Is It Ever Too Late to Start Training a Dog?
by Jessi Larson
There are people who claim you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But what if you’ve missed the puppy stage of dog ownership? Is it ever too late to start training a dog?
Thankfully, the answer is: you can pretty much teach your dog at any stage in life, but you’ll just need to adjust your approach.
So if you’re wondering whether there’s any point to trying to teach your adult dog new tricks or correct unwanted behavior, know that you have absolutely no reason to delay the process and much to gain from the experience.
How Training an Adult Dog is Actually Easier
While there are physical hindrances you might run into when training an older dog, other aspects of the process can actually be easier than with a puppy.
Here are some advantages to training older dogs:
- They may already have a base knowledge of some commands
- They already have an understanding of certain human words
- They already know the process of learning a new skill
- They are eager to please and appreciate spending time with humans
- Their attention span is likely greater than that of a distracted puppy
So as you question is it ever too late to start training a dog, you’ll be pleased to know the process can actually be a bit easier in certain circumstances.
When You Should Take Extra Precautions
In addition to these advantages, however, you should be aware of some limitations that your adult dog may have in contrast to puppies.
For starters, your older dog may not have the same level of energy that you would expect from puppies.
They may also have health issues that limit their level of activity or performance. Keep this in mind before you start training.
And if your dog has chronic pain, such as that caused by arthritis, make sure you’re giving plenty of time and allowances during training.
Socializing an Adult Dog
When it comes to socializing a dog, most people think of the puppy stage as the only viable window. But even if you’ve missed your chance for early socialization with your dog, there’s still progress to be made at an adult age.
Keep in mind that an adult dog that hasn’t been properly socialized or has experienced abuse from humans in the past, may be triggered into aggressive behavior. In this case, it’s best to work with a professional trainer.
The same can be said for a dog that you fear may become aggressive or one that already exhibits aggressive behavior.
For all other cases, you can take the following steps to adult socialization:
- Take your dog to as many new environments as possible, starting with the calmest location first. From there, advance toward more difficult places over time. To make the process easier and more fun for your dog, encourage them with plenty of treats and verbal praise.
- Ask friends and family to act as volunteers to calmly feed your dog from a distance. Just have them stand some length apart and toss your dog a treat when they are acting calm.
Slowly, as your dog grows more comfortable with the stranger, have them approach and offer the food from their hand. They can even touch the dog slightly.
- This is a great way to get your four-legged friend used to human contact from strangers. Repeat the process as many times as possible with new people.
Please keep in mind, if you suspect your dog may become aggressive, seek the help of a professional trainer right away.
- When with other dogs, it’s important to give your dog plenty of space from the others. Always start the process from a safe distance.
As you approach, try to keep your dog focused on you, not the others. If the focus is broken, just stop your dog and try to re-establish focus back on yourself. Make sure you immediately reward your dog’s obedience.
Basic Rules for Training Your Adult Dog
Though training your dog at any age is technically possible, there are certain guidelines you should follow when teaching an adult dog. Keep the following in mind:
1. Stay Consistent in Your Training
Regardless of what behavior or trick you’re trying to teach your dog, you should always approach your training with the same method. This will keep things consistent.
The frequency at which you practice is also important, so keep your sessions close to three minutes each. Repeat two or three times each day.
2. Use Consistent Commands
Don’t make the mistake of mixing up your command words, as this will only confuse your dog and give you more work in the long-run.
Keep your commands specific to each behavior you are training and stick to it in all situations. This will keep your signals from getting mixed up.
3. Refrain from Punishing Your Dog
As with all training, you should avoid negative reinforcement or punishment when training your adult dog.
In many cases, this approach is actually proven to increase your dog’s potential for aggressive behavior. Instead, be sure to use plenty of positive reinforcement, such as treats, verbal praise and friendly physical touch like tummy rubs.
4. Teach Only Tricks Appropriate for Your Dog’s Age
Just like you wouldn’t expect a few-month-old puppy to be able to stay still for long periods of time, you shouldn’t expect your adult or aging dog to do tricks that are out of their scope of possibility.
This is especially true for older dogs that may be inhibited by physical ailments or deteriorating health.
5. Reward Positive Behavior
Encouragement and positive rewards go a long way when training your pup, and this is no less applicable to adult dogs.
While treats can be one way of rewarding behavior, you should also offer plenty of verbal praise and physical affection when your dog follows your rules. Most adult dogs are in tune with their owners and will work hard to please.
Final Thoughts: Is It Ever Too Late to Start Training a Dog?
So is it ever too late to start training a dog? We think it’s clear that the answer is “no.”
In fact, there are plenty of advantages and approaches to training your dog at an older age.
Just keep things positive and appropriate to your dog’s physical abilities. With some consistency and training, you can definitely teach your old dog plenty of new tricks!
Bonus Training Video
If you’re still questioning is it ever too late to start training a dog, watch the video below from dog trainer David Harris.
He’s trained dogs as old as 12 years old and outlines the differences when a dog is older.
You’ll find out how it’s possible and what you can expect. Check it out!
A Word of Advice
As you question is it ever too late to start training a dog, be assured that the answer is a definite no. You can always work on training a dog, no matter what the age.
In certain dogs, however, it may require an extra bit of patience. You may find yourself getting frustrated, but don’t stress. This is a common feeling when teaching any dog something new. How you react to this feeling, however, is what’s important.
Training a dog does require a great deal of patience and persistence. If you feel like you’re at the end of your rope, either take a break entirely and start the training again at a later time or give yourself a quick timeout.
Giving yourself a brief timeout does wonders. Just pause, breathe deep and count to 10. This will recenter you.
Dogs can sense if you’re hyper or angry, so taking a few moments to regroup will make the training process even more successful.
Top Dog Training Books
When you have a dog, it’s important that you take the time to train them thoroughly, no matter what age they are.
There are many different ways to train a dog, including obedience classes, working with a trainer, learning online and so forth.
Another great training method to add to your arsenal: Dog training books!
The following books are tried-and-true favorites recommended by thousands of dog owners. They’ll help you train your dog effectively and provide a solid foundation for how your pup should act and behave.
Zak George is a well-known dog trainer with thousands of fans. If you’ve ever watched his YouTube channel, you’ll know why. He brings an enthusiastic, fun and informational style to training.
To provide a complete picture of what it takes to train a dog, George has published a book called Dog Training Revolution.
It covers everything you need to know about training a dog, no matter what their age.
Don’t let the title fool you. This book is a valuable resource for dogs of any age.
Written by the Monks of New Skete, The Art of Raising a Puppy includes invaluable information and advice every dog owner should know. The authors bring a calm, cool, confident approach to dog training that results in obedient, well-behaved pups.
We read this book when we first got Toby and highly recommend it. There’s a reason it’s a classic!
Now that you have the answer to is it ever too late to start training a dog –which is a resounding no! – you might just want to look into cool dog tricks you can share with your pup.
We purchased 101 Dog Tricks for Toby a number of years ago. He had learned basic commands and we were looking for other ways to keep him mentally stimulated.
This book was a great way to find new tricks, provide mental and physical exercises for Toby and bond with him in the process.
From time to time, we still reference this book and find a fun new trick for him to learn.
You’ve likely heard of Cesar Millan, aka the dog whisperer. He’s published a book that addresses training when they’re younger and also when they’re more mature.
How to Raise the Perfect Dog: Through Puppyhood and Beyond is a great resource, especially if you enjoyed Millan from his TV show.
And last but not least is Old Dog, New Tricks: Understanding and Retraining Older and Rescued Dogs.
This book is a perfect fit for your situation and provides expert insights into basic adult dog behaviors. It explains how to communicate effectively with an older dog and create a great partnership.
We hope you found the answers you were looking for to the question is it ever too late to start training a dog.
The answer of how long depends on your dog, of course, but know that it’s entirely possible and sometimes even easier at this stage!
And before we go, if you’re looking for additional resources, check out our training section for lots of other tips and tricks. Good luck!