Be patient when teaching older dogs who lack skills

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As dog owners, we tend to focus on puppies and adopted older dogs. As a trainer, I focus on the needs of individual dogs and their owners' concerns.

The biggest misconceptions when adopting an adult older dog - even as young as a year old - is that they are already potty trained and that they don't have all the puppy behaviors new owners are trying to avoid, such as biting, chewing and jumping.

Of course, some adopted dogs, if they have come from a household where those things have been taught at an early age, might no longer have those issues. However, many older dogs have not been trained - and that could have contributed as to why they were put up for adoption.

In other cases, these dogs might have been strays and as such have learned no skills whatsoever. Or, as is often the case, they have been backyard dogs and have been taught nothing. None of these are the dogs fault - and kudos to those of you who have opened your hearts and homes and are embarking on teaching them the right path.

When dogs are lacking the age appropriate skills and behaviors and are acting out inappropriately for their age, this is called "delayed puppyhood" or "delayed adolescence." Teaching them requires patience.

Since they have missed the window of opportunity for the easiest time to learn these behaviors and skills, you might have to consult with a professional, as the techniques for training are somewhat different than if the dog was younger or had come from a different background.

In many such cases, prerequisite skill and behavior training would be necessary before you can deal directly with the issues you perceive to be important to you. For example, teaching a dog to lie down before they can learn a Stay, or teaching a Sit-Stay by your side before you can work on not jumping, or teaching a dog to "Go To Place" so he does not bother people when they are eating.

It can even mean going back to using a crate or kennel to teach correct housebreaking habits or to stop them from eating your house.

If you prefer group training rather than private one-on-one training, you would need to assess other skills your dog has, such as: Does she know her name? Does he come when called? Is she highly distractable? Does he walk well on a leash?

If yes, and these dogs are adults, they might not be quite ready for group. Sometimes a new owner also needs individual training and needs a trainer to focus on what they need to learn about how to work with their specific dog. All owners and all dogs are different.

It can be much more complicated if there are children in the family. Depending on their ages and interest level in the dog, they will need guidance and supervision. Kids and dogs have something in common: short attention spans. This might necessitate private one-on-one work.

So, congratulations on your adopted family member. Be patient and recognize their needs, and you will all cherish their "Gotcha Day"!

Abby Bird is owner of Alpha Dog Obedience Training. ajbird@hargray.com

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