When is it Too Late to Train a Dog?

Last Updated on June, 2024

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” 

At least, that’s the famous proverb. Maybe you’ve been baited into taking this expression literally and thinking it’s true. That training a dog has an expiration date to learn new tricks. Your adult dog is already past their prime. 

Everyone is telling you it’s too late.

But is this true?

Don’t worry. We’ve got your tail covered. In this article, we’ll be busting common misconceptions about your older dog and how you can train them without a single ‘paw’-blem.

Ready? Let’s get started! 

Quick Summary

Old dogs are not too old to be trained and can learn new tricks.

Basic commands should still be taught to older dogs, and bad habits can be unlearned.

Training an older dog should be done with patience and consideration for their age and physical abilities.

So What Age is “Too Late” for an Adult Dog?

A black and white dog laying on a blue blanket

Well, there is no limit!

That’s right, folks. Your dog is never too old to be trained, regardless of breed or sex. While your senior dog may not be a puppy anymore, that doesn’t mean they can’t learn new tricks. 

As their dog trainer, it is up to you to tailor your training methods to suit your older dog’s age and physical condition. It’s a great opportunity for a rewarding learning experience for both of you.

Why is House Training an Older Dog So Important Anyways? 

There is no doubt that training a dog is vital to ensure they are the best version of themselves. Also, nobody wants a rabid canine on the loose at home. 

Here is why training a dog makes life better for dog owners and their senior pets:

  • Age? Nah, it’s just a number in the world of dog training. Old dogs can still learn new behaviors, shed bad habits, and learn obedience that’ll make their golden years shine even brighter.
  • Dealing with those pesky habits that seem impossible to break? Training is your superhero cape against unwanted behavior!
  • Training sessions keep their mental health in tip-top shape when physical activity becomes more challenging.
  • Imagine training exercises as a gentle massage on those aging joints. 
  • Older dog senses gently fade with time. Dog training becomes a heartwarming way to keep the communication lines open and build an unbreakable bond.
  • No more intense park-time tugs-of-war, bothering neighbors with their nighttime barking or joint strain, and circulatory stress from chasing down squirrels (I’ll cover tips on this in a bit).

And most of all, training is fun for both of you! There’s nothing that can hold you back from beginning your dog trainer journey with your adult dog, which brings me to my next point.

Don’t Wait Around and “Hope” Things Will Work Out

It’s easy to fall into despair and think everyone else is miles ahead of you with their dogs and puppies.

You might be tempted to let things be and hope your dog will magically shed their bad habits overnight.

I hate breaking it to you, but not everything is that easy.

Remember this: No matter how much of a mess your three-year-old may be right now, it doesn’t matter. 

It’s never too late to start.

A Person holding a dog's hands

If you want to change your dog’s life and your own, pick yourself up and get to work. And I will show you just how to achieve that. 

So, Where Do I Start With Dog Training?

Ever heard the phrase “communication is key”? Well, it holds in human relationships and with your old dog. As a dog owner, it’s your ticket to understanding your pup’s world. 

Let’s roll up our sleeves and tackle some everyday bad habits, starting with the first things to teach your old dog and some nifty tips to make training fun.

First Things to Teach Your Old Dog 

Two dogs in the training session

Here are some things you should consider teaching your senior dog: 

Simple commands: If your dog hasn’t already mastered commands like “sit,” “stay,” “down,” and “come,” now’s a good time to work on these. 

Leash manners: Make sure your older dog is comfortable with being on a leash so that they don’t pull or get feisty on walks. 

Gentle socialization: If your adult dog hasn’t had many social encounters with other dogs and people, a bit of gentle socialization can help ease their fears or anxieties. 

Quiet and calm behavior: Older dogs may be more prone to barking up a storm. Work on teaching them to be calm and quiet when needed. 

Regular exercise: This may not be a “command” but keeping your dog physically and mental active is crucial for their health and well-being.

You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks – How to Unlearn Bad Habits?

Think of older dogs as wise, experienced individuals who can sometimes develop quirky habits, just like humans do.

