By Toni Lynn Mark, Training and Behavior Education Specialist
Have you ever heard that saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks?”. Well, that’s hog-wash. And so is “You shouldn’t teach a new dog old tricks”!
When you look back in old photos, you’ll sometimes see family pets in portraits (often sitting politely too!). Although they may seem like just cute photos, they tell me more—most importantly, that dogs have been part of our family structure for a very long time. In order for dogs to be members of a family, they must be trained enough that the family feels comfortable and safe with that dog. So, that means that we’ve been training dogs to be part of the family for a very very long time.Now, more than ever, dogs are so engrained in our families that we even include them in weddings! Having a well-trained dog means that dogs can truly be part of our families and partake in such exciting events.
Some of those basic behaviors can be considered “old”, “not that special”, or “unexciting”, but they are the very backbone to a dog becoming a good family member AND they’re the foundation to building other fun new tricks. Therefore, it’s so important to teach new dogs those “old” tricks.
Many basic training and obedience classes start with those “old” tricks. For example, training a dog to sit may seem simple, but it’s absolutely necessary to a dog performing good behavior throughout their lives. If a dog is trained to sit, that means they aren’t jumping up on people or counters, chasing the cat, etc. A dog being trained to lie down has similar results—the dog isn’t jumping, nor is he up tearing up the good furniture in the house.Counter-surfing is frustrating for dog owners, but can easily be avoided if the dog is trained to sit!
Training a dog to walk with a loose leash is also imperative for a dog’s mental and physical well-being. If a dog is pulling on a walk, the owner might not be as inclined to continue taking walks with the dog. This can be a big problem for dogs! Because most dogs are expected to live a mostly sedentary lifestyle, some dogs have a lot of built up energy. Walks allow a dog to get out that energy. If an owner isn’t taking the dog for a walk, the dog might be motivated to let out their energy another way, such as chewing shoes or persistently barking.Dogs spend a lot of time sleeping, so it’s important to get their energy out in productive ways, such as enjoyable walks, so that dogs don’t resort to inappropriate chewing or barking.
Finally, a dog coming when they are called can be a life-saving “trick” for a dog. If a dog is about to cross a busy intersection, a reliable “come” when called can be the difference between life and death. Whenever the dog is about to perform an undesirable behavior, you can cue the dog to come to you instead of performing that behavior. That allows you to easily redirect the dog away from doing something “bad” and instead do something that can be rewarded!
The good news is that most of these “old” tricks are easy and quick to teach. When teaching these different tricks, you should use positive reinforcement training methods. That means that when the dog performs the desirable behavior, you should reward it. You can reward it with love, attention, or the best one—treats! The more often the behavior is rewarded, the more likely that behavior will continue. You can hold several training sessions as you train this behavior. Always remember- the more it is rewarded, the more likely the behavior will be repeated!
Sadie sits politely instead of running off the porch into the road!
It’s a great thing to teach new dogs the basics. When you get the basics down, you can advance onto other more exciting tricks, such as shake (where the dog might start by sitting) and roll over (where the dog might start by laying down). At the very least, teaching these old tricks to new dogs can make sure that your dog is in your family photos too!