Believe it or not, old dogs learn new tricks the exact same way as younger dogs. They might even be easier to train.
If you were to start your training journey with a puppy, much of your time would be spent teaching them it’s not ok to potty in the house or chew on the furniture. Not only do they need help learning the basics of life as a family dog, but they also need to learn commands and basic obedience. And they’re just a baby!
Adult dogs however are different. Typically, when you start training an adult dog, you only need to worry about rewarding good behaviors. Whatever negative behaviors they have can be more easily adjusted because they’ve matured and they aren’t preoccupied with discovering a brand new world with copious amounts of distraction.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t train your puppy (you should). Rather, you should also train your adult dog. Especially if they’ve never had any actual training before.
If this is at all intimidating, don’t worry! We got your back. In this article, we’re going to go over ways of giving your adult dog the basics of obedience training.
How to get started training your adult dog
Dog training is actually very simple. Help your dog to do the desired behavior, “mark” the action with some sort of audible cue (like a clicker, or simply the word “good”), and reward them for completing the behavior. This pattern helps them to associate the behavior with the reward. If they believe that doing the behavior when prompted results in a positive outcome, they are extremely likely to continue doing the behavior in the future.
Simple. But that doesn’t mean you won’t need guidance. Especially if you’re just starting out and don’t know which behaviors are most important to master first. Or even how to go about leading your dog to do these behaviors in the first place.
So how do you get started? Grab some of your dog’s favorite, most intensely flavorful training treats, a leash, and some patience. This is going to be fun.
Training your adult dog to walk on a leash
Training an adult dog starts with the leash.
Leashes aren’t just for the odd walk, they’re also one of the best training tools you have. No other device will give you direct control of your dog and enable you to give immediate feedback to them like a leash. To start, you’ll need to get your dog used to walking nicely on a leash. This means walking beside you, not pulling, and being responsive to any commands you give.
Start by clipping your pup to the leash and rewarding them whenever they are calm and relaxed. You don’t need to go on walks just yet. Focus on showing your dog that the leash is a good thing, and being calm when on the leash results in something positive.
Once you feel that your pup is consistently comfortable with the leash, start walking with them in a controlled environment. This is where many of us run into trouble. Dogs love to pull.
Pulling is actually a natural drive for dogs because they naturally oppose tension. When they feel restrained, they want to escape. So, once they reach the end of the leash, their natural reaction is to resist the backward pressure by pulling forward. Not only does this allow them to walk faster (dogs love to move fast), but it also enables them to go where they want to.
Unfortunately for your pup, pulling isn’t going to fly anymore.
Techniques to prevent your dog from pulling on the leash
While pulling might be a natural instinct, the basics of good obedience require that your dog be well-behaved and listen to you while they’re on a leash. So if your dog is a puller, that needs to be corrected. Here are a few techniques you can try to get them to walk nicely.
The Tree Method
When your dog pulls, stop dead in your tracks until there is slack in the leash. Get it? You’re suddenly planting yourself in the ground like a tree so your dog can’t pull you around. This teaches your dog that they only get where they want to go when the leash is loose and not when they are pulling.
The Drunk Walk
When your dog reaches the end of the leash, turn in the opposite direction until there is slack in your leash. Then allow your dog to move in the direction they wanted to go until they reach the end of the leash again! This teaches the dog that they don’t get to go in that direction if they pull you toward it.
The Interesting Owner
Reward your dog for absolutely anything while out on a walk! This will keep your dog more focused on you than on what is going on in the neighborhood and where they want to be. Reward most when the leash is loose.
The Wild Card Method
Change direction randomly and often! This will keep your dog focused on where you are going instead of where they want to go. This is perfect for the park!
Once your dog is used to walking on a leash, and responds well to corrections using pressure from the leash and maybe a tasty treat, the rest of basic obedience training is much easier.
Training your adult dog to obey basic commands
Basic commands are an essential part of obedience training. The most important skills your dog needs to master are to come when called (recall), sit, lay down, and stay. Practicing these will not only teach your dog new behaviors, but also reinforce the bond between the two of you, increase your level of trust, and it’s a lot of fun too.
Ready to get started?
How to train your dog to come when called
Practicing good recall is the best way to ensure that your dog is safe when off-leash. The key to teaching this behavior is consistency and lots of positive reinforcement. This is especially true at the start. Here’s how you go about it.
Armed with a leash, some treats, and maybe a clicker if you feel so inclined, bring your dog to a distraction-free environment. At the start, the less your dog has available to steal their attention away from you, the better.
Start with your dog on the leash beside you. Your goal here is to get their attention and begin to associate being with you as a positive thing. If you’ve already been working with them to walk nicely on a leash, this part will be extremely easy.
To do this, call your dog’s name and wait for them to make eye contact with you. The moment this happens, mark the behavior with an audible cue (by using the clicker, saying “good”, or something similar) and give them a treat. Repeat this a few times to get your dog used to the command.
Once your dog is responding well to the command, start calling their name when they’re further away from you. Instead of marking whenever they look at you though, begin marking and rewarding when they come all the way to you. It’s important that you do not move toward your dog while training this behavior. They need to know that they are expected to come to you and that there is no possibility of playing chase when they are told to come. Repeat this many times, gradually increasing the distance you allow your dog to get away from you before you call them back.
