Here are some key considerations that will set up you (and your pooch) for success.
1. Identify what your dog likes to do: Dogs’ personalities don’t change much after puppyhood. Often, fearful or anxious dogs may remain that way. However most dogs, when you realize what motivates them, are eager to learn at any age.
2. Keep it simple: Teach one word commands. Polish up the standard behaviors your dog most likely learned as a youngster; sit, down, go to your bed, etc. Even though your dog may know these, reward your dog when that behavior occurs naturally. For example, give your dog a high value food treat for sitting, lying down, go to your bed, shake, etc. The frequency of his performing the behavior will increase if the reward is appreciated.
3. Build on what they already know: If your dog knows fetch, for example, the fundamental behavior is a retrieve (identifying a target and bringing it to you). This can be trained into the trick of “cleaning your room” – picking up toys or other things and putting them into a basket.
4. Consider your dog’s physical capabilities: Many older dogs may suffer from physical ailments such as arthritis, stiffness, etc. If your dog has a tough time getting up and down, jumping, etc. then determine what other tricks (behaviors) can be taught while keeping your dog comfortable. If your dog is slightly deaf, you may have to speak louder.
5. Make it fun: The very act of spending time with the dog, plus the sense of accomplishment and understanding that teaching and learning brings, is well worth the effort and improves the quality of both the pet parent and pet’s life. Punishment based techniques are unacceptable, especially for older dogs. Teaching your old dog new tricks can keep him focused and mentally active for a long time. This philosophy can be applied to the human and the dog. Enjoy your time together and make it fun!