The Old Dog and the New Trick

We have all heard the saying stating that senior dogs cannot learn new tricks. Some even believe that a dog past the age of two years is incapable of learning new behaviors, schedules and habits. This is completely untrue and stems from an old wives’ tale! Senior dogs are left in shelters and rescues daily. Very few make it into loving homes to spend the last years of their lives. They are passed by due to this old belief that an old dog cannot possibly learn a new family and make a good pet. This popular lie about senior dogs leads to hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths of intelligent, loving and gentle canine companions.

A senior dog’s attention span is often times far longer than that of a puppy or even younger adult dog. These golden oldies have a better understanding of human behavior and body language while their younger counterparts are still very new to the idea of training and learning what their human wants from them. The old dog, however, understands already that good behavior means rewarding consequences from his humans. In fact, a large majority of the senior shelter dog population has already been through the paces of obedience training and may even be lucky enough to know a few cute tricks!

His life isn’t over

Another reason why seniors are passed by, left sitting in their cold and foreboding kennels at the shelters across the country is that adopters are in search of a lifelong best friend. They may see the gray hairs on a muzzle and assume the dog’s life is just about over and pass them by without a second thought. These seniors want to learn and grow as a new member of your family just as any other shelter dog, and their capabilities to learn and change are surprisingly vast and varied. Your old dog can learn new tricks, but he can learn so much more!

For many old shelter dogs, their life doesn’t truly begin until they walk out of their kennel for the last time and follow you home. Their lives have taken a turn and completely flipped upside down. They had grown uncomfortably accustomed to their cold and sterile kennel environment and must relearn to be a family pet in a functional home. Most seniors settle into their new homes in a matter of days compared to a younger dog who can take weeks or even months until they catch on to their new daily schedules, exercise routines and boundaries.

A senior will not test their boundaries to the extent of a younger dog or puppy that is still learning their place in the world. The old dog may be completely comfortable in his position in the human pecking order and just wait for your newest teachings to show him what you expect of his behavior. He will follow your guidance with a gentle eagerness, ready to learn the ways of his new companions.

Not all are lazy

Not all senior dogs are lazy, calm, or take life in simple strides. It’s not uncommon to hear of dogs 9 and 10 years old still effectively competing in the agility ring! Depending on the dog’s breed, health, and temperament you could still easily have an elderly jogging companion or hiking partner. Even older hunting breeds can learn to hone their natural skills and instincts to aid you during a hunt. Senior herding breeds can tune in to their own prey drives and learn to herd live stock either for work around your own farm or in trials.

Taking a chance on a senior dog is not too much different than taking a chance on a younger dog or puppy. The chances are just different! A younger dog may be hyperactive, require seemingly unending amounts of exercise and training while an older dog would be happier by your side with any task you may be doing. A younger dog may have more years with you, but hearing of an older dog reaching ages into their teens or even twenties is not unheard of.

The next time you’re searching for a new companion, first think about what it is you would like out of them. Then, don’t pass by any dog because of his age, young or old. Think of what you expect from your future pooch, and find the one that fits your lifestyle, even if he’s a senior!

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