You CAN Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

[Updated 2/4/2018] When my Ryker was a senior we had to stop one of his favorite sports: Agility. Physically he was in the shape of a much younger dog – except the old ticker.  Ryker was in congestive heart failure.

Ryker Bloodlines Cover

Jan 2003 – yes, Ryker was a cover dog.

He missed working.  I could see it. Therefore, I changed what we were doing.   At almost 13, Ryker completed his Rally Novice Title and was working towards Rally Advanced when he passed. (Rally: New Life for Old Dogs).  I love the times I get to work with a senior dog. Some of my favorite clients are the adopted senior dogs given a second chance.  However, there are things the owner must consider before bringing an old dog out of retirement.

Before embarking on a new training project with your senior dog, get a complete senior vet exam done. This is important. Aches, pains, deafness, vision loss, etc., can affect a trainer’s and your ability to work with your dog. Even with younger dogs, medical issues can affect behavior and training.

No dog needs to learn with pain, nagging, intimidation, shocks, ear tweaks, pushing, alpha rolling, etc. Use positive motivation only. Additionally, senior dogs may have physical issues that could be worsened by old-school training methods.  Be kind, gentle and slower.

Be respectful of your senior dog. Have others respect him too.  As things change with age, he may startle faster, reaction times may be slower and he may not be as willing to tolerate a young dog in class bouncing on him.   He may need more breaks.  A good trainer who works with senior dogs will understand this.

Lastly, adapt things as needed. That fast pace for an exercise may not be so fast.  Who cares?  So Boomer cannot hunt anymore, you can still take him out to tree a few squirrels.  What about Nosework (scent games)?  There are many activities senior dogs can enjoy.

When Foster was still a pup, my son Connor started showing Foster in UKC (United Kennel Club) Conformation and Junior handling plus they dabbled in Agility a little. Connor was in elementary school.  Connor is Autism Spectrum and his work with Foster landed him on Animal Planet (you may see the video here – this is my son’s personal project page he did in his Sophomore year of High School.  Go to the animals page.  My Autism Project).

When Connor grew out of showing, little sister Sarah started showing Foster in UKC and a AKC Junior handling to get started.  She stopped showing him as she moved onto other dogs for AKC Juniors.  Foster missed showing. He really missed working with Sarah.  he would try to follow us out of the house when we went to shows.  Yeah, no retirement there.

Foster, now a senior dog, is back at it.  UKC is more laid back in some respects and perfect for the old guy.  Sarah ended up qualifying for the UKC’s Top Junior Invitational at the 2017 Premier showing both Uhura, her Standard Schnauzer and Foster.  Sarah showed Uhura for the Invitational and took Reserve.  She showed Foster who had turned ten a couple months earlier in one of the regular Premier shows and took Best Junior. As long as he can move in the ring and enjoys it, Sarah will show him.


There is always something for the old timers to do if you stop and look and think. In January of 2018, Sarah decided to give the old guy a run at a Fast CAT (a 100 yard dash after a lure) practice.  Sarah was running Uhura who has her first Fast CAT title and Foster came along for the ride.  After working the catch pen all day, Sarah asked if she could run Foster.  He enjoyed it.  The professional photographer took a few pictures.

Foster 01-27 Fast CAT 2 crop

Photo by Wayne Ramsey

Foster 01-27 Fast CAT 1 crop

Photo by Wayne Ramsey


Get your old dog, dust off the cobwebs and get working with him. He may enjoy it!  Because you can teach old dogs new tricks.

Karen Peak is the developer of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project, owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County.

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