I hear this question nearly as often as I hear people saying that we can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Which one is true? Can dogs learn to change their behaviour as they get older? Read on to find out!
Dogs are, undoubtedly, a fantastic addition to most households. They are cute, fun and friendly. However, they can also be pickles with habits such as jumping up at people or pulling on the lead among those that drive their owners mad. To clarify my opening question, you can actually teach an old dog new tricks….but it’s not easy to do so. In fact, it’s far better for everyone if you spend time training your young puppy to have all the right habits than put up with something you might eventually want to change.
All dogs have natural desires – many of which might not necessarily fit into our designs of a domesticated existence for them! Before I start explaining how to deal with bad habits, let’s remind ourselves of the way that dogs would behave if they were living in the wild:
They are genetically predisposed to hunt for food. So, their instincts will tell them to sniff, dig, roll in scent, bite, chew and so on. In fact, doing many of these things makes them feel good. IN the same way, learning to pull on the lead becomes rewarding for them if they get to the park quicker or get attention from you telling them to heel.
The more they do something that brings attention, the more habitual the behaviour becomes (especially if there is a perceived reward) and then the stronger their desires become. It becomes harder and harder to break the habit.
It’s therefore important to remember that what we classify as ‘bad habits’ are usually very natural actions for our dogs or the things that get results. The best approach is to start training a dog to fit in with our expectations, lifestyle and surroundings at an early age. The fact is, if you don’t train, any dog will almost certainly develop bad habits. This is definitely an example of prevention being better than cure.
It’s critical to start as we mean to go on – a cute, bouncy puppy pulling on the lead in his excitement to go for a walk will eventually turn into a fully grown, 5ft tall, 35kg dog dragging you out for a walk. Not as much fun?
Here are some ideas for day-to-day ideas and tactics to try to avoid the bad habits:
- Play games that distract from the end result (ie getting to the park and off the lead) and keep your dog mentally stimulated
- Find time to explore some of the more sensory behaviours (such as sniffing and chewing) when you are out for a walk or in the garden so your dog can learn to engage in a task
- Don’t try to stop your dog experiencing natural desires as this could cause stress which will almost certainly lead to other bad habits and behaviours
- Work on training exercises with your dog regularly to establish clear communications and a good rapport with your pet. This will make it easier to nip bad habits, such as ignoring a recall, in the bud as soon as they emerge
- Regular training and attention means you are also more likely to spot a new behaviour and can tackle it immediately before it becomes a big issue, rather than coming to a training session with a mountain to climb
In a nutshell, staying on top of your dog’s training and creating AND maintaining a pet which fits in with your lifestyle and surroundings means continuous attention and work. However, it doesn’t have to be a chore. At PotterPaws, we run Pawsome Pals
, a membership club which gives you regular access to support and tips. Because sessions are weekly, you reduce the chance that your dog develops a habit which you can’t nip in the bud. Why not check it out?