In theory, training an older dog is done exactly the same way as training a young dog or puppy – with lots of rewards and positive motivation. However, you must consider a few things when taking on the challenge of training an older dog.
Is food her motivator? Obesity is a growing problem in dogs, particularly older dogs. If you choose to work with food, you must find treats your dog will flip for while not adding a ton of calories to her diet.
Hearing and vision loss. Like people, older dogs often don’t see and hear as well as their younger counterparts, so consider adding hand signals to your training if you have any doubts about your dog’s ability to hear. Blind dogs can be taught behavioral cues to help them navigate their surroundings and while on outings.
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) can limit a dog’s ability to learn new behaviors and cause her to forget behaviors previously learned. Other symptoms can include disorientation, being less responsive, having “accidents” indoors, and personality changes. CCD does not affect all dogs but is fairly common in older dogs. If your dog is showing symptoms, speak with your veterinarian about care and medications to help manage CCD.
Adjust the intensity of training to meet her age and physical condition. For instance, if your dog is ball crazy but has some joint issues, don’t throw the ball 30 times. Her heart may be in it, but you don’t want her to hurt herself. Consider the temperature as well – older dogs typically don’t handle heat and humidity as well as they did in their younger years.
When attempting to change behavior and long-held habits, it will take more time and patience than training new “tricks.” If you just want to change the way your dog performs a behavior, consider using a different cue. To the dog, it’s like learning something new.
Even if your older dog doesn’t need “training,” consider working with her daily. Teach her some tricks, try puzzle toys, or add other fun things to her routine. Mental stimulation is as important for older dogs as it is for puppies.