Linda Brodzik • Linda J. Brodzik Canine Behavior & Training • LindaBrodzik.com
Q. My husband and I are considering adopting a senior dog from a shelter. We’ve heard older animals are harder to get adopted because most people would like puppies, and we would like to help. We were wondering if it is, in fact, possible to teach an old dog new tricks, so to speak. Are older animals capable of being trained, or are they more set in their ways than a puppy would be in terms of behavior?
A. The old adage that you cannot teach old dogs new tricks is a fallacy. Older dogs are quite capable of learning. This being said, there are some considerations to keep in mind when adopting an older dog. More important than a dog’s age is her life experience. This affects the dog’s openness to learn, and her ability to make associations that support learning.
Dogs who have been isolated, abused, neglected, or have not received appropriate socialization may be fearful and withdrawn. And dogs who display fear, stress, anxiety, or have trust issues are generally going to have a harder time learning. This is not to say that these dogs will not be successful, only that training may be slower and more involved than it would be with a confident dog or young puppy that has been raised in a healthy social environment.
While it is not always possible to know a dog’s full history or the extent of behavior and emotional concerns, all dogs need stable and loving homes. Older dogs are no exception. These precious animals need families. They need people who will not only love them, but also commit to them for the long haul. Before adopting any dog, assess whether you and your family are open to dealing with behavior issues that might not be evident at the time of adoption. If you are, your efforts, love, and compassion will be rewarded a thousand times over with a devoted companion who loves you unconditionally.
ABOUT the Trainer
Linda Brodzik has over 30 years of training experience, specializing in the rehabilitation of behavior and emotional concerns such as aggression, anxiety, and fear. She has studied with top dog trainers, animal behaviorists, and veterinarians in the US, Canada, the UK, and many other countries. Brodzik has also continued her education through the Life Learn Program at the Ontario Veterinary Collage, University at Guelph, Ontario, Canada.