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You CAN teach an old dog new tricks!

November 20, 2009 -

Debbie McKnight, Accredited PetSmart Trainer 

Last month, I wrote about Bella-the-wonder-pug’s new love of pedicures.

 

While Bella is the young, spry thing I hang out with at work (thanks to her mommy for the daily “loaner” dog!), the love of my life hangs out at home on the couch.

 

Kyra is my 8-1/2 year old German Shepherd.

 

I’ve had her since she was 11 weeks old and I can’t imagine a day without her.

 

As a youngster, she came to work with me every day and we were quite inseparable.

 

When she got older, I let her retire from the rat race and we’re closer now than ever.

 

Whoever said it’s quality, not quantity, that matters was right!!

 

But just because my 8-hour workday is her 8-hour naptime, doesn’t mean her brain has retired.

 

She loves learning new things, now more than ever.

 

As a dog living with a trainer for 8-1/2 years, she pretty much knows all the tricks.

 

That means that I have to be creative in coming up with new things to keep her mind working.

 

Lately, I’ve been re-teaching old behaviors with some new flair!

Have you ever seen those dogs heeling beside their person, prancing, head up, and gazing adoringly at their handler?  I have… on TV.  In real life, I had a dog that would heel, but it was pretty dull (for me and her).  So when I learned about a new way to teach heeling, I thought I’d try it out in the privacy of my own home rather than making a fool of myself in front of my classes.  All I can say is, “Wow!”  We look like those TV dogs now.  I couldn’t believe it.  I figured if the folks were that good with a method for heel, I’d try their other suggestions too.  One of their suggestions was to let the dog offer, and be rewarded for, known behaviors throughout his life.  I’m paraphrasing here, but basically in a training session, if Kyra offers a down (instead of waiting for me to cue it), I could click and treat.  So I did.  Oh my heavens!  My dog had turned into a puppy again… in a good way.  She was more excited about training and learning than she had ever been.  And her newfound energy…. wow.  I started thinking… what else could I re-teach??  Faster downs? Check.  Break-neck speedy recalls? Check.  Skidboot-style performances? Check.  Why, oh why, did I wait until she was older to try all this?

People always ask me if their dog is too old to be trained.  The answer is always “No!”  Dogs love learning new things.  Besides providing quality time with you and your dog, training will help keep his mind active into the golden years.  Your dog may move a little slower or have a little more gray around the muzzle, but spending time training, playing, and cuddling will keep him young at heart.

If you are interested in teaching your dog (young or old) some new tricks, try a PetSmart Training Class.

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