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Recently, I talked with a frustrated dog owner who felt like she had missed her chance to teach her dog good manners. “I want to train my Cocker Spaniel to stop barking every 30 seconds,” she lamented, “but he’s 4 now and it’s too late to change him!”
I hear that a lot, and while I understand why a pet parent would think that way, I’m always happy to tell them that it’s not true. The fallacy that an old dog can’t learn a new trick has been disproven time and again. And there’s more good news: Teaching a dog of any age new tricks and better manners usually doesn’t require extensive effort or hours of training.
Training can provide a fresh start for your dog, whether he’s newly adopted and still learning the boundaries of his new household or a longtime family member who needs a brush up on his manners. No matter how old your dog is, training that emphasizes rewards can help to reframe patterns of interaction in a way that rewards and builds desired behavior in place of undesirable habits. This is a win-win situation for you and your dog: You get less barking and more behaving, and he gets rewards for doing what he’s asked.
For many dogs, the foundation to better manners is as simple as focusing on three basic behaviors: go to your place, make eye contact and tolerate touch. Here’s how training each of these behaviors can change your relationship with your dog for the better.
One of the most useful behaviors you can teach your dog is to move to a designated spot — like a mat or his bed — when asked. Teaching this behavior can help solve a variety of problems, including begging at the dinner table and dashing out the door. Teaching your dog to go to a designated spot can also provide a strategy for steering your dog away from problem behaviors like jumping or chasing the cat. In each of these situations, your dog replaces an undesirable behavior — jumping or chasing — with a behavior that you reward with treats and praise.
In addition, "go to your spot" can be useful when you and your dog are navigating situations where your canine may need to be directed to a designated area — for example, when you’re unloading groceries and don’t want your dog underfoot or when guests are arriving or leaving and you need to be sure your dog isn't tempted to slip out an open door. "Go to your spot" can also help to increase your dog’s independence by reinforcing that it’s OK for him to be separated from you for limited periods of time.
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