Even Older Dogs Can Learn

learning and enrichment add to your dog's quality of life, no matter the age

 

This weekend, I was with my aunt’s 13 year old sheltie who has cataracts, has lost much hearing, and doesn’t move around like she did. I see learning as enrichment and I love teaching so I wanted to give Molly something constructive to do. I went to my car and brought in an orange cone and some dog treats, and began teaching her that when she touched her nose to the tip of the cone, she would get a piece of food. Soon, this dog who had been wandering through us aimlessly, not fully engaging with anyone, began wagging her tail and was intently interested in bumping her nose to the cone. After a few minutes, I took the cone up and came back to it later. Her just seeing it caused her tail to begin wagging again and she did about a dozen more repetitions of touching the cone’s tip. By the way…Molly is a dog who has had very little formal training in her life. It is just a reminder that learning and enrichment is important for all ages.

Dog Training Lessons From Dave Kroyer

I am always on the look out for opportunities to learn from experts in training through positive reinforcement. And I’ve got to say, the two days that I spent in Columbus at PosiDog taking a course from internationally renowned trainer Dave Kroyer were absolutely invaluable.

Dave Kroyer dog trainerDave is a judge, coach and competitor, with over 15 years of experience in the arenas of Schutzhund, Mondio Ring, French Ring Sport, Police K9, AKC Obedience, Agility, SAR, Nose Work and AKC Tracking. His also has combined 10 appearances as a World Championship Team member in IPO & Mondio Ring, in addition to multiple National and Regional podium placements.

While the class was about teaching scent work, because Dave focuses so much on foundational learning and teaching skills, it was about so much more…targeting, clicker training, timing, motivation, setting the animal up for success.

He reminded all of us that if we want our students to succeed, it is so important to begin at the very beginning. In training scent work, that beginning involves teaching your dog to be operant (learning from consequences), understanding moment marking (please see my last blog post about moment marking), and moving away from the reinforcer – all without a leash in an environment without distractions (or at least minimal). Dave may spend days or even weeks on these steps to make sure they are good and strong because he knows those skills will ultimately be the difference between a dog that will eagerly and without influence leave his handler to indicate the scent. As someone who trains dogs for law enforcement and the CIA, there is no room for error.

When you think about it, those concepts are important in just about anything that we teach our pets. In our busy lives, it is understandable that we want to find quick fixes to behavior issues. We want to be able to walk our dog down a busy street on a loose leash or to be able to call our dog and have him run immediately back to us in any circumstance, without taking the time to teach and strengthen the foundational skills needed first.

However, the reality is, by not spending that time what we are doing is setting ourselves and our pets up for failure.

Remember, to teach in the most positive way, we need to empower our students by allowing them to make their own choices – just making the choices we want them to make the most valuable for them; we need to teach with clarity; we need to set the learning environment up so that he will be motivated to want to learn; and we need to be willing to be patient, teaching those foundation skills and building difficulty only as our student can continue to succeed.

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