Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

Brining home an adult dog takes some adjustment for both parties. He might not be properly house trained or might have been used to different rules in his former environment. Living in your fine home, he thinks he’s arrived in doggy heaven. But he might be doing all sorts of unacceptable things – chewing the furniture, digging up the backyard or barking at the neighbors. Don’t despair – a dog is never too old to learn new behaviors, says Kathy Marmack, an animal training supervisor at the San Diego Zoo. It just takes time and lots of patience to re-tool his canine thinking machinery.

Changing Bad Behavior:
Take preventive measures to deter your new dog’s undesirable behavior. Put the leash on him and attach it to your waist for a few days after you bring him home, suggests Marmack. “This give both of you an idea of what to expect from one another. If you’re watching TV. Your dog can sit nicely beside you, or if you’re going from room to room, he has to follow.” This way, your dog can’t get into the trash or go exploring in the other rooms of the house. You have total control over him until you both feel comfortable with one another. If you need a break from the tether of the leash, you can put him in his crate.

A Sudden Change of Behavior:
If your dog has lived with you for a while suddenly starts misbehaving, it’s another story.
“Dogs usually don’t act up without a reason,” says Jill Yorey, a training consultant at the society for the prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Los Angeles. “Something is going on in the home and the dog is upset or wants attention.”

Think about what’s been happening lately at home. Is there illness, sadness or loud fighting? Lots of suitcases or moving boxes piled up? Are you renovating and the furniture is topsy-turvy? Dogs are sensitive creatures and become afraid if their world isn’t orderly. Just like some people, dogs become set in their ways. When there’s disorganization, they may express anxiety by urinating in the house, avoiding the family; chewing up objects they haven’t touched since they were puppies or demanding more attention than usual. This is really a yelp for help.

Dealing with Persistent Misbehaviors:
If your adult dog is getting impossible to live with, start treating him like a puppy. Be happy to see him each morning but keep him confined to a crate or the yard when you cannot watch him. Wherever possible, take him along when you go out of the house.

When you’re at home, give him plenty of personal attention – a game of tug, or a soothing all-over grooming session. He will enjoy the extra company and reassurance.

Getting out in the fresh air can take your dog’s mind off destroying your house. Take him for a walk in a different park or, if he enjoys a care ride, visit a friend. “New views help wake up a bored and tired adult dog,” says Yorey.