New tricks for old dogs

So you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Think again. Apparently this old saying is, on the whole, a load of tosh because teaching our older dogs new tricks is exactly what we should be doing!


We’ve been researching some new things to keep our 10 year-old boxer, Harvey, mentally stimulated. His legs get stiff so he can’t chase and play like he used to. We often have to shout for him to hear us. (He almost always hears ‘dinner’, however).

When dogs slow down they can easily become bored which in turn can cause other issues including grumpiness, lower tolerance of other dogs and humans, destructive behaviour, loss of appetite or even doggie depression. It can be tempting to ply less mobile dogs with edibles to allay boredom, but obesity will just make the problem worse.

Old age can make physical tricks like jumping or extended sitting difficult or painful. Dogs with hearing or sight problems can also struggle to understand what they are being asked to do. When considering new tricks to keep your dog’s mind active it’s really important to understand your dogs’ limitations.

We’ve discovered that hand signals, especially used in conjunction with your voice or claps, can open up a new world of learning for a dog with deteriorating hearing, and teaching a dog to use his voice and eyes can be a great alternative to the usual sit, lie, paw and so on. Harvey is happy to keep eye contact for a minute or more for a morsel of his kibble dinner and can now balance his furry frog on his head indefinitely.

We’ve also learnt to be a bit creative and view the world through a senior dog’s senses:

  • Sense of smell may be reduced so go for stronger scents when food training
  • Use a firm surface if your dog will be moving about. Carpet good, smooth floors not so
  • Claps cause vibrations – even ‘fully’ deaf dogs can respond to close claps
  • Strategic, gentle touches and taps work well for dogs with sight problems.

It takes three to four weeks of repetition for something to become a habit, so include several short training sessions every day for about a month whenever you are teaching a new trick.

I’ve ordered a book on tricks for dogs young and old recommended by a dog walking colleague – 101 Dog Tricks by Kyra Sundance. I’ll report back on how we all get on!

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