Can You Really Teach An Old Dog New Tricks… Also, Dog Owner Invents Training Techniques

Can You Really Teach An Old Dog New TricksAdam,

I received a surprise Christmas present last year in the form of a 4 year old female shepherd mix that my wife and daughter decided I needed to replace my long time pet who had to be put down last summer. She really is a beautiful dog, but the shelter fibbed to us when they said she was good with other dogs and cats. She has been rather aggressive with them. We are 6 months into this relationship now and she is much better. I guess she is more secure now.

The one problem I have not solved is her desire to run out the door and ignore our “come” commands. All this is to ask you: Will the techniques in your book and video series work on an older dog? I’d rather not invest the money in a lost cause. We live in the Arizona desert and she won’t last long this summer if she gets out and runs off again. I’ve looked through many of your newsletters, but didn’t find any mention of age.

Thanks for your help.

Dear Larry:

Thank you for the e-mail.

Yes, the dog training techniques work on all dogs, as long as they are healthy and do not have any mobility problems.

In many cases, training an older dog is easier than training a younger dog, despite the saying that “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” there is definitely something to be said about maturity.

Dear Adam:

Please help! I am ready to give away my 6mo. old Maltese. I grew up with one of these dogs- the most gentle and affectionate dog I’d ever met so I bought one for my family at great expense. I tried to find a good breeder and had the dog shipped.

The problem is this – He growls and snaps at my 4 year old whenever he tries to pet him or pick him up, or if I’m watching saying, “Good dog, no growl, it’s OK.. ” he will not growl but struggle to get away and growl as soon as he’s down. He has bitten when I was not watching.

I tried the advice in your book and that given by others on the discussion group. For a long while my son was the only one to feed the dog, I kept him off the furniture and the kids owned the toys. Nothing seemed to help, so recently I’ve been grabbing him firmly by the scruff and growling “No” at him, then putting him in a small room by himself for several minutes. Today when I went to correct him he snapped and growled at me! He is now frightened of me and I am angry at him.

The most upsetting thing for me is that I wanted this dog to be a friend for my son like mine was for me when I was young. My son is a gentle, quiet boy who loves animals and is saddened my this. Is there any hope?


Dear Stewart:

I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a complete jerk, but… PAY ATTENTION AND FOLLOW DIRECTIONS!

The one thing you apparently HAVEN’T DONE is to CORRECT THE DOG’S UNWANTED BEHAVIOR!!! The ‘pulling on the scruff of the neck’ is only for young puppies, 8 to 10 weeks old. It’s ineffective for older dogs.

For correcting older dogs, I spend much of the book explaining the benefits of the pinch collar. Remember the concept of motivation? Remember the notion of associating a negative/correction with the dogs unwanted behavior? Remember how I teach you to look at the corrections you’re giving and decide if they’re motivational or not? Remember page 23, page 38, page 59, page 62, page 155, page 173, page 174, page 181, page 226, page 241, and page 260 ?

I’ll quote from the book, “After you correct the dog, immediately tempt him to do the behavior again. Offer him the choice: If he does the behavior again then most likely your first correction wasn’t motivational… If he refuses to do the behavior, then praise him – as he’s just made the RIGHT DECISION.” [Page 156.]

Now, if you have a specific question about how to implement any of these techniques… then that’s another issue. But telling me that you’re confining the dog in a bedroom as some sort of “Time Out” technique is NOT something you’ve found in my book. And neither is, “”Good dog, NO growl, it’s OK…”

Again, I’ll repeat: Praise the dog only when he makes the right decision (staying calm). Do not tell him, “No growl,” if he’s already being quiet. This is SOOOO CONFUSING TO THE DOG.

It’s very simple:

The dog does something good = You say, “Good dog,” and praise. The dog does something bad = You say, “No!” and administer a correction with the leash and collar.

I can only speculate why your question is not more along the lines of, “This is what happened when I corrected my dog using the pinch collar and tab for this obnoxious behavior.”

The only reason I’m being so blunt about this issue is that it’s a central theme throughout the book. I stress over and over again the elements of timing, consistency and motivation. In fact, many readers have commented that my repetition of this concept is sometimes tedious.

Once you can explain to me how specifically you’ve used timing, consistency and motivation and applied these elements to your dilemma, you will (perhaps surprisingly) find yourself in the position of explaining to ME how you will have fixed your dog’s obnoxious behavior.

That’s all for now, folks!