It could be because they never learned the right behaviors when they were younger. Their routine may have changed.

Or they’re feeling a bit achy, bored, or anxious about something. 

Either way, it can be super frustrating for you to deal with.

A Person Training a Fluffy Dog

Having an unruly dog chewing on your favorite shoes or digging holes in your flower bed can seriously ruin your day.

But the good news is that your dog is capable of obedience!

Chewing

Are you tired of your older dog turning everything in the house into a chew toy? Don’t worry; you can curb those chewing habits with a bit of know-how and patience.

The first step is figuring out why your dog chews in the first place. It could be boredom, anxiety, teeth discomfort, or even dental issues. Understanding the root cause is vital to training your dog out of the habit. 

You can then proceed to take the following measures: 

  • Make sure your dog has access to suitable chew toys or bones. You can even up the ante by smearing some peanut butter or treat paste to make them more appealing.
  • When you catch your dog chewing on the wrong things, gently redirect them to the proper chew toy and praise them when they switch.
  • Exercise and mental stimulation are essential, especially for older dogs. Long walks, puzzle toys, and interactive games can help keep them engaged and less prone to chewing out of boredom.
  • Consider using pet-safe deterrent sprays on items your dog targets. These sprays have a taste or smell that will discourage chewing. 
  • Basic commands like “leave it” or “drop it” can be lifesavers. Use them to redirect your dog’s attention from non-chewable items. 
  • If you suspect dental problems or any other underlying health issues are causing this, consult your vet for a check-up.

Digging 

A beagle digging in the dirt in a field

Again, this behavior possibly stems from boredom or anxiety. Or it could even be your dog on a quest for cooler ground on hot days, a treasure hunt for critters, or just good old-fashioned fun:

  • Make sure your dog gets their daily dose of exercise and playtime. Regular walks, interactive toys, and mental stimulation can help curb the digging urge born out of boredom. 
  • Try setting up a designated digging zone in your yard. Fill it with soft soil or sand and bury some toys or treats. It’s like telling your pet, “Here’s the spot where all the fun stuff is!”
  • When you catch them digging elsewhere, gently redirect their attention to a toy or game. When they take the bait, shower them with praise and a treat.
  • You can apply deterrents like cayenne pepper or commercial sprays to the areas your dog frequents. The scent will send a clear “no-digging” message.
  • Using commands like “leave it” and “come” to break their digging trance and steer them to more constructive activities can be very effective.

Barking 

I’m sure by now you’re tired of your older dog serenading you with non-stop barking.

It’s time to turn down the volume of this canine chorus with a few simple strategies:

  • As before, you need to play detective to understand why your older dog is barking up a storm. Are they bored? Anxious? Guarding their territory? Or just craving some attention?
  • Exercise is your best ally here. A tired dog is a quiet dog, so make sure your pet gets enough physical activity and mental stimulation.
  • If certain triggers like passing cars or noisy neighbors set off the barking, try to reduce their exposure. Draw the curtains, play some white noise, or create a peaceful sanctuary where your dog can unwind. 
  • Catch your dog being quiet and reward them generously. Positive reinforcement is the name of the game here. This will teach your pup that silence is golden.
  • Teaching them simple commands like “quiet” or “enough” also helps. Be sure to follow this with a shower of praises and a treat when they behave.

Pulling on Leash 

A woman is walking a dog on a leash

Is your senior dog taking you for a walk rather than the other way around? Leash pulling can make walks less enjoyable, but fear not—we’ve got an obedience training game plan to get things back on track: 

  • First, equip your pup with a comfortable harness. Avoid choke collars. You want walks to be a happy experience, not a tug-of-war.
  • Teaching your dog phrases like “heel” or “walk nicely” is a game-changer for leash training, 
  • Positive reinforcement is your secret weapon here. Whenever your dog walks calmly by your side, shower them with praise, love, and a treat. This builds a positive association with walking politely. 
  • Short and frequent walks are your best bet. This approach keeps your dog focused and prevents them from getting too tired or frustrated. 
  • If your dog pulls, put on the brakes. Stop walking until they slacken the leash. This will teach them that bad behavior doesn’t lead to progress. 
  • You can also change directions. A sudden pivot gets your dog’s attention and encourages them to stick close.

