Many people say that the earlier you start dog behaviour training the better, but is this actually true? A puppy might learn faster, but they are excitable and easily distracted. An older dog might take longer to learn something new, but once they do they’ll be happy to do it when you need them to.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!
Except you can! An older dog might have habits that have been ingrained for years. The longer a habit goes on for, the harder it is to break. However, an older dog is likely to be far more settled in themselves.
By the time they reach the age of three they are proper adults. They’ve figured out their place in the world, they know what they like, and what they don’t like, and the socialisation period has long ended. Hormones are settled and they are now fully grown.
Up until now they have been testing the world around them and their behaviour has been easily influenced. But now, they aren’t so easily distracted by a new and wonderful world – they’ve seen it all before. Puppies can be distracted by a stationary leaf, but an older dog will need much more than that to take him off track.
Puppies learn faster!
A young dog might learn faster though! A 10 week old puppy could potentially learn a new trick in 20 minutes. That doesn’t mean they’ll do it when you need them to though. Getting a puppy to focus, regardless of what’s happening around them, is a whole different challenge. The world is exciting, it’s full of smells, moving things, abandoned KFC wrappers, other dogs, cats under cars, lamp posts, birds, people, wind, kids, traffic, rain, bikes! I could go on.
The world is an exciting place to a puppy and getting them to ignore all that awesome stuff and walk calmly on their lead might be more challenging than you think.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try though.
I talk about Maslows pyramid of needs a lot. It describes a dogs basic motivators and the order in which they should be met for best survival. The most essential survival needs are at the bottom, and as you move up the pyramid the needs become less and less important.
A puppy, however, is not concerned about safety or food, that’s mums job. Their only interest is learning about the world around them. They need to figure out who they are, how stuff works, what’s edible, and what’s not!
So for a puppy, the pyramid is upside down. Creativity and Learning are their number one priority, this is why they they can learn trick so quickly. It’s also why a frightening experience can have more impact on a pup compared to an adult. Focus on teaching new tricks, calming over-excitement, and socialisation at this time.
As they hit adolescence they’ll switch view points and the bottom needs will start to be a priority. It’s no coincidence that this happens around the time their hormones start to flow. Notice that reproduction is right there at the bottom – one of the most important needs for survival and one of the most easily forgotten when it comes to behavioural impact.
Never too late
I’ve successfully rehabilitated dogs as old as thirteen, so I promise, it’s never too late to start a training plan. In fact, some of the oldies have been the easiest to work with. Patience is needed to break old habits, but that’s all. Most dogs are happy to change their behaviour if their survival needs are still being met, and met well.
There’s no time like the present!
There are Pro’s and Con’s no matter what age you start dog behaviour training, so I guess the best time to start is right now!
Whatever age your dog is, or how ingrained his habits, there is always something that can be done to help him. It’s just about setting realistic expectations and monitoring progress so you can make the most out of all your hard work.
Ready to get started?
Private Dog Behaviour Consultations are currently available in the Dundee area, and as far as Carnoustie, Broughty Ferry, Monifieth, Tayport, Newport, and Longforgan. If you are looking for advice for your dog then please get in touch and we’ll have a chat about the best way I can help you!