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Our Puppy Is Teaching Our Old Dog New Tricks

Charlie, our 7-year-old English Springer Spaniel, is "mirroring" the training of our puppy, Clyde -- and he's learning, and relearning, a ton.

Raygan Swan  |  Sep 10th 2015


If you want your old dog to learn new tricks – get a puppy. Wait, what? No! That sounds like a terrible idea … or is it?

I say it’s a brilliant idea and working out nicely for our 7-year-old English Springer Spaniel, Charlie, and his young counterpart, Clyde, who will be 6 months this fall.

Charlie, left, and Clyde. (Photo by Raygan Swan)

Charlie, left, and Clyde. (Photo by Raygan Swan)

Experts will tell you that when you bring a younger dog into the fold, your older dog wants in on the action and attention the young one is suddenly getting from you. The elder will clean up his act so to speak and let you know whatever this rookie can do he can do better.

“I hear this from my clients a lot, and it’s basic mirroring,” explains Debra Cole, longtime Indiana Canine Assistant Network trainer and Clyde’s life skills trainer.

The “mirroring” began almost immediately in our house and continues today. If I ask one to sit, they both sit. When I open the outside door for Clyde, Charlie clamors behind him. Invite one Springer to join you on the couch and you get two.

What truly made me laugh? The time I was washing Charlie in the dog shower and Clyde climbed in. True story. Pretty impressive considering the dog shower is Clyde’s least favorite place to be right now.

If he can stand a shower, so can I, says Charlie.

If he can stand a shower, so can I, says Clyde. (Photo by Raygan Swan)

So at that point I knew I needed to capitalize on this potential training opportunity. It would be a chance for Charlie to relearn commands and behaviors that I gave up on years ago, such as door manners, proper greetings, and most of all loose-leash walking.

Wait a minute. After rereading the aforementioned list, exactly what does Charlie know how to do?

Oh, yeah, he’s a talented yet retired (shh … don’t tell him that) agility dog with a unique ability to leave a fenced yard when he wants, and he can display a charming submissive smile that frightens (er, deters), the young and old from interrupting our morning walks. Thanks, Charlie.

Also, did I mention we dismantled our doorbell? Who needs one when Charlie can apparently hear FedEx coming from headquarters and commence a twilight bark, all-dog alert faster than broadband. Yeah, Charlie’s special. Your first one always is. Am I right?

Anyway, back to my point. This amazing, fool-hearted dog did learn a new trick. A big one! One that I wanted for years and could never get even after trying nearly every gimmick and training tool on the market: loose-leash walking.

Clyde and Charlie, ready for a walk.

Clyde and Charlie, ready for a walk. (Photo by Raygan Swan)

With little-to-no expectations, I coupled Charlie to Clyde on a walk. Both dogs were wearing harnesses with me at the helm holding one leash. No pinching, popping, or shocking. And damned if both dogs didn’t walk like a dream. I was stunned and elated at the same time and just enjoyed the ride. Fortunately it wasn’t a fluke. This is how we roll nearly every morning. I can’t explain it.

“If they want the attention and the treats, they’ll start performing better,” Cole said.

Charlie is also benefiting from remedial crate training. When I crate Clyde, I also crate Charlie. There’s nothing like restricted freedom to calm a knucklehead from running amok in the house, nor can he counter surf from a crate. We are having zero fun in our house now, Charlie says.

In principle, Cole said, training older dogs is exactly the same as training young puppies, so there’s no reason for me to maintain the “ship has sailed” attitude about old Chuck. I just need to have extra patience and to realize that Charlie is habitually stubborn and full of drive, but he’s worth the extra effort.

If he can sit this long, so can I, says Clyde.

If he can sit that long, so can I, says Clyde. (Photo by Raygan Swan)

On the flip side, Charlie is helping Clyde with his duration training. Clyde will maintain a sit stay for more than 30 seconds, and I believe it has become easier for him because Charlie holds a stay right along side him. Clyde also no longer thinks its cool to rubberneck the runners on the walking trail. Charlie doesn’t do it, nor should I, Clyde says.

Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that getting a puppy is a monumental decision and not to be taken lightly. And, of course, to entertain or train your resident dog is not a reason to get a puppy.

But the moral of my story is that if you’re getting a puppy and have a dog already, include him in on the training fun. You might be surprised by what your old dog can do!

Did your resident dog learn some new things when you trained your new puppy? Tell us in the comments.

Read more by Raygan Swan:

About the author: Raygan Swan is a freelance writer and stay-at-home mom who loves to write about her adventures raising a young boy and one neurotic, pushy English Springer Spaniel under one roof. In sharing her anecdotes and experiences, Swan hopes to enlighten and educate families who strive for harmony among their two-legged and four-legged children. In addition, she likes to compete in agility trials with her springer as well as kayak and hike. She lives north of Indianapolis and can be found atfacebook.com/rayganswan.