Training a Senior Rescue Dog?
(Calgary, AB Canada)
I'm adopting a maltese-poodle. She is 10 years old and 'ruled the roost' in her former home - before her owner became very ill. She has not been trained to follow any commands. Any tips for training her? Thanks.
Hi, Janice Here from Small Dog Place
Congratulations on your new friend. It is always so nice to see that people are willing to adopt older dogs. This group of dogs probably need the love of a human more than any other, yet are often passed over for a younger dog.
Training older dogs can be challenging, but not insurmountable.
I think the first thing anyone should do when deciding on a training program for a dog, but especially for a senior is to have a complete and thorough examination by a veterinarian. It is very hard to teach a particular command if that command would create a painful situation. Ask the vet about any cognitive impairments at the same time such as canine cognitive disorder.
Once you know what your limitations are, you can then concentrate on what the dog can do. It is important to realize that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
It is easy to get into the habit of trying to make up for lost time by teaching every skill you can imagine at the same time.
It is better to start slow and progress, evaluating at each step of the process. Start with those commands that you think are most critical for the dog to adjust successfully to your living situation.
Some skills are also important, in my opinion for the dog's overall safety. (walking on a leash, uderstanding "come, wait and leave it" are ones that will save a dog's life. Fun commands such as put your toys away, might have to wait awhile.
Housebreaking can be a problem in small breed dogs and the transition from one living arrangement to another can cause a dog that is housetrained to relapse. If this is the case, you might have to start from square one as if they were a puppy again.
If they were housebroken at one time, this should go faster for you assuming that there are no underlying physical or emotional problems getting in the way.
In the meantime, you may need to purchase a baby gate or two to limit her movements in your home.
Find a special treat (either a food reward or toy) that you can use to entice her to learn a couple of commands. The tastier the better, but it must be something she only gets when she does what is asked of her.
You might want to consider getting a book about training older dogs. Most books are about puppy training, but one that I like is by Tim Carter called Adult Dog Training in a Nutshell: Success in 12 minutes. He mainly deals with German Shepherd training, but many of the ideas about training are universal. He also has a website.
Again, congratulations on your new best friend. Malti-poos are incredible cute and smart. Ten year olds are definitely trainable, you will just have to convince her that it is in her best interest to learn a few of your commands.