Matthew Tuzzo, ABCDT
Jersey Shore Dogs, LLC
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; First of all, I would like to say congratulations on considering an older dog to share your home with. Shelters and rescues need more people like you, as there are plenty of perfectly good adult/senior dogs in need of good homes.
To answer your question, you can absolutely teach an old dog new tricks! Dogs are perfectly trainable at any age. Without getting into too much technical detail about animal behavior, dogs learn to do things that result in them obtaining the things they want. For example, if a dog sits and he gets a treat or a toy, he will sit more often. The same principal applies for an undesirable behavior such as jumping up. If he jumps on guests and they give him attention, he will jump up on them more often. This very basic principal remains constant throughout a dog’s life. The bottom line is if you have something that your dog wants, you can train him to do something that you want. Food, toys, praise, petting, etc. can all be used effectively to train a 10-week-old puppy or a 10-year-old dog.
Aside from their trainability, there are also some advantages that older dogs have over puppies. To quote one of my mentors, Jean Donaldson, one of the most well respected pet dog trainers in the world, “What you see is largely what you get.” An older dog has typically gone through most, if not all, of his development phases. This will translate into very few surprises and any behavioral/emotional issues will likely be apparent right off the bat. With this in mind, seek out a dog who behaves in a way that fits your lifestyle. Focus on important personality traits such as his sociability towards people, children, and other dogs. Also, be sure to take any health or orthopedic issues into consideration when determining whether a particular dog will be a good fit. Kudos again for choosing to give an adult dog a chance, and best wishes in choosing your new companion.
ABOUT the Trainer
Matthew Tuzzo, ABCDT, is president and head trainer of Jersey Shore Dogs, LLC, a positive, reward-based dog training company that specializes in in-home training and behavioral consulting.