I’ve been asked quite a few times lately about older dogs learning new things or unlearning unwanted behaviors. Can an older dog learn new tricks? Of course!
Yes, you should work hard with your puppy while her brain is developing and taking in all that info. And you need to keep her brain busy as she leaves puppyhood–or she will find trouble to get into. It’s easier as our dogs get easier to just let them coast and spend less time in group class or teaching them new tricks, but like us, they will age better if they stay active mentally and as much as they physically can.
Some humans are smart enough to adopt older rescue dogs and skip puppy time altogether. Sometimes the rescues dogs need help learning about house training and separation from their people and such, and they certainly can conquer those issues. A dog can learn lots even at the age of eight or ten! It is absolutely never too late to make changes and help older dogs be their best selves.
If a dog hasn’t had much (or any) training, the cogs in his head might take a little time to get moving efficiently. He is actually learning how to learn because no one has worked those brain muscles much before. Once the wheels start turning, training usually becomes easier and faster. Extra patience may be needed–or not because so many dogs light up when they have new teachers. They’ve been waiting for someone to come along and provide stimulation.
Sometimes there are a few cobwebs covering instruction they may have had in the past. But again, once the dust comes off a little, they can adore training. “Oh, sit. That does sound familiar. When I was a teeny pup, I think someone said that to me for a while.” Bad associations may need to be reworked, too. “Come? I used to come in my last house and it was a bad time or no one sounded excited by my showing up.”
If habits have been around a long time, changing them may take longer. Just like our giving up the habit of munching in front of the TV every night, not barking at dogs on the street can take months. Changing behavior isn’t always fast for any animal. Presley has had six years of reacting to the UPS delivery so he will need some solid, consistent training to rearrange his barking habit.
But you have patience to help your dog along. Because you are an excellent human who adopted an older dog and will do what it takes. Or because you are an awesome human who has stuck by her dog forever. Your senior dog will be so happy you found him a new hobby: my Tanner is now thirteen (already?) so we are doing a weekly Nose Work class! Perfect enrichment for a dog who doesn’t have the umpf for agility nowadays. Enjoy those lovely golden years!