place or does any other good behavior, you should reward the him with praise, petting and, sometimes, treats. 

Reinforcing good behavior is the correct way to train an older dog or even puppies. 

Don’t think that you necessarily have a rough road ahead in the quest for training older dogs.  With the correct training methods, your older dog will be behaving properly in no time.

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