As you grow to trust your dog more, start practicing this command in different environments and with different levels of distraction. Practice recall when they’re playing with other dogs or when they are in the presence of a stranger. Always remember to mark and reward good behavior. This will teach your dog that coming to you when they hear their name results in a positive outcome.
How to train your dog to sit
Once your dog has begun to get a hold of recall, a world of training possibilities is open to you. The next step for most people is a simple sit.
To begin teaching your adult dog to sit, you’ll need a leash and a few treats. Start by gently pulling up on the leash. Keep the pressure constant and say the command word (typically, this is “sit”).
The pull from the leash will encourage your dog to sit. As soon as your dog is in the sitting position, release the pull of the leash. After a moment, mark and reward your dog for doing the desired behavior. This will show your dog that their action (sitting) has caused the pressure to be taken away and resulted in the reward.
Marking and rewarding your dog a second or two after you’ve released the pull is very important. This slight delay helps them to understand that their action (sitting) is the reason why they are being rewarded. Over time, they’ll begin to associate the action with the reward, rather than the release of pressure, and this will help to reinforce the behavior.
How to train your dog to lie down
When you need your dog to be calm or stay out of the way, the most comfortable position for them to settle into is a down. This is how I use “down” with my dogs. It’s the default for when I want my pups to take a breather. Teaching it is very simple.
The first step is to gently pull straight down on the leash, providing constant pressure, while saying your command word. For me, this word is simply “down.” This is to keep your pup from moving away from you. Once you feel your pup start to move their front legs forward and their back legs back, you should stop pulling on the leash. This will encourage your pup to lower their body and lie down.
The second step is meant to get your dog to lie down all the way. To do this, maintain downward pressure on the leash until all four of your pup’s elbows are on the ground. This will signal to your pup that they are in the correct position. As soon as this happens, you should mark and reward your pup with a treat or verbal praise. This will reinforce the desired behavior and encourage your pup to continue performing the action.
The third step is to wait to mark and reward your pup until a couple of seconds after they’ve held the down position. This will let your pup know that they did the right thing and that they will be rewarded for it if they remain in the position. If your pup is not responding to the reward, you can try repeating the steps or changing the reward to something more enticing.
How to train your dog to wait patiently before they’re released
Has your dog ever rushed through a doorway before the door is even completely open? This is a common bad habit that adult dogs develop when they aren’t taught good manners as a puppy. However, if your dog is pushy, they don’t have to stay that way. Teaching your dog to “wait” is simple, and can be applied to any situation where you want your dog to wait for your “OK” before they move.
To teach this behavior, walk up to the door with your dog. Firmly say your command word “Wait” and slowly open the door. As soon as they move to run through, shut the door and say “No. Wait.” Then repeat this process until they no longer attempt to push through the door. If you choose to let them go through the door, say “Ok” and let them go through. They will quickly realize they can’t go through a door until you signal them to.
You can apply the same strategy in other situations too. For example, you can put your dog in a sit or a down, give them the “wait” command, and slowly walk away. If your dog moves to follow you before you give them the release word, put them back in the same spot where they started and repeat the process. You can start by only walking a few steps away, and slowly increase the distance between yourself and your dog.
Be sure to mark and reward your dog every time they do the behavior correctly.
Tips for successfully training an adult dog
Adult dog training can be a challenging but rewarding experience. Not only will you be more comfortable taking your dog in public, but your relationship with your dog will be much stronger. Suddenly, you’re much more than a source of food and pets. Once you’ve established the bond with your dog through training, you and your dog will be devoted to each other in a new way. If you didn’t understand why they were called “man’s best friend” before, you will.
With that being said, training your dog is going to take some work. So take these last thoughts with you as you begin:
- Start with a positive attitude: It is important to have a positive attitude when training your pup. Don’t see it as a chore that you must do. While it is your responsibility to train your dog, it’s also an opportunity to radically change their life for the better. Be excited for them!
- Be consistent: Consistency is critical when training. Make sure to always use the same commands and to reward your pup for their successes.
- Be patient: Training always takes time, practice, and patience. Make sure to be patient with your pup and understand that it may take a while for them to learn a new skill. Getting frustrated with them may lead them to associate the activity of training (or worse, being around you) with punishment. So if you want your dog to be happy to see you and listen to you, be patient.
- Have fun: Training your pup should be fun for both of you. Make sure to laugh, allow yourself to get excited, and enjoy the process.
Whoever came up with the saying “old dogs can’t learn new tricks” was wrong. Maybe they never tried to teach an adult dog a trick, or maybe they just didn’t know how to get started. But now, you do.
Your adult dog is a few training sessions away from being significantly more obedient, more attentive to you, and more trustworthy. They may not be the high-energy pup they once were. But with a little training, you’d be surprised at how much of that puppy spirit they still have.
If you have any questions about training, we’re always happy to help! Either drop by your local Kahoots to ask one of our associates with significant dog training experience, or shoot us an email.