When do you consider your dog too old for obedience training? If you have a puppy, how early can you start training?
I don’t consider any dog too old for basic obedience training, unless there is a problem with bone structure. If the old dog has arthritis, limps or holds its head at an angle, I would definitely want the veterinarian’s opinion before I started any kind of training.
If the veterinarian approves, the aging pet could benefit from a beginning obedience class. The stimulation of the other dogs and the activity could be all the dog needs to put a spark in his life. Go easy, though. As I told a youngster who brought his three-legged dog to the 4-H class, if the dog seems tired, take him over to the side and let him rest a few minutes. The same goes for the elderly canines — don’t over-do, at least in the beginning. These dogs might even enjoy some of the puppy-class activities at home. You never know unless you try it.
In my obedience classes so long ago, I had 8- and 10-year-old dogs start obedience school and the oldest dog in training was 12 when she entered the advanced class, which included jumping and retrieving. That dog was a miniature poodle and the school was the Kentucky Colonel Dog Training School in Lexington, where I trained to be an instructor.
My experience in training an older dog that had never been trained before is that you need a lot of patience. It is easy for a puppy to learn to concentrate on the handler, but the older dog, (mine was 8 years old when I started training for competition), rarely has been asked to pay attention for any length of time. Because of this, there must be additional short practices until the routine becomes habit.
As for the puppies, I encourage new dog owners to get their 3-month-old puppies into what is usually referred to as “Kindergarten Puppy Training” classes. Some training facilities allow puppies as young as eight weeks, but I preferred pups that had had their full range of puppy shots. Why so young? In a puppy class, the youngsters learn social manners in a protected play environment. They are exposed to new smells, new sounds, and given problems to stimulate their minds. During these training sessions, the animals are encouraged to interact with the other puppies and any misbehavior is not corrected as such, rather the pup is just distracted from continuing that activity, whether it is fighting or wandering off to chew on the equipment. Toward the end of the class session, routine obedience lessons are introduced, again in a play environment. The class ends with five or six minutes of agility obstacles such as board walks and tunnels. If you can’t find a puppy class in your area, you can start your own with some friends with young pups. It is important to teach pups good manners when they are young.