Old Dogs Learning New Tricks

Updated: Apr 28

This time of year is filled with reflection, as well as hopes and plans to fill our calendars. My plans include new training goals with my dog, who just turned ten. As she is now in double digits, I find myself reflecting on the old adage, “You can't teach an old dog new tricks.”

We can easily use this phrase as a “get out of jail free” card when it comes to our senior dogs. Isn't training just for puppies?


It is true that puppies need to be provided with life skills (particularly socialization), but they're not the only ones who benefit from training. There is so much more out there beyond coming when called and sit!

What if you could no longer check books out at the library past a certain age? Wouldn't that be crazy? People often use learning as a hobby. We read new books and learn new skills. Dogs should be given the same opportunities to learn, experiment and grow.

Before moving in with us, Punkin had lived outside. The first couple of weeks were a big adjustment. With time, she successfully made the transition to indoor life at the age of twelve. During her last two years she ran to the door for potty breaks, trotted around the kitchen table in anticipation of her evening Greenie and solicited petting. She occasionally slept on my feet and was even known to give the odd kiss or two. She learned all of these new tricks as an old dog, and we were blessed to witness it.

Punkin looking spiffy after her first trip to the groomer

Our dog Portia did not learn any cues until she was several years old. She attended her first Nosework class at the age of eight. At ten she is trying out competition obedience. We are currently working through Hannah Branigan's book Awesome Obedience. As always, she is picking things up more quickly than I am! Though it's just for fun, you may see us in the competition ring one day!

Portia learning to go through a hula hoop

One senior dog that you'll definitely see in the competition ring is Gus, the 13 year old chihuahua mix, with his guardian Joan Forry. We were lucky to have Joan share her experience of adopting and training Gus as a senior,

We adopted Gus when he was ten years old. He was sick and not in very good shape. But, it didn’t take long to notice that he loved learning new things. He loves food and will work hard for cheese. We started by taking a basic manners class. It was difficult to teach him basic positions like “sit” or “down” because he’d just bounce up and down nonstop out of excitement. His excitement and happiness is truly a joy, and we just kept training.
I wanted to find a sport that would challenge both of us, but would also be sustainable as Gus aged. We discovered Rally Obedience and at age thirteen, Gus earned his RLI (Rally Intro) title! I’m excited to continue training with him, and we’ll keep going as long as he enjoys playing and learning.

We cannot wait to see what Joan and Gus will do next. If you'd like to read more about Joan and her adventures in dog training, you can visit her blog by clicking here.

Gus posing with his rosettes, photo credit: Joan Forry

I hope you are inspired to try something new with your dog in 2020. Remember, old dogs really can learn new tricks!

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