Ask the Trainer with Jay Flagg

Trainer Jay FlaggJay Flagg
St. Louis Dog Improvements

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: Kudos to you and your husband on adopting a senior pet!

One of the advantages of adopting a senior dog is that you see is what you get. Puppies are cute, but many end up being returned to the shelter within a few months because people did not expect them to grow up so big, active, or strong. Older dogs also tend to need less exercise than a growing puppy and therefore can be a better choice for a busy working person. A puppy is very time-intensive, especially during the first year. A senior dog is more content to be a couch-buddy than a couch-ripper!

By choosing an older dog, you have a better idea of what your new friend needs in terms of space, activity, and training. Making sure a dog is a good match with your family is of utmost importance, and there are specific things you can do to learn more about her personality and temperament. Ask if you may feed the dog a few high-value treats, such as liver or jerky. Show the dog the food and ask her to sit. Give her a treat if she obeys. Take her for a walk and reward her for walking near you or for looking up at you. You just may be surprised at her subsequent choices.

Older dogs may have bad habits but they are just as likely to have good ones. If you simply reward her good choices with food, praise, and attention, you can provide on-the-job feedback for fitting in with your lifestyle. Rewarded behaviors are repeated and before you know it, your older pet will do as you like. If it appears this dog has not had previous training, have no fear: an older dog can learn new behaviors quickly with positive reinforcement and step-by-step instruction. Find an experienced dog trainer who uses gentle method, and you will be fine. Building the bond between yourself and your old, new friend is half the fun of learning together through group class or private training instruction.

ABOUT the Trainer
Jay Flagg, owner of St. Louis Dog Improvements, is a graduate of the Metro K9 Academy and has been training dogs professionally for more than 13 years. He has titled many dogs in the sport of Schutzhund, focused in the protection field, obedience ring, and tracking. His extensive studies in canine behavior have allowed him to work with some of the greatest trainers and behaviorists in the United States.

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