How to Train Your Older Dog to Behave

Medium
5-20 Days
Behavior

Introduction

Articles are quick to highlight that as dogs age they become more calm and wise. What they don't often tell you is that they also become more and more stubborn, and bad habits turn into deeply entrenched behaviors. For a dog that has been trained and loved his whole life, these traits are mostly just endearing - like the grumpiness of an old man. But for dogs who missed out on key learning when they were young, old age only makes things more complicated.

Defining Tasks

Rescue dogs often come with one or two serious behavioral issues. Many of the owners that surrender a dog really weren't ready for one in the first place. Most of them were unable to successfully train their dog, hence why the dog is now in a shelter.

This poses a problem for adoptive doggy parents. How do you bring one of these misbehaving grown-ups into your home? The majority of new-to-you dog owners do not want to sacrifice their houses (or their friends) because of their new four-legged friend.

Thankfully, old dogs can learn new things! If it's a brand new behavior that they're taking on, the learning process should be quick. If you're teaching them not to do something that they may have been allowed to do their entire lives, it's going to take a lot more work.

Getting Started

There are things you can do before the pooch even comes home to help prepare for those first few weeks. If you're physically and mentally ready, you're more likely to succeed in retraining your mutt. To prepare, be sure to:

  • De-clutter the House: Some doggos are very destructive. Make it easier on you both by removing any extra objects in the areas that the pup will be in.
  • Buy Treats: To help your new dog learn, have a good supply of treats on hand. Be sure to reward good behavior as it's happening so the dog gets why he's being praised.
  • Get a Crate: Just because a pooch is older does not mean you should trust him to roam free when you're not around. When you have to leave, crate him up!
  • Be Realistic: It can take weeks of persistent training before your canine shows progress. Don't expect change to happen overnight!

It's also important to note that all household members should be aware of how you're training the dog. If everyone is doing the same things, the dog will get the picture much faster. Remember, with dogs, consistency is key!
Below are some great methods for teaching an old boy or gal some manners. See which ones work for your family and your dog, and give them a whirl!

The Basic Care Method

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Step
1
Go on daily walks
They don't have to be hours long, but try to top twenty minutes.
Step
2
Feed them right
Provide a healthy, appropriate diet for your dog. This can be done with raw food, supplements, or high quality dog food.
Step
3
Play with your pup
This can help the two of you bond, and helps build trust.
Step
4
Focus on the positive
Really watch for areas you can praise your dog, and follow through quickly.
Step
5
Be firm but calm
Bad behavior should be stopped using a low but strong tone of voice as the action is happening. Dogs don't respect a leader who freaks out all of the time.
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The Stubborn Dog Method

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Go slow
Try to teach only one command per day to keep things simple.
Step
2
Get help
If this isn't working, call a professional trainer to help lay the groundwork.
Step
3
Keep working on it
Practice what the trainer has taught you every day for a few weeks.
Step
4
Join a class
If your dog is responding, sign up for a training class with other dogs.
Step
5
Use the training
Implement what you learn at the class and be persistent!
Recommend training method?

The Social Butterfly Method

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Watch the dog
Observe how your pupper responds to new people, places, or things to identify issues.
Step
2
Bring in stressors
Try to introduce things that make your dog uncomfortable--in a controlled situation.
Step
3
Don't overwhelm them
Keep it short and praise the dog if he keeps his composure.
Step
4
Ask a pro
If your dog doesn't do well, talk to a dog trainer or behaviorist to see what they suggest.
Step
5
Listen and learn
Follow their direction closely whenever your dog has to be around what bothers them.
Recommend training method?
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Written by Abby Clark

Published: 10/16/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Freya
Jack Russell Terrier/Cattle dog
4 Years
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Question
0 found helpful
Freya
Jack Russell Terrier/Cattle dog
4 Years

Barks and growls at other people and my girlfriends kid.

Lunges at our other dogs on runs as if to herd them.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Blake, It sound like pup needs a combination of off-leash obedience practice (which is practiced on a long training leash initially) to help manage the herding drive, as well as calm respect building for you to help pup let you handle situations around other people and dogs, and counter conditioning and desensitizing to people and running dogs. Commands like Leave It, Come, Quiet, Place, Down, Heel, and Out can help with impulse control, management, and build respect for you gently. Place command: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O75dyWITP1s Down-Stay: https://www.thelabradorsite.com/train-your-labrador-to-lie-down-and-stay/ Heel- Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Come - Reel in method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-whippet-to-recall Out - which means leave the area: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Quiet method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Check out trainers like Thomas Davis' channel from the Canine Educator online. I highly recommend hiring a professional trainer to help you in person with this. Look for someone who specializes in behavior issues like fear and aggression, has experience with herding breeds and teaching impulse control, works with a team of trainers and has access to well mannered dogs, like the trainers' own dogs, so there are "strangers" and other dogs to practice controlled settings with for training sessions, and who comes well recommended by their previous clients for behavior issue needs they had with their dogs. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Puff
Pekingese
10 Years
0 found helpful
Question
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Puff
Pekingese
10 Years

