7 Tips To Train And Care For Older Dogs

By: Shirley Chan


Congratulations! Whether you've recently adopted an older dog or are thinking about it, you're embarking on a journey that will fill your heart and home with love. Whistle is here to help with useful tips for training and care, resources to learn more, and adorable pictures. D'awww!

Do Older Dogs Have More Problems?

A common concern for people thinking of adopting a senior dog is that the pooch might have behavior or health problems. Why else would someone give a dog away?

The truth is, there are a lot of reasons that older dogs end up in shelters. Their owners might have moved to a home that doesn't allow pets, passed away or had a major life change (like having a new baby). Many dogs in these situations are well-trained and incredibly loving.

Another thing to keep in mind is that dogs are considered "older" by shelters even when they're as young as five. That's because young, frisky puppies get most of the attention. Meanwhile, the not-so-seniors are calm, playful and healthy. They just need love.

If you are searching now, give yourself time to get to know the dogs. They may be more reserved, or even scared, because they were just taken from a familiar home and placed into a strange new place. A little patience will go a long way.

7 Tips to Train and Care for Older Dogs

As we mentioned, many older dogs are already house-trained and know basic commands. That's one of the perks of adopting one! This is not true for all dogs, however, so ask the previous owner or shelter staff to make sure.

Another benefit is that senior dogs tend to focus better than puppies. So if you do want to teach an old dog new tricks, it'll be easier to get their full attention. Here are some tips to help you:

1. Prep for training

Stock up on treats your dog likes, so you can reward them while training. If the treats are big, break them up into small bites so you're not overfeeding them.

Start out in a calm, quiet place without distractions, like your backyard. That way, you're not competing for your dog's attention.

2. Keep it short and sweet

Limit training sessions to 10-15 minutes, twice a day. There's only so much a dog can concentrate and take in new info! This will minimize stress and frustration. Besides, bonding time while relaxing or walking together is equally important.

3. Patience is key

Although they're more mellow and focused, older dogs are also more set in their ways. Don't get frustrated, just reinforce the behavior that you want and keep those treats handy.

4. Take special needs into account

Some dogs come with special needs that affect training, and not all needs are immediately obvious. They may not be ignoring training, but adjusting for something else.

Stephanie, a data scientist at Whistle, noticed a pattern while training her adopted dog, Samus, to sit on command:

“After a while, we noticed that she would obey the ‘sit’ command on carpeted areas or her beds, but was very reluctant to sit on hardwood floors. We think this is due to her arthritis. Even though she understands and responds to the command, she still doesn't like to sit on hard surfaces. Paying attention to her needs helped us understand her better. If we hadn't considered her joint issues, we may have just gotten frustrated and given up.”

5. Prioritize your training

Is it really worth it?

Not all dogs will learn all commands. If you've been training for a long time, with multiple methods, and it's just not working, ask yourself if it's important.

Some things are (like where to potty!), and other things might cause more stress (both on you and on the dog) than it's worth. After all, the point is to spend quality time together.

6. Calm and comfort them

When you welcome an older dog into your home, remember that they're dealing with a big transition. Their home has changed completely, and they don't really know what's going to happen. It's only natural that they get anxious and even scared.

Spend time getting to know them and helping them adjust to their new home.

Muttville's new adoption guide is a quick, easy read that tells you everything you need to do in those crucial first few weeks.

7. Keep them healthy and active

The healthier your dog is, the more they'll be able to focus and learn. This is exactly why Whistle was first created—to give people a better understanding of their pets' health and strengthen their connection.

Learn how much activity they're getting, and if they're getting enough based on breed, weight and age. After all, good health can add years to a dog's life. That's something worth celebrating, especially when you have a senior dog!

Where to Learn More About Older Dogs

The Senior Dogs Project promotes the rescue and adoption of older dogs, shares heartwarming personal stories, and gives useful information about caring for senior dogs.

Muttville is a senior dog rescue in San Francisco with a great resource page for every stage of considering, adopting and caring for an older dog.


Nov 1, 2016

Tags:   dog training   senior dogs   dogs   pet parenting  

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