Senior Dog Training Tips October 2, 2017 13:45

My senior dog isn't the brightest crayon in the box but she is fit and eager to please. Her cognitive dysfunction is a challenge but she amazes me with intermittent learned behaviour.  She's proven that teaching an old dog new tricks is possible and fun for both of us. Here are some tips that may be helpful for you and your senior.

 Same Place, Same Time

Senior dogs like routine and familiar surroundings. Familiarity with their environment gives them comfort, helping them to relax so they can focus on your signals. Make note of when your dog is most alert and active. This time is best for training.  My dog's sweet spot for fun is 10:00am. Ensure the area you are training in is comfortable, i.e. soft surfaces and appropriate temperature. 

Warm Up 

Just like for us, stretching before physical activity is important. Stiff, old joints take time to warm up. A nice easy walk or massage before training is a good idea.  I give my special girl a massage with olive oil and frankincense essential oil in the morning when she wakes up. Frankincense is great for inflammation.  

Short & Sweet

Be patient but keep training sessions short and take breaks. You want to avoid stress or injury to their old joints. Repetitive commands like asking your dog to sit ten times in a row without a break can cause pain and then your dog won’t want to respond. Or worse, they will work through the pain resulting in a more serious injury. 

Appropriate Signals

Use a signal that works for your older dog. Each dog learns differently. If they are deaf, use hand signals. If they are blind, use verbal. Teaching your dog both will make for an easy to transition to whichever is needed as they age.

Be Realistic

Know your dog and what he is capable of for his breed and age. For example, my senior Newfoundland isn't going to be able to stand on her back legs and dance. Her big trick is catching a soft frisbee from 4 feet away. Don't push them beyond their limits. Watch to see if they are uncomfortable or out of breath. 


Above all, it is important to keep your senior dog's weight in check so that tricks are easy and pain free. Use low calorie treats like fruit and veggies. Or reduce their meal portion to allow for training treats if higher in calories. 

Bi-Annual Health Check Ups

Senior dogs should have overall health check ups with your veterinarian twice a year. At that time, ask your vet if it's okay to be teaching certain tricks based on their health.