Puff is behaving aggressively. He has bitten my boyfriend and growls at me sometimes

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
257 Dog owners recommended

As a dog owner, you probably get upset when your dog growls. Your first reaction may be to suppress the growling by scolding or punishing the dog. This is never a good idea. By teaching your dog that growling isn't acceptable behavior, you're taking away its ability to warn you that it may bite. You may have heard stories about dogs that bite with no warning. But, in many cases, this is because the owners trained their dogs not to give a warning growl first. The key to getting a dog to stop growling is not to suppress the growls, but rather to deal with the underlying problem. Once the pain, fear, possession aggression, or territoriality has been dealt with, the dog will no longer need to growl. In-Depth Training Territoriality, possession aggression, and fear are serious behavior problems. Depending on the degree of the behavioral problem, the dog may respond well to a training program or may need a much more in-depth behavior modification program. A dog trainer or animal behaviorist can help you evaluate the dog, and determine the best course of action for dealing with these issues. As you work with this type of trainer, be as specific as possible as to what you think triggered the growling. The trainer will likely work with the dog to slowly condition it to accept the trigger and not growl in its presence. Next Steps While you're working to determine the cause of the growling, don't ignore it or it's likely to get worse. Be careful around your dog until you figure out why it's growling. Additionally, you may want to help your dog modify its behavior until the situation is under control. For example, if your dog always growls at the mail carrier, close the window shades and eliminate any sightlines while you work on the problem. If possible, eliminate triggers, avoid stressful situations, and caution others (both dogs and humans) to keep their distance in order to prevent a dog bite. For example, you may not want to introduce your dog to new dogs, bring it to a dog park, or host a loud party until you get help.

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Question
biggie
pitbull
10 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
biggie
pitbull
10 Years

our 10 year old dog cannot be left alone and will whine and bark until we come home. No matter what we give him and He will also get into treats and even dangerous items such as coffee beans by ripping open the bag. He whines whenever he is put outside just to go the bathroom or hang out with other dogs. He whines and begs for food no matter what and no matter how many times you say no he will keep begging. We recently are fostering a dog and he snaps at the dog anytime he comes near or attempts to play with him. Any Advice?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sidny, I do recommend hiring a professional trainer who specializes in behavior issues to help you in person. There are a couple of routes you can take with the separation anxiety. The first step is to work on building his independence and his confidence by adding a lot of structure and predictability into his routine. Things such as making him work for rewards like meals, walks, and pets. Working on "Stay" and "Place," commands while you move away or leave the room, and teaching him to remain inside a crate when the door is open. Change your routine surrounding leaving so that he does not anticipate alone time and build up his anxiety before you leave - which is hard for him to deescalate from, and be sure to continue to give him something to do in the crate during the day (such as a dog food stuffed Kong to chew on); this is the general protocol for separation anxiety. It is gentle but can take a very long time on its own for some dogs. I also recommend practicing pup staying on Place when you eat to help with the begging. Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omg5DVPWIWo Another protocol involves teaching the dog to cope with their own anxiety by making their current anxious go-to behaviors unpleasant, giving them an opportunity to stop those behaviors long enough to learn something new, then rewarding the correct, calmer behavior instead. This protocol can feel harsh because it involves careful correction, but it tends to work much quicker for many dogs. If you go this route, I suggest hiring a trainer who is very experienced using both positive reinforcement and fair correction. Who is extremely knowledgeable about e-collar training, and can follow the protocol listed below, to help you implement the training. Building his independence and structure in his life will still be an important part of this protocol too. First, check out this video from SolidK9Training on treating anxiety. It will give a brief over-view of treating separation anxiety more firmly. This trainer can be a bit abrupt with his teaching style with people but is very experienced working with highly aggressive, anxious, and reactive dogs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5GqzeLzysk Make sure you are implementing what he teaches there in other areas of his life too. Second, purchase a remote electronic collar, e-collar, with a wide range of levels. I recommend purchasing E-Collar Technologies Mini Educator or Garmin Delta Sport or Dogtra for this. If you are not comfortable with an e-collar then you can use a vibration collar (the Mini Educator and Garmin should also have a vibration mode) or unscented air remote controlled air spray collar. DO NOT use a citronella collar, buy the additional unscented air canister if the collar comes with the citronella and make sure that you use the unscented air. (Citronella collars are actually very harsh and the smell - punisher lingers a long time so the dog continues to be corrected even after they stop the behavior). The vibration or spray collars are less likely to work than stimulation e-collars though, so you may end up spending more money by not purchasing an e-collar first. The Mini Educator has very low levels of stimulation, that can be tailored specifically to your dog. It also has vibration and beep tones that you can try using first, without having to buy additional tools. Next, set up a camera to spy on him. If you have two smart devices, like tablets or smartphones, you can Skype or Facetime them to one another with your pup’s end on mute, so that you can see and hear him but he will not hear you. Video baby monitors, video security monitors with portable ways to view the video, GoPros with the phone Live App, or any other camera that will record and transmit the video to something portable that you can watch outside live will work. Next, put the e-collar on him while he is outside of the crate, standing, and relaxed. To learn how to put the collar on him, check out this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLxB6gYsliI Turn it to it's lowest level and push the stimulation button twice. See if he responds to the collar at all. Look for subtle signs such as turning his head, moving his ears, biting his fur, moving away from where he was, or changing his expression. If he does not respond at all, then go up one level on the collar and when he is standing and relaxed, push the stimulation button again twice. Look for a reaction again. Repeat going up one level at a time and then testing his reaction at that level until he indicates a little bit that he can feel the collar. Here is a video showing how to do this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cl3V8vYobM A modern, high quality collar will have so many levels that each level should be really subtle and he will likely respond to a low level stimulation. It's uncomfortable but not the harsh shock many people associate with such collars if done right. Once you have found the right stimulation level for him and have it correctly fitted on him, have him wear the collar around with it turned off or not being stimulated for several hours or days if you can (take it off at night to sleep though). Next, set up your camera to spy on him while he is in the crate. Put him into the crate while he is wearing the collar and leave. Spy on him from outside. Leave however you normally would. As soon as you hear him barking or see him start to try to escape or destroy the crate from the camera, push the stimulation button once. Every time he barks or tries to get out of the crate, stimulate him again. If he does not decrease his barking or escape attempts at least a little bit after being stimulated seven times in a row, then increase the stimulation level by one level. He may not feel the stimulation while excited so might need it just slightly higher. Do not go higher than three more levels on the mini-educator or two more levels on another collar with less levels right now though because he has not learned what he is supposed to be doing yet. For example, if his level is 13 out of 100 levels on the Mini Educator, don't go past level 16 right now. The level you end up using on him on the mini educator collar will probably be low to medium, within the first forty levels of the one-hundred to one-hundred-and-twenty-five levels, depending on the model you purchase. If it is not, then have a professional evaluate whether you have the correct "working level" for him. If he continues to ignore the collar, then go up one more stimulation level and if that does not work, make sure that the collar is turned on, fitted correctly, and working. After five minutes to ten minutes, as soon as your dog stays quiet and is not trying to escape for five seconds straight, go back inside to the dog, sprinkle several treats into the crate without saying anything, then leave again. Practice correcting him from outside when he barks or tries to escape, going back inside and sprinkling treats when he stays quiet, for up to 30 minutes at first. After 30 minutes -1 hour of practicing this, when he is quiet, go back inside and sprinkle more treats. This time stay inside. Do not speak to him or pay attention to him for ten minutes while you walk around and get stuff done inside. When he is being calm, then you can let him out of the crate. When you let him out, do it the way Jeff does is in this video below. Opening and closing the door until your dog is not rushing out. You want him to be calm when he comes out of the crate and to stay calm when you get home. That is why you need to ignore him when you get home right away. Also, keep your good byes extremely boring and calm. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5GqzeLzysk Continue to put a food stuffed Kong into the crate with him. Once he is less anxious he will likely enjoy it and that will help him to enjoy the crate more. First, he probably needs his anxious state of mind interrupted so that he is open to learning other ways to behave. Once it's interrupted, give him a food stuffed Kong in the crate for him to relieve his boredom instead of barking, since he will need something other than barking to do at that point. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Charlie
Labrador Husky
2 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Charlie
Labrador Husky
2 Years

