I’m often asked, “Can you teach an old dog new tricks?”
The short answer is “yes.” Retailers who understand about training older dogs and the typical behavioral challenges owners of older dogs face are in a much better position to offer advice and assistance. The more you can help your customers, the greater the likelihood of having loyal repeat shoppers.
When training a dog that is 9 years old or older, it is important to understand that the age of the dog is less relevant than the age of the behavior the owners wish to modify—this is an important point. A 3-year-old dog that has never been properly housetrained could be more difficult to train than a 10-yearold dog who had only started having “accidents” in the house over the last two months. Why? Because the 3-year old dog’s behavior is older and more ingrained than that of the 10-year-old dog.
The most common behavioral challenges owners with older dogs face are house soiling, restlessness and adapting to younger puppies.
When presented with questions about training an older dog, several things need to be considered. First and most importantly, has the dog been given a recent veterinary checkup? Remind the owners to inform their veterinarian exactly what behaviors they are having difficulty with so the doctor can look for possible medical causes.
Assuming medical issues have been ruled out, behavior modification can be started. For issues like house soiling, owners should limit fluid intake at night and make sure the dog is taken out to eliminate as often as possible. Sometimes going back to the basics can help. Suggest your customers start taking their dog out to eliminate on a regular basis and praising/ rewarding it when it relieves itself. Two weeks of this can do wonders for a senior dog.
Make sure the older dog is being fed appropriately. When I was in my late 20s, I had an older Samoyed. She was such a wonderful dog that had given me so much love that I wanted to reward her with many of the things she hadn’t been fed when she was younger. So aside from her usual food, I made her burgers, steak, etc. While she loved eating these delectable offerings, her elimination patterns, including diarrhea, quickly put an end to my behavior.
Restlessness might be caused by arthritis or some other physical ailment, or it might just be that the older dog simply sleeps less at night. This can be problematic for owners when their dogs’ wandering disturbs their sleep. Plus, owners often worry their beloved pets are uncomfortable.
Exercise might help. Moderate, slow paced walks can increase a dog’s energy levels, and exercise can alleviate some of the nocturnal wandering. Remind your clients to check with their veterinarian before starting any exercise program with their dog. Also, remind your customers that moderation is a key part of the fitness suggestion.
Mental fitness could be a solution. This involves playing interactive games with the dog. Puzzle games not only help a senior dog’s energy level and sleep patterns, it can also keep the dog mentally sharp. Combined with moderate walks of about one to one-and-a-half miles each day, this tactic can make all the difference.
Patience and understanding are also critical. Older dogs often do not move as quickly and can’t do as much as they used to do. They eventually suffer from a breakdown of physical and mental skills that, cliche though it sounds, are part of the natural cycle of life.
Introducing puppies to older dogs can present some challenges. Generally, it is best to let them get used to each other gradually and under supervision. Puppies can be rambunctious and need to learn how to interact with other dogs properly. Most of the time a senior dog will put puppies in their place with a growl or snap. The owner’s job is usually just knowing when to give the old dog a break and to use some common sense when putting them together. Owners who continue to have problems here should be referred to a professional dog trainer.