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Is It Ever Too Late To Start Training A Dog?

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Is It Ever Too Late To Start Training A Dog?

old dog

Is it ever too late to start training a dog?

Ideally dog training starts the day that you bring your new puppy home. It is easiest to show him great behavior and skills right from the start. The less a dog rehearses unwanted behavior such as leash pulling, jumping up on people or running away on walks, the less time you have to spend un-training and re-training the behavior.

But what if time has already passed and you have a now adult dog? Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

Never too late

There are many reasons why you might not have started training early on. Regardless what the cause is: It is not too late to start now. More than half of the clients’ dogs I see actually are older than one year, with some as old as 8-10 years old.

never too late to start training a dog

Some dog owners will also train their puppies in basic obedience and manners and then suddenly experience issues years down the road – such as reactivity that sets in later in life, difficulties in getting along with another dog or having potty accidents.

The most common reasons you might want to train an older dog are:

Adopting an older dog

If you adopted an adult or even senior dog from a rescue, he will likely come with some “baggage”. This does not necessarily mean that he was abused. Every family is different, and every rescue dog had gotten used to a different lifestyle and habits.

Maybe your rescue dog formerly lived with a retired person and now has to stay home while you go to work. This could result in mild separation anxiety or destructiveness. Or your rescue dog had a doggy friend in the same home, and how he is an only dog that is bored.

I have also worked with many adults that got adopted and suddenly lived in a very different environment – such as dogs that come from rural areas and suddenly live in an urban environment, where they cannot roam around, bark excessively or chase cats.

Whatever the reasons are for training your adopted adult dog – know that it is never too late!

Changes in your life

older dog and toddler

If you have big changes happening in your life, you might want to teach new skills to your dog that are suddenly required.

Maybe you have lived in the city so far and have only taken your dog on on-leash walks, and suddenly you move to the country and need him to come when called on a large property. Or you are expecting a baby and need your dog to learn some new, baby-compatible skills – such as quietly settling on a mat while you are changing diapers or walking next to a stroller without pulling.

The older your dog is when your life changes, the more you might wonder: Is it ever too late to start training a dog? But don’t worry – it is not. You can start training any time, with any dog – whether this is when you bring your puppy home at 8 weeks old or when your dog is already 12 years and needs a new skill.

Annoyed by bad habits

Many dog owners live with bad habits of their dogs for years. While they are annoyed by a dog who for example tries to steal food off the table any chance he gets or pulls on leash just enough to make walks unpleasant, they do not have the time, nerves and motivation to really do something about it. Only when they finally get fed up with the bad habits of their adult dog, they want to start training.

You would be surprised at how many local dog training clients I have had who come to me to fix behaviors their dogs have shown for years.

Is it ever too late to start training a dog though?

Of course not.

Is it ever too late to socialize a dog?

Your dog might have missed out on socialization early in life or had a traumatic experience later on that made him regress in his social skills. Can it be too late to start socializing?

Socializing is a bit different than teaching a dog a new skill. This is due to the fact that what we commonly refer to as “socializing” – learning to be around dogs and people and feeling happy and content – is not something that happens in the “actively thinking” part of the brain.

When you want to teach your dog a new trick such as spin in a circle, you can take a cookie, lure the dog in a circle – and he will repeat it readily, because he immediately learns “If I follow the cookie in a circle, I get to eat it!”

Socializing is not anything that dog actively thinks about. Rather than doing an action on purpose (such as spinning in a circle), he is feeling a certain way. This can be either happy and excited – or also scared, anxious, stressed, distraught etc.

Certain foundations of how our dog feels in a certain situation are laid very early on. During the first 12 weeks of a dog’s life he forms a general idea of how the world will be: friend or foe. Fun or scary. Happy or sad.

This does not mean that we cannot add to these foundations later on. But we may not be able to completely change his view on the world either.

socialized group of dogs

As a dog trainer, I occasionally come across very traumatized dogs, for example from hoarding situations or puppy mills. When working with these dogs, we quickly realize that they are different from our adult dogs that “just” learn new tricks. The task on hand is much bigger: We have to show them that the world is not as scary/mean or dangerous as they think. This will – depending on the dog’s history – not always be 100% successful.

Now does it mean you shouldn’t even try to socialize your adult dog because it is too late to start training? Certainly not! But – have realistic expectations for the training process. If your dog is 10 years old and came to you from an abusive situation, it may be too late to train him to love all people and dogs.

Can I still train my 2 year old dog?

Did you get a puppy a year or two ago, and then time just flew by and you missed out on enrolling for dog training classes and teaching basic commands to your dog? This is not anywhere close to “too late”. While it is never too late to train any dog, a 2 year old dog is actually still very young – just a teenager. Some breeds, especially large breeds don’t mature mentally until they are 2-3 years old, and big dogs will grow physically for nearly that long as well.

Whether your dog needs help with leash training, potty training, manners and polite behavior around people – now is the time to start working with him. Please don’t hold off on training because you believe it is too late. A 2 year old dog is only 15% into his overall lifespan. That means that if you teach him manners and good behaviors now, you will have a lovely, well-trained dog for the next 13+ years!

Is it too late to train a 5 year old dog?

You already know what I am about to tell you. Is it ever too late to start training a dog? No! While a 5 year old dog has had a longer time to ingrain unwanted behaviors, we can still address and fix them.

An older dog definitely might be more “set” in his ways. Whenever you are trying to un-train or retrain any behavior, you need to consider how long your dog has spent rehearsing it.

Has your dog been pulling on leash for the last 5 years? While it is never too late to train a dog to walk nicely on leash (and a big part of my dog training clients actually come to me for exactly this issue!), we need to keep in mind that the dog has just spent half a decade practicing exactly this (or, if you have an older dog – he might have a history of pulling on leash for 7, 8, 9 or 10 years).

It is unreasonable to expect to be able to train a dog to completely change his habits within a day or even a week. Any trainer who promises that their training will be helpful probably uses punitive approaches and corrects wrong behavior rather the rewarding the right one. It is important to make sure your trainer uses positive methods rather than physical discomfort (such as choke chains) in the training process.

Can older dogs still learn?

Do you have a senior dog and want to teach him something new? One of the great things about dogs is that they are eternally curious and love to learn, play and interact with you at any age. While it might be too late to get your dog into an exerting sport such as agility training, he can always start with nosework, tricks, brain games or different enrichment activities.

In fact, you can slow down the aging process by keeping your dog active – both mentally and physically. Old dogs love training and they love to spend time with you. While it is not ever too late to train a dog, working with your older dog has the additional benefit of increasing the quality – and even duration – of his life.

At what age is it too late to train a dog?

Of course, you know the answer by now: It is not ever too late.

Training works at any point in a dog’s life. Whether you start the day you bring your puppy home, or when your 10 year old dog finally needs to stop his leash pulling habit. Any day is a great day to start training!

Dog training should always be fun and positive. If you make sure it is, then your dog will love to learn and engage with you. Training should mean treats – fun – teamwork – happiness. Age does not determine how well or fast your dog learns – what determines it is the training approach you choose, the quality of your rewards and how well you are able to match your dog’s learning style.

And now – go and train your dog for a bit! No matter how old he is.

Happy Training!

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