Contrary to the old saying, old dogs absolutely can learn new tricks and, if given the opportunity, your senior dog will surprise you with his enthusiasm for trick training. Dogs love to learn, and learning can and should be life-long.
My oldest dog Mercury is 17-years old and is a titled Intermediate Trick Dog. Of course, tricking training isn’t a magical fountain of youth, but his vets have always been in agreement that the mental and physical activity he gets from trick training has helped him maintain muscle tone and mental alertness. As a super senior Mercury has developed some age-related complications including blindness and partial deafness but even though he will be turning 18 this summer, he’s still extremely active and enjoys hiking and swimming and constantly practicing tricks and learning new ones.
Like people, as dogs age they fbecome a little less physically active. However, do not let your senior dog sleep all day and to keep him as physically active as possible. Teaching an old dog new tricks is a great way to provide enrichment, exercise and activity into your senior dog’s day without being too high impact or stressful on his body.
If your senior dog has any kind of medical condition, check with your dog’s vet to discuss if there are any limitations to tricks that you should teach.
Start trick training with your senior dog by focusing on lower impact tricks and avoid any that involve jumping. Keeping dogs engaged and active can support dogs aging more gracefully by keeping them mentally stimulated and engaged with their families.
When training your senior dog (and dogs of any age) have rewards ready. Figure out what treats that your dog is excited about and use those when you teaching a new trick or working on a trick that is especially challenging.. If you feed your dog kibble you can also use your senior dog’s meals as training treats to make mealtime more exciting and enriching instead of just putting down a bowl.
When first teaching tricks to your senior dog, start with refreshing skills your dog knows already but hasn’t practiced in a while: sit, down, shake are all obedience skills that most dogs have learned at some point in their lives, but they are also tricks. After refreshing these known tricks, it’s time to start teaching any new tricks you would like your dog to learn.
A couple of good and simple tricks to start with for senior dogs are spin right and spin, and high five.
When you start to add trick training into your senior dog’s routine a little goes a long way. Multiple small training sessions for just a couple minutes at a time a few times a day will be more effective than one very long training session. The goal should be to keep your dog’s training sessions fun and upbeat, plus to go at a slow pace to keep your senior dog successful. If at any point your dog seems confused or isn’t quite getting the hang of a new trick, it means that you probably just moved a little too quickly. Keep an upbeat attitude and just go back to the last stage of the trick where your dog was successful and work more at that level to keep your dog’s confidence up.
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