Is a Dog ever too old to Learn a New Trick? - By Debbie Kendrick, ABCDT and VP of ABC

Saturday, January 30, 2010 : 12:20:33 PM
Updated Thursday, August 18, 2011 : 10:09:04 AM
Whenever I am asked this question, it always brings a smile to my face. I am reminded of my old friend, Kado, a German Shepherd/Husky mix. My three young daughters and I adopted Kado in 1987 when he was three years old and he lived with us until he passed on at the ripe old age of sixteen.

I decided to adopt a three-year-old adult dog because I knew older dogs were very capable of learning new tricks and behaviors and a friendly mature dog is often a great choice for a family with small children. Kado confirmed this truth many times over. During his thirteen years with us, he not only learned all his basic obedience commands like come, sit, stay, and down, but he also mastered a myriad of fun tricks, like shake, play dead, and speak. Kado was taught one of his more adorable tricks at the “elderly” age of eight by my daughter, Candace, who was fourteen at the time.

You see, for many years Kado had earned the privilege of roaming freely in the house. By this I mean he had mastered the potty process, learned not to jump up on the furniture, dig in the trash, bolt out the front door, and in general had become a well-mannered member of the family. Because of his good manners, he was allowed the freedom to go in and out of all the rooms in the house whenever he pleased. His bounding through partially closed bedroom doors never presented a problem until my oldest daughter, Candace, reached her teenage years. Although Candace loved Kado hanging out in her room with her, she didn’t like the fact that he would leave the door wide open every time he came bouncing in. She decided to teach Kado to close her bedroom door on cue.

To accomplish this, Candace simply held a small treat over his head and coaxed him to jump up for it. Each time he jumped up for the treat she gave it to him. After a few days of practice, she then held the treat against the closed door on the inside of her bedroom and coaxed him to jump up and place both paws on the back of the door. Once he was consistent, she began saying “close my door” before holding the treat against the door. Over the next few days, he was rewarded every time he successfully jumped at the back of the closed or open door whenever he heard the cue “close my door”.

Candace practiced with him daily and after only two weeks, she was able to stand across her room and successfully instruct Kado to close her open door. Both Kado and Candace were proud of their achievement, which bonded them even closer than before.

Although the “close the door” trick is fairly complicated to teach and something you may or may not be interested in teaching your senior pet, I am hoping it illustrates the truth that “a dog is never too old to learn a new trick”, even a complex one. Whenever teaching any trick or behavior to an adult dog, just remember to take into consideration the dog’s drive, sensitivities and mobility. I believe stimulating a dog’s mind through his golden years will help guarantee the quality of life that we all want for ourselves as well as our pets.

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