Your dog is never too old to learn new tricks. Oftentimes, the opposite is more accurate. Senior dogs, just like young pups, benefit from trick training in much the same way that reading can keep our human brains sharp as we start to get longer in the tooth.
Regardless of their age, trick training is a great way to keep your dog’s brain healthy, and her behavior under control.
Here are some basic concepts to guide your dog training sessions.
Trick Training Basics
It’s all too easy to let your dog live a lazy life. Especially if she isn’t a working animal. But just like humans, dogs require some amount of mental stimulation to keep them sharp as they age.
This is where trick training comes in. It fosters a curious and smart pup. Plus, trick training can help build a better bond between you and your pet.
All dog training uses sets of actions, cues, and rewards to instill new behavior. Repeat that sequence in your head like a mantra whenever you’re tackling a new trick.
Action, cue, reward. Dog sits, say “sit”, dog gets a treat. It’s pretty simple.
Dogs are good learners by nature. The key to long-term success is repetition. Regardless of what trick you’re trying to teach your dog, the following rules of thumb will help you get it done.
The Process of Trick Training
Train indoors. Imagine the last walk you went on with a friend. Odds are, you got distracted from your conversation by a soaring bird or loud noise. Dogs experience the same distractions. Minimize these interruptions by training your dog indoors. Preferably in a familiar and quiet room.
Get your treats together. Consider that your dog probably won’t pick up on a new trick right away when doing this. That means you might need lots of treats.
So, make sure the treats are small, and preferably healthy. Don’t be afraid to use chunks of human foods that are safe for dogs. Pieces of chicken, apples, or carrots work in a pinch.
Focus your dog. Now that you’re in a calm environment with your treats ready, it’s time to focus your doggo. Stand in front of her and hold a treat in your hand. Dogs have a hard time looking away when there’s a nice treat involved.
Keep it simple. Dogs have a short attention span. Especially puppies. If this is your first foray into dog training, take the process slow, and easily forgive Fido for not nailing the trick right away.
Demonstrate the trick. Let’s take the “sit” command for example. Once you have your dog’s attention, hold a treat in your hand and move it from her nose to behind her head.
With any luck, she’ll have a hard time peeling her eyes away from the treat. As she turns to follow the goodies, her butt will hit the ground.
Praises due. Good job. You’ve effectively demonstrated the trick. Now, say “sit” in a firm voice, and immediately give her the treat. This basic premise applies for reinforcing any new trick. Give lots of praise.
Release and repeat. Finish off any successful trick and treat cycle by releasing your pup from the desired position. This closes the learning loop and lets your dog know that she may return to business as usual.
Repeat the new trick for 10 minutes. Again, don’t worry if your dog doesn’t pick up on the new trick right away.
Aim for 2-3 short training sessions a day for every new trick, and remember that in order to learn a new skill, your dog may require 1-2 weeks of consistent training.