He digs in the couch constantly

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
257 Dog owners recommended

Hello! It sounds like he needs an outlet or release of some sort. If long vigorous walks are possible, I would start there. Hiring a dog runner or having him spend a few days in doggie day care is also a great way for him to get his energy out.

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Question
POGO
Pug
9 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
POGO
Pug
9 Years

We just rescued a deaf dog.She has a loud bark, which bothers my other dog. Other dog is appearing to be aggressive when new dog barks. Is this a bad sign?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1115 Dog owners recommended

Hello Jill, Many dogs expect another dog to abide by dog social rules and may try to correct a dog when they aren't doing so. Barking loudly at nothing can annoy other dogs too when there is nothing reasonable that the dog is barking at (because they are deaf). It's not a good situation among the dogs because you don't want a fight to break out. Some very socially savy dogs will be gentle and careful with their corrections, but others lack self-control and might harm another dog. Without knowing your dogs I can't say which case it is, and with multiple dogs there may be some of both. Work on laying a lot of boundaries down for all the dogs. Teach pup's (with hand signals with the new dog) commands like Place, Wait, Out (:Leave the area), Leave It, Quiet, and Down-Stay. Use commands like those to give the dogs instructions and show them that you are managing the household and it's not their job to manage each other. Work on rewarding the new dog for being quiet during times of quietness, and rewarding your other dogs for being tolerant of the new dog (Reward them away from each other though when other dogs aren't watching so food fights don't start over treats). You want to teach boundaries, work on the barking issue with the new dog, and rewards pups for good behavior when you catch them doing well. Use treat, a leash, and your body language to enforce commands with the new dog - especially since they can't hear. Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O75dyWITP1s Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Out - which means leave the area: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Quiet method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Down-Stay: https://www.thelabradorsite.com/train-your-labrador-to-lie-down-and-stay/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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