An Old Dog
. . . . . . learns new tricks
Two of the most frequent questions I get at my training days are ‘Can you teach an old dog new tricks?’ and ‘Can I retrain my dog? Yes on both accounts.
A good example is ‘Hope,’ my Huntaway. I bred her to retain my bloodlines, but never trained her for stock-work, as I had none. But she had manners, she was well behaved.
‘Hope’ was keen to work stock, if given the opportunity, but I didn’t allow it, and we could ride through paddocks with her at my horse’s heels.
It would have done more harm than good to allow her to ‘play’ with sheep, under no command, and without rime or reason, and there was no point putting in hours and hours of training with no work to follow up.
Due to a casual remark not long ago ‘you can only train heading dogs’, Hope’s education began at the ripe old age of four.
I trained her the same way that I train a 9 - 12 month old pup, and I can honestly say I would have had the same success had she have been twice the age.
She is a fabulous demo dog at my ‘days’, and our circumstances have recently changed; we now have some real stock-work. I’m thrilled with her enthusiasm, natural ability and valuable participation.
But it is important to remember - she had been taught manners and respect, not to chase stock, and most importantly, she hadn’t developed any bad habits – she didn’t need re-training.
On the other hand re-training a dog needs a different approach.
You are re-training it because it either takes little notice of its commands or it has bad habits you wish to eliminate.
If it takes no notice of a command then I would teach the dog a new command. For example if ‘sit’ means stop - and he doesn’t, then change the word - ‘stand’ or whistle - then teach the dog to sit/stand still.
Once he understands the new command, you need to be consistent, at all times, and insist he does as he is told, or you will be back to square one.
If I was retraining a dog I would do it at a time when I could get by without him at work, teaching the new commands until he knows what they mean, then and only then is he ready to go to work using them.
Imagine – you have started to teach the new word ‘stand’ yesterday; you need him today, what will you say to stop him? ‘Sit’ hasn’t been working so why say it? and he hasn’t had long enough to understand that ‘stand’ means slam on the breaks and be stationary.
By taking him to work, not only are you going to be confused, but worse, your dog will be ignoring you yet again because he doesn’t know what you mean, what is expected, and that he needs to do as he is told – he needs time to learn.