Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Teaching Older Dogs

The old saying that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" is NOT true.

Old dogs may not learn as quickly as they once did, but with time and patience most older dogs can be taught to do just about anything that a young dog can do.

If you would like to teach your older dog some new tricks, here are some tips:

1. Teach one word commands. Teaching the correct response to voice cues or hand signals is as fundamental to communicating with a dog as the alphabet is to human language.

2. Be consistent. Consistency is the key to learning.

3. Provide rewards. Reward your dog's good behavior with a treat and tons of praise.

4. If the dog is slightly deaf, speak louder.

To put it all together, this is what you do:

Add a word cue or sign that must preface the behavior if it is to be rewarded. This is called a conditional stimulus; and it must be present if a reward for performing the behavior is forthcoming. The word cue or other cue should be delivered once, and once only. Whatever you do don't repeat the command. If the dog obeys, he must be rewarded immediately. If he does not, there is no reward. The opposite of reward is not punishment it is simply the lack of reward.

Using the above method, any behavior can be trained although more complicated behaviors have to be trained in stages ("shaped").

Reward your dog for performing a desired behavior when that behavior occurs naturally. For example, give your dog a food treat for sitting, lying down or to stop barking. Initially, the reward should be selected to be practically irresistible, not just kibble or a piece of dry dog biscuit. The frequency with which your dog will perform the behavior will increase if the reward is more appreciated.

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