Training isn’t just for puppies, and you can definitely teach an older dog new tricks with the right approach. Animal behaviourists Inga MacKellar and Nick Jones share tips that work.
Training your dog well is one of your top priorities.
It helps your dog develop positive behaviours and keeps your home harmonious. The mental stimulation that training provides will keep your dog happy and prevent them from developing traits that could cause problems in the future.
Regular sessions, whatever your dog’s age, are a great way to maintain and build on your relationship. After all, a well-trained and well-behaved dog is a pleasure to take out to meet new friends.
Here are eight smart tips from animal behaviourists Inga MacKellar and Nick Jones.
1. Make dog training for life
Dogs are incredibly smart and able to learn throughout their lives, no matter their age.
Training puppies well sets them up for life but training never really stops.
If you have a rescue a dog who hasn’t been properly trained yet, you can still teach them the skills needed to adjust to life with you. Whether that is stopping them from jumping up when you return home or getting them to stop barking at strangers.
Whatever stage of life your dog is at:
- You'll need kindness and consistency from everyone in your household as positive reinforcement is essential.
- Work gradually, using plenty of patience and repetition.
- Too much change can be stressful for older dogs, so be patient.
2. (Re)set your boundaries
When training your dog, one of the most important things you should do is assess and set your personal expectations for your dog’s behaviour.
For example, you may be happy for your dog to sit on the sofa, but perhaps you draw the line at them jumping up at people. Set those expectations, stay consistent and focus on the training that matters most.
3. Always be positive
You know motivation plays a key role in training and building a strong relationship with your dog.
Dogs respond best to their owners when they have positive motivation, such as the promise of a reward for following instructions. Scolding your pet can undo your training successes.
For many dogs – especially breeds like food-obsessed Labradors – food and treats are the biggest motivators. Others can be encouraged by praise, toys or the promise of quality time with their favourite human – you!
4. Strengthen your human-dog bond
For any sort of training to be successful, your dog needs to listen and respond to you. If you don’t already have a strong bond with your pet, this is something that you may want to work on during training.
The best way to do this is to spend as much time together as possible. This can be doing activities or simply enjoying the company of one another. This builds trust and confidence.
Closely-bonded owners and dogs feel as though they understand one another.
5. Maintain your dog’s recall
Recall is the most important command that you can teach your dog. Being able to call your dog back to you will keep them away from potential dangers.
If the recall habit slips, make time to focus on it.
One common mistake with recall training is starting far away from your dog. Instead, begin just one metre apart and gradually extend the distance, rewarding them every time they return when called.
6. Be consistent
Consistency is key when it comes to training and behaviour:
- Get everyone in your house on board with the words and techniques you are using for training and make sure they understand the importance of remaining consistent with them.
- Ask everyone to use the same words when recalling your dog or asking them to go outside to relieve themselves, for example.
- Use the same techniques throughout the training, as it helps your pet understand what’s expected of them.
7. If they forget, use distract and reward
Even when you think your dog might be fully trained, they can develop specific behaviours that go against their training, such as chewing, scratching or ‘forgetting’ where to urinate.
‘Distraction and reward’ is a great technique for dealing with blips like these. Once you’ve used positive words to pull your dog’s attention away from the undesirable behaviour, reward them with their favourite motivator – a treat, a game or attention.
If you’ve mastered recall, you should be able to call them away from whatever was previously holding their attention.
8. If you need more help, contact a professional
If training isn’t going quite as you’d hoped, contact a professional for the best advice or speak to your vet, who can refer you to a pet behaviourist.
Inga MacKellar and Nick Jones are animal behaviourists who work with Petplan.
We work in partnership with the UK's animal charities and have seen first-hand the devastating impact Covid-19 is having on their income and the vital funds needed to support the animals in their care. For over 30 years we have been providing 4 weeks free insurance for rehomed pets and giving 10% of rescue pet premiums back to animal charities. In June, to help support animal charities through the Covid-19 crisis we paid over £700,000 in funds that our partners would have received from us in the next 6 months now, in one lump sum, to help them get through the pandemic.