Read the complete guide on leash training a dog here.

Potty Training 

Potty training an older dog might sound like a Herculean task to you, but it is, in fact, quite simple. First, consult your dog’s veterinarian to ensure they are healthy.

Once you have the green light, it’s time to establish a routine:

  • Set regular feeding times. Take your dog out first thing in the morning, after meals, and before bedtime. Consistency is the key, so always use the same door and route to the designated potty area. 
  • Encourage and reward your dog after they do their business outside. Use a treat, a cheerful tone, and lots of petting to make them feel like a superstar.
  • Introduce specific cue words like “potty” or “outside” during bathroom breaks to help them connect the dots. 
  • Keep a close eye on your dog indoors and watch for signs they need to go, like sniffing or circling. If accidents happen (and they will), clean them up thoroughly to remove any lingering scents that might tempt your dog to use the same spot again.
  • Be patient and consistent throughout the process. Older dogs may take longer to catch on. Stay positive and avoid punishing them for accidents.

Tips to Teaching Basic Commands for Adult Dogs

You must teach your dog basic commands, as it is the key to unlocking that level of bonding and communication with your dog.

Here’s a pawsitive approach to get you started:

  • Begin with the classics- “sit,” “stay,” “down,” “come,” and “leave it.” These are the ABCs of dog training.
  • Always remember: your secret weapons are treats, praise, and affection. When your old dog does what you ask, reward them with treats, cuddles, and enthusiastic praise. Be their biggest cheerleader!
  • Dogs are visual learners. Train with hand signals to your verbal commands for extra clarity.
  • Be patient. Dogs can sense your vibe. If frustration starts to creep in during training, rest yourself. 
  • Keep things consistent. Use the same words and hand signals each time you give a command. Dogs love routine, so they’ll catch on faster.
  • Find a quiet place to train. Fewer distractions mean more focus. Once the basics are nailed, practice in different spots with distractions. Gradual challenges are the key.

Your Older Dog is Capable of Socializing 

Younger dogs typically have a better time socializing with other dogs and new people from 3 to 8 weeks. Your dog may have missed out on an early socialization period, but that doesn’t mean they can’t learn.

Here are some things to keep in mind: 

  • Start by understanding your dog’s current social vibe. Some older dogs may be cautious or introverted, so respect their boundaries.
  • If your dog’s a bit fearful, desensitize them by introducing triggers (like other dogs or people) from a distance and then gradually closing that gap over time.
  • Set up playdates with well-socialized adult dogs you trust. Supervise closely and make sure it ends on a happy note.
  • Again, treats are your best friend. Rewarding your dog for good behavior during social interactions is a great positive association.
  • Be sure to keep a close eye on your dog’s body language during the socialization process. If they seem stressed or aggressive, exit the scene. Don’t push them into situations they’re not ready for.
  • Up the ante slowly by introducing your dog to busier places or events.
  • Read our complete guide to socialize your older dog perfectly.

Other guides and tools you might need when training your dog:

Be Sure Not to Push Your Dog’s Limits

Think of it as taking a leisurely stroll rather than a sprint when it comes to training an older dog.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of teaching them new things, but remember, pushing too hard can stress them out and put them at risk of injury. Your dog might have a few physical limitations and might not be as quick to catch on. 

I advise focusing on one behavior at a time instead of overwhelming your dog with too many commands. Always keep their rest and well-being in mind, and chat with your vet to make sure the training suits your dog’s age and health. 

FAQs

The ideal time to start training a dog is at 8 weeks old, as this is when they are most receptive and able to learn new habits.

No, you shouldn’t punish your dog. It can create fear and increase rebellious behaviour. Positive training methods are more effective for communication and obedience.

Yes, it will simply enhance your dog’s behavior and promote obedience, allowing their unique personality to shine.

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Laura Vinzy
Laura Vinzy is one of our contributors. She is also a certified professional dog trainer & currently lives in San Francisco with her husband and her two rescue dogs.

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