Pet Friendly: Busting the Myth of Teaching Older Dogs New Tricks

| September 18, 2013 | 0 Comments | Pet Friendly

We often hear the expression “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” This loosely translated quote has been traced back to a book from 1523 by an English animal husbandry expert named Fitzherbert. Is it fact or fiction?

Learning styles, preferences and speeds vary among individuals and age groups, so why should we be surprised if there is not a one-size-fits-all best method for training pets, including older and adopted pets. Many of us live with aging pets or rescued pets of various ages. Remedial pet education is thus an ongoing issue.

In my research I discovered that the famous TV Mythbusters tested the “old dog-no new tricks” adage and declared it “busted!” Two sibling Alaskan malamutes, both age 7 (roughly 50 in human years) and known as a breed for stubbornness, were their subjects.  In 4 days, the dogs learned to heel, sit, lie down, stay and shake on the mythbusters’ commands. Previously, the dogs had shown no inclination to understand, much less respond to these words.

Throughout our nearly 14 years with our black Lab, we have been impressed with her ability to learn new things and respond to a new round of training when her memory of proper behavior needs reinforcement. In short, it’s never too late to introduce or reintroduce pet behavior training in your home. These efforts typically work best when everyone in your family and any pet sitters/walkers are involved.

The first step is to be clear about what pet behavior changes or “new tricks” you wish to teach your pet.  Then be realistic about the time and patience commitment required. For example if you are wondering how to teach dog sit pretty dog trick, there are a number of excellent books on step-by-step pet training you can buy or check out from the library.  I have been very impressed with “The Complete Visual Guide to ‘Good Dog’ Training: The Balanced Way to a Well-Behaved Pet,” by Babette Haggerty. With this resource in hand and commitment to brief daily training exercises, you can teach or reteach basic good pet behaviors to dogs of all ages.

Another, more focused book, scheduled for publication this fall, is “Old Dog, New Tricks” by respected pet author David Taylor.  The book is designed to provide expert insights into adult and rescued dog behaviors and communicating with them.  He addresses issues particular to older and rescued dogs, including socialization, understanding what prior training, if any, the pet received, genetic factors and adaptation to your pet’s new home environment.

In northern Virginia, we also are fortunate to have a number of professional pet trainers upon whose expertise you can draw. Visit your vet’s office to collect their business cards or find them online through pet trainer locators to find a qualified expert to help you with your pet training project.  One helpful resource is the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers:

Chris Bates is the founder of Top Choice Pet Care LLC (, which provides affordable, loving and reliable dog walking, pet sitting and other pet services to the Bristow, Gainesville, Haymarket, Manassas and Nokesville communities.  A farmer’s son, life-long animal lover and pet owner, Chris is a Certified Professional Pet Sitter (CPPS) through Pet Sitters International and is PetSaver™ trained in pet first aid and CPR.

© 2013 – 2020, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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