Scott Rall: Training an old dog is more difficult
Scott Rall Daily Globe outdoors columnist You can't teach an old dog new tricks. Boy, have I heard this more than 1,000 times. When it comes to teaching your husband something new, it is for the most part, pretty true, but when it comes to dogs i...
Daily Globe outdoors columnist
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Boy, have I heard this more than 1,000 times. When it comes to teaching your husband something new, it is for the most part, pretty true, but when it comes to dogs it is not exactly accurate.
Training any dog is an act of patience and repetition. No rocket science is behind it. The reason most dogs never get properly trained is not that the owner is unable. It is usually the fact that the owner is unwilling - unwilling to take the time necessary when the dog is ready, to teach it what it needs to know.
Is training an old dog harder? I believe it is. Please consider this. When you graduate from high school you have had 12 years of prior conditioning to the learning process. When you move to college, only 90 days have elapsed since your last final exam.
When you get back to class, if you had any good study habits to begin with, they are for the most part still intact. Now take about 10 years off and then try to go back to school. You are not less intelligent than before, but your ambition and motivation might very well be dramatically less. Good study habits have faded and the memory and retention is not as sharp as it was 10 years earlier.
If you have taken to sleeping in till noon and staying up all hours of the night, you will find it harder to get to class on time. An old dog that has not had any formal training will have had years to develop bad habits, and some of those bad habits will be pretty ingrained.
I think of smoking. Nobody I know ever puffed a cigarette and loved it the very first time. It took years to develop the love of nicotine, and when you have that habit in tight, it is much harder to break it.
I have said often when dealing with dog owners, it is much easier to teach the dog the right way, at the right time, the first time, than it is to try to break them of bad habits after they have developed and used them for many years. Never smoking in the first place is a lot easier than quitting after 10 years of their use.
A dog is no different. The longer a dog has gone untrained and the more ingrained the bad habits have become, the more effort it will take to get them back in to line, and this is why most old dogs are never taught any new tricks. The amount of time and energy needed in many cases will be immeasurably more. There are some things that I will not try to teach a 10-year-old dog because the time and amount of correction needed to get the job done is not worth the outcome.
Basic obedience such as heel, sit and here, on the other hand, can be taught to any dog of any age.
These basics will take a little more time and depending on each individual dog the amount of effort will vary. A stubborn old dog might not want to come into line with the new rules as easily as an old dog of the same age with a very mild temperament. The same can be said for young dogs.
When considering what outcomes you would like to see, you need to make a determination as to whether the effort expended/required - compared to the outcome desired - is worth the effort.
There are certain things that I choose not to do with an older dog (one that is 7 years of age or older) with no formal training. These are generally more advanced hunting techniques like teaching a dog to do blind retrieves. This is sending a dog with whistle commands and hand signals to a bird they did not see.
It can be done, but I have found that the end result (although successful) is not worth the effort needed to accomplish it. Now, I like training dogs to do many things and a dog will enjoy a life with moderate training challenges over all of their years. I knew a trainer that taught his dog to roll over. I think that dog tricks are not really necessary, so I asked why he did that. He said he believed that even though rolling over was not a useful skill, that the dog was challenged by the assignment and he felt that a dog that’s always learning something is happier than one whose mind is never challenged.
There is some logic to that way of thinking, I guess.
If I am going to keep training a dog so that its mind and body are challenged I would probably teach the dog to do something more useful than rolling over, like going to get the paper, fetching the TV remote or other household chore. I guess what I am trying to say is that an old dog can learn new things but both the trainer and the dog will need more time and patience to accomplish it.
For the average dog owner with limited training experience it is easier to start fresh with a young dog and bring him or her up the ranks from puppyhood to adulthood than it is to start in the middle of its life.
My folks just got a dog from the pound in Sioux Falls and all they wanted was a pet. This dog has done pretty well in its new life but these older dogs come with a history that no one will ever be able to unwind. This dog does everything required but for some reason it just will not comply with the command “down.” This is just a simple command to lay at grandpa’s feet.
He will sit at grandpa’s feet for hours, but for the life if him he just cannot lay down for more than 60 seconds at a time. Everything that can be done within the limits of positive and negative reinforcement that I’m comfortable with has not gotten this job done. I have come to the conclusion that the pressure needed to get this dog to lay down is not worth the effort and the difficulty the dog would have to endure to make it worth continuing. I could do it but I deemed the cost/benefit not worth it.
Another example is an older dog I purchased at the age of 7. When I picked him up the former owner told me that no matter what you did or how many times you corrected the dog, it would put its foot on your lap no matter what. He tried to make me promise not to even try. He was exactly right. He explained, and my experience proved that no amount of pressure or correction could affect a change in this unique behavior in this older dog. I deemed this issue not serious and thus not worth the pressure needed to correct the behavior.
The key to any training, regardless of the dog’s age, is to end up with a dog that is obedient and easy to be around. This is best done when the dog hits about 9-10 months of age. This is when their learning curve is the shortest and the training is the most successful. A trained and obedient dog - why would you want to live with any other kind?
Don’t forget to stop out to the Horned Trout Tournament on Round Lake on Sunday July 19. The fishing tournament registration starts at 10 a.m. and the fishing starts at noon. Prizes go down to 26th place and there is a special division for the kids. There will be a special raffle for only kids 13 and under with tons of great fishing prizes. All proceeds will be used by the Round Lake Sportsman’s Club for habitat projects in the area. For more information call Bryan Foote at 360-9652.