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Can You Teach an Old Dog New Tricks?

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Author: Niki French

I’m a dog-mad, people-loving dog trainer and founder of

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Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Absolutely! And there are so many benefits in keeping your dog mentally and physically active as they age.

For much of your dog’s life, you might not have needed to do any specific training, so you settled into having a calm and happy family dog.

But as our dogs get older, we want them to stay fit, active, and healthy forever! However, it’s a sad fact that they will decline as they get older. 

When is a dog considered old? 

On average, dogs are considered ‘seniors’ when they reach the age of 7 years old. This is around 10 for small breeds and as low as 5 for larger breeds. It doesn’t sound very old, does it?

As our dogs get older, they will go through changes to their body and their brain, thankfully, there are many things we can do to support them as they age and live their life to the fullest. 

Older dog behavioural changes 

Firstly, canine cognitive dysfunction or decline (doggy dementia) is common. Signs we can look out for include any changes in behaviour. 

Behavioural changes may include not settling throughout the night or being grumpier than they used to be. Or separation anxiety might appear or get worse. It might even be having toileting accidents for the first time since they were a puppy.

The changes could be pretty subtle, like barking a little more. Or not recalling back to you as quickly as they used to. Or they may seem confused or disorientated at times.

They can also start to lose their hearing. Their vision might be deteriorating. Or they seem to be getting slower and less mobile.

If you are concerned about a change in your dog’s behaviour, then with dog insurance from Perfect Pet, you can access free expert veterinary support and advice on demand.

How can we help our dogs as they age?

Something simple like playing new games or teaching them new tricks can benefit the mind and body. Plus, you are just having fun with your dog, so why wouldn’t you?

With age, their brain plasticity is reduced. Imagine a puppy’s brain is like a pile of soft cooked spaghetti. In an older dog, this is becoming a reduced number of strands of dried spaghetti. But you can help keep their brain more active with new activities.

Teaching an old dog new tricks

Your dog may find it harder to learn something new. However, this doesn’t mean you should stop trying. Now is the perfect time to teach them new things or give them new experiences. This might be as a simply varying your usual walking route or going to new places for an exploration and a sniff.

Games with hands signals are great if your dog is going or is already deaf. But you don’t have to wait, you can teach them hand signals at any age, just for the learning experience.

When it comes to our dogs’ senses, their hearing may begin to deteriorate. Or their eyesight is declining. But their sense of smell is usually the last to go. So, using simple scenting games is brilliant for older dogs.

An easy game is teaching them the name (or hand signal) for a toy they love and then hide it around the home or garden and sending them to find it. Make it easy to start with, sticking out of somewhere, and have a big celebration when they locate it.

There are loads of easy scent games to play with your dog.

Your dog may be getting less mobile, but we want to keep them moving correctly. Think about low-impact or gentle mobility with any exercise, games, or tricks. For instance, if you were to teach a fun trick like spins or leg weaves, factor in that they may be less flexible and need a greater turning circle for comfort.

Things that are novel can become more of a worry to an ageing dog. A game like Cardboard Chaos is a really easy way to bring some confidence-boosting fun into a mealtime. Here’s how you can play it and adapt it to your dog.

More tips for your senior dog to live their best life

Behaviour changes can include becoming more vocal, and they can get disorientated. Try not to get frustrated and understand how they might feel.

Your dog might be generally grumpier than they used to be, especially with things that annoy them. A new puppy in the home or being jumped on by one a walk can be especially tough on an older dog that might be stiff or sore.
Good quality nutrition is even more critical as our dogs age. Their kidneys are not as efficient and don’t process protein as well. Plus, specific vitamins and minerals can help protect their eyes and ears. So, look at the best-quality, age-appropriate diet you can afford.

Why not try something new? A great low-impact, scent work activity like man trailing. You can find out more or an instructor near you here

You may also want to consider:

  • Find a local scent class. Or try an online scent workshop.
  • Make mealtimes more fun with scatter feeding, food puzzles and toys like Toppls and Kongs.
  • Be understanding that an ageing dog may be less coordinated or slower to respond to you than it used to be.
  • Find a great local canine physio, hydro or massage therapist to help your dog as they age.

Even if your dog isn’t senior yet, you can start working on these tips now to help slow the future effects of ageing. Your dog’s brain is a muscle; keep giving it a workout to help protect how it functions.

Training games are also great for maintaining or growing flexibility or muscle strength. If you want to learn some simple and fun games to play with your older dog Niki’s best-selling book STOP! Walking Your Dog includes 17 games (with videos) and is available in paperback, Kindle and Audible.

Like what you read? Share it with your pet loving friends!

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