How To Train an Adult Dog

Adopting a pooch from a shelter is one of the best things a family can do. 

Older dog giving paw

Knowing that you’ve given a dog that might otherwise have faced a lonely, caged life, a loving family home is just good for the soul. But one thing that might prevent you from even considering an older dog for adoption is summed up in the well-known saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

True, older dogs often come with baggage. They’ve been through a lot and have well-defined personalities.

But the fact is that you can teach an old dog new tricks - with a bit of patience and a whole lot of perseverance.

So, if you’re wondering if you’ll be able to train your older dog some of the most basic tricks in the book, this article is just for you

Tips For Training Adult Dogs

Here are 7 of the most important things to consider before training a recently adopted older dog:

Untrain Before Retraining

Untraining a dog might sound a bit counterproductive, but truth be told - it’s probably one of the most important steps in the training process.

You need to figure out what your older dog already knows and what bad habits it’s picked up along the way.

This is especially important if you don’t know a dog’s history. It might understand some basic commands, or have a set routine of doing things. 

You’ll be able to pick up pretty quickly how much your dog needs to be untrained before the rebuilding process can start.

For instance, does your adult dog understand that it shouldn’t do its business on the living room carpet? If not, you need to untrain that bad habit before beginning with basic potty training.

Or your dog might show unwanted aggression to other animals. You need to help it see other pets not as enemies but as potential friends before you can consider socializing your dog with other smaller animals.

Be Patient

Older dogs will be set in their ways.

Like a stubborn but wise old man who refuses to move with the times and still relies on his pager for communication, your senior dog might need time to adjust to new ideas.

It’ll take a lot of patience on your part to teach your dog simple commands, so be patient. Also, keep in mind that not all dogs learn at the same pace, so consider your dog's breed.

Border collies are, for example, much more intelligent than bulldogs or chow chows. With a quick Google Search, you’ll be able to find out if your desired dog breed will be easy or difficult to train. 

Your Older Dog Might Be Limited

Just like a classic car might look the part, but not be able to keep up with the newer models, senior dogs might have certain limitations that come with age.

Owner giving a Labrador a command

One of the primary considerations is your dog's mobility. 

Older dogs often face challenges like arthritis or muscle stiffness, which can impact their ability to move comfortably. So keep training sessions short and incorporate frequent breaks to prevent overexertion and discomfort.

Aging can also affect a dog's sensory abilities. 

Vision, hearing, and sense of smell may decline, making it essential to adapt training methods accordingly. Using clear hand signals, verbal cues, and visual aids can help compensate for any sensory impairments, ensuring effective communication during training sessions.

Senior dogs typically have reduced stamina and will tire more quickly than puppies. 

Take all these things into consideration when deciding on an exercise routine for your furry friend.

Baby Steps

While it's never too late to train a dog in new commands, the progress might seem tedious and slow to begin with.

Remember that even basic commands like sit or stay are huge achievements for older dogs. Begin with teaching your dog just two or three of the most basic commands you can think of to lay the foundation.

From there you can build and introduce newer ideas as you go along. As long as your training starts with easy-to-understand commands, your old dog will feel like a puppy and enjoy the process as much as you do.

Stick To A Schedule

Sticking to a solid routine is another tip for training your older dog some new tricks and commands. 

Take your dog for a walk, to socialize at the dog park, or even just on bathroom breaks each day, if possible.

This will help your pup become familiar with its learning time and will help it feel more comfortable with the overall process of learning new things.

Incorporating your dog's training schedule into your personal routine is a sure way for you to stay on top of training sessions.

Join a Class

Joining a class and becoming part of a group to learn new tricks is an option if your dog plays well with others and struggles to learn new things by themselves.

Seeing other dogs its age obediently acting on commands will motivate your dog to do the same.

You also have the added benefit of other dog owners providing you with valuable feedback and advice on your training style. Most classes are designed - and conducted by seasoned dog trainers, so you don’t have to figure things out by yourself.

Ask, Don’t Demand

We’ve touched on the idea of adult dogs being more stubborn and set in their ways than younger dogs.

Senior Golden Retriever receiving a head pat

And that means that they will probably respond to love and kindness a lot better than to harsh treatment.

Although you’re commanding your dog to do something, don’t make them fearful of you. Use positive reinforcement to motivate your dog to do something rather than forcing them to obey your commands out of fear of punishment

This will also help your senior dog to trust you - a quality that will help not only with training sessions but also with creating a real connection between you and the animal.

When Is It Too Late To Train Your Dog?

The short answer to that question is NEVER.

Dogs of all ages are trainable, no matter their background or breed. True, younger dogs are far easier to train than senior dogs as you have a clean slate to start with.

Many older dogs will react to your training efforts and transform into loving, obedient family pets in no time at all.

Types Of Dog Training 

Here are three of the most important types of training that many dog owners need to consider when deciding to train older dogs.

#1 House Training

The house training process, more commonly known as potty training is one of the first things you want to address with your dog. Fortunately, house training for adult dogs is often much easier than with puppies.

Begin by taking your dog outside to the designated potty spot shortly after each meal. Consistency will be key in teaching your dog that a loo break will come soon when he or she can relieve himself without making a mess indoors.

If your dog has an accident, be sure to clean up the mess as soon as possible to avoid any lingering odors and discourage similar behavior from any other pets. If at all possible, don’t leave your dog alone for extended periods until they’ve been completely house-trained.

#2 Leash Training

Leash training can be a fun activity for you and your dog.

Make sure to choose the correct collar or harness so that your dog is comfortable and secure during walks. If he’s new to the idea of walking on a leash, make sure that you help them see the whole process as a positive thing.

Stay away from road traffic and other distracting noises as dogs can be extremely sensitive to these types of distractions.

Owner and Pitbull in matching hