While it is never too late to “teach old dogs new tricks”, it is harder to train older dogs, or RETRAIN them, which is to also say… break bad habits. It is important to always remind yourself that dogs are learning all the time, whether or not you are focused on “training” them. So, consider that every interaction you have with them is a training session. For that reason, think of the following ALL day, EVERY day.



Be aware of what you may be doing that may inadvertently reward inappropriate behaviors, particularly in times separate from “training sessions”. For Example: Learning that they can get away with jumping up sometimes will reinforce the behavior more than teaching them NOT to jump during training sessions.



Less words are more effective than more. Your actions teach your dog more than your words. I always remind clients that if you relied on body language for most of your communication, as dogs do, you would be very good at it. Thus, they are watching you all the time, and learning what they can and can’t do, and how you react.


  1. Positive reinforcement does not always have to be in the form of treats.

A comment like “GOOD BOY!”, a pet, hug, attention, or giving a toy all can and should be part of your training. And, it is much easier to reward good behavior on the fly with a hug or pet, when you may not be carrying treats in your pocket. Plus, it isn’t a good long-term strategy to only use food as a reinforcement.


  1. Beware of negative reinforcement, as animals will learn to be motivated by it as much as positive reinforcement. For example: If you think it is ok for your dog to jump up and kiss you on the face, but expect him not to do it to someone else who is afraid of dogs, you have confused him and accidentally reinforced what some may think of as “bad” behavior.




Your dog wants to please you, and if you make training fun for him and you, he will be more likely to learn easily and quickly. It is a time that he gets to spend with you, gets treats, pets, hugs, and exercise. He will learn to want to do those things over and over.



I am a huge advocate of group training. Dogs are learning during conditions of distraction, so they are more inclined to remember their training at a dog park, walking in a city, etc. Pets trained in a “vacuum”, without a squirrel to want to chase, or another dog to bark at, may not be able to focus if they never learned without distractions. For me, group training with someone I trusted as a kind, smart, positive-reinforcement technique (as opposed to negative/punitive training) made me more assured that I was on the right path, had real-time corrections made to tailor my dog’s personality, and came with built in distractions he learned to forget about when faced with them long after class. For example: some dogs do better with hand signals, or leads from below the head, as opposed to from above the head, which can be seen as a threat by some pets. It should, again, be a fun learning experience that you both look forward to.


  1. The entire family needs to be on the same page. Train with everyone in the household so there is consistency for your pet. A confused pet getting mixed signals will take longer to train, and could you blame him? If the entire family cannot attend a training session or group class, make sure you give them the rundown as soon as class is done.


  1. TAKE A WALK, or two, a day.


It is a great way to implement your training, get some physical exercise for you and your pet, and expand your dog’s social horizons. Young dogs are not the only ones that need to socialize with humans and other animals. The environments you explore with your dog will stimulate him and his super-refined senses of smell and hearing, and be something he looks forward to, rain or shine.



Many trainers go so far as to recommend throwing your dog bowl away and feed all food during training sessions, or to make them work to find their food. While dogs do find food puzzles and
“hunting” for food a form of entertainment or enrichment, I encourage using them when a little older and fully trained. Holding off dinner until after a training session makes sense. Their motivation by hunger will help them really learn to work for that kibble treat. Also, young dogs who need to learn to go out for bathroom visits learn more quickly when meals are large enough and regularly scheduled enough to result in predictable bathroom breaks within 30 minutes of a meal. When older, food puzzles and games are great, especially if mom or dad is out all day at work and they are bored.



Giving your dog an old sneaker to gnaw on while teething, then getting angry when he destroys your favorite pair of boots is a confusing message. Pets like the smell of you on your clothing, shoes, etc. It is why they are drawn to your laundry, etc. Set the record straight from the beginning, and be consistent. All shoes are off limits, as well as furniture, … BUT, offering them alternatives that they know are theirs, such as Kong chew toys, will give them a way to burn off energy and teeth without setting them up for failure and disappointment on your part.


Remember: they want to please you. Pets may be stubborn, but they are not spiteful. Some may take a little longer than others to get what you are trying to teach them, but they ALL want to make you happy and be rewarded in return.

Happy Training!
Dr. Dawn