Saturday, August 14, 2010

Ask the AKC Animal Behaviorist - Can Old Dogs Learn New Tricks?

by Paw Nation Staff (Subscribe to Paw Nation Staff's posts)
Aug 11th 2010 @ 11:00AM Filed Under: Dogs, Pet Training, Ask the AKC

Meet Mary Burch, American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Director and Paw Nation's expert columnist addressing your questions on animal behavior. Dr. Burch has over 25 years of experience working with dogs, and she is one of fewer than 50 Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists based in the United States. She is the author of 10 books, including the new official book on the AKC Canine Good Citizen Program, "Citizen Canine: 10 Essential Skills Every Well-Mannered Dog Should Know."

My dog, Butch, is a 10-year-old mutt. I never got around to teaching him very many tricks, though he can sit on command. Can I really teach my senior dog new things? I think it would be nice for him to have something fun to try. What would you recommend?

Yes, it's true! You can teach an old dog new tricks.

At the age of 10, Butch will look forward to daily or evening training sessions with you as long as you keep the sessions short, fun, and use plenty of positive reinforcement including praise and small bits of Butch's favorite treat.

Here are three tricks you can teach indoors to beat the summer heat:

Shake Hands
1. Start by having your dog sit.
2. Kneel in front of him.
3. Say, "Shake hands," as you take his paw.
4. As soon as you take the paw, say, "Good shake!" and give the dog a treat.
5. Repeat this process a few times, then say, "Shake hands," and wait to see if the dog lifts his paw on his own. Most dogs will start lifting their paw to shake after a few trials. When the dog does the shake on his own, give him the treat immediately along with enthusiastic praise, "GOOD shake!!"
6. If it looks like your dog isn't getting the hang of lifting his paw to shake, you can very gently push his shoulder. This will push him off balance and he will automatically lift his paw. Take the paw, say, "Good shake!" and give him the reward.

1. Start by choosing an activity that your dog likes to do and that will get him excited and barking. This might be running around the room, trying to get a favorite toy from you, or trying to get a tasty treat that you're holding in your hand.
2. Just as soon as the dog barks, say, "Speak!" and give him the treat.
3. Repeat this process a few times, then, say, "Speak," and wait to see if he does this on his own. When he barks, give him the food reward and praise immediately, "Good Speak!"
4. If you have a quiet dog who never barks, you may want to teach some other tricks first.

Roll Over
1. Teach your dog to lay down on command or lure him into position using a food reward.
2. When the dog is laying down, hold the treat at his nose. Move it behind him and in an "over" motion. The dog will roll over to get the food.
3. As the dog is rolling over, say, "Roll over," praise him by saying, "Good roll over!" as you give him the food reward.

Note: this is best taught on a comfortable surface such as on carpeting in the house or on the grass outside. In a case of an older dog, take into consideration any possible physical problems related to aging (e.g., hip dysplasia). Choose another activity if the dog has physical problems that will result in discomfort if he does certain tricks.

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