Ask a Vet: Can You Teach an Old Dog New Tricks?


Welcome to our weekly 'Ask a Vet from the SF SPCA' feature on Dr. Jeannine Berger, DVM, DACVB is a board certified veterinary behaviorist who counsels guardians whose pets’ issues are beyond the scope of training. Think of her as a pet shrink…at your service. Ask your own questions in the comments!

Okay, your dog doesn’t have to be old, but the adage holds true that a dog of any age can learn new talents. The key is patience, persistence and really delicious treats. Trick training, like all positive reinforcement training, relies on the motivation of your pet to obtain the reward.

Step 1. Get your dog’s attention by letting him know you have a treat ready.

Step 2. Lure your dog to perform the trick. For example. To teach a dog to sit, use the treat in your hand to guide the dog to a seated position by maneuvering the treat in front of the dog’s face so that he backs into a seated position. Hold the treat above his head then draw it back while you say sit- just once. Or you can wait for a dog to sit naturally and just say sit, then reward.

Here’s a video that shows the hand movement. You don’t want to push his rump down or physically force him into the position, but when he sits, reward. If you’ve tried this but your dog isn’t interested, get better treats! Cheese, baby food.
Show off your dog’s tricks (or bunny or bird or cat or iguana) at the 2nd Annual DOGMA: Live in SF. Love in SF. Event on Sunday, September 30 from 12 pm-4 pm in Hayes Valley, Octavia Street at Hayes. The on-stage talent show at 1:30 will bring out the best of SF, so start training now! (Side note: An ultra amazing costume is also considered a talent of sorts!) See you there!

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