Dogs can learn at any age

Published 7:23 pm Tuesday, September 24, 2019


K9 Corner

About this time of the year I get a number of similar questions like: “Is my dog too old to go to obedience classes?” Or the opposite, “Is my dog too young to take to school?”

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As far as the puppies, I encourage new dog owners to get their 3-month-old puppies into what is usually referred to as “Kindergarten Puppy Training” classes. Some training facilities allow puppies as young as eight weeks. Why so young? In a puppy class, the young dogs learn social manners in a protected play environment. They are exposed to new smells, new sounds and given “problems” to stimulate their minds. During these training sessions the animals are encouraged to interact with the other puppies and any misbehavior is not corrected as such, the pup is just distracted from continuing that activity, whether it is fighting or wandering off to chew on the equipment. Toward the end of the class session, routine obedience lessons are introduced, again in a play environment.

The older dog also benefits from obedience classes. In answer to “Is my dog too old to go to obedience classes?” I answer “No!” I have had 8- and 10-year-old dogs start obedience school, and the oldest dog in training was 12 when she entered the advanced class, which included low jumps and retrieving. That dog was a miniature poodle and the school was the Kentucky Colonel Dog Training in Lexington, where I trained to be an instructor.

My experience in training an older dog from the beginning is that you need a lot of patience. It is easy for a puppy to learn to concentrate on the handler, but the older dog, (mine was 8-years-old when I started training for competition, because she had to recover from cancer), rarely had been asked to pay attention for any length of time. Because of this, there had to be additional practices so the routine would become a habit. People have asked about their aging pets. “He’s just lying around and seems so depressed;” I ask if the dog had been checked by the doctor for physical problems. After all, there are all sorts of ailments that old dogs get just like humans. Some of these conditions can be painful which will discourage the dog from moving. Then, there is the lack of mental stimulation that can cause depression.

If the veterinarian approves, the aging pet could benefit from a multiple week obedience class session. The stimulation of the other dogs and the activity could be all that the dog needs to put a spark in his life. Go easy though. As I told a youngster who brought his three-legged dog to the 4-H class, if the dog seems tired, take him over to the side and let him rest for a few minutes. The same goes for the elderly canines, don’t over do, at least in the beginning. These dogs might even enjoy some of the puppy class activities at home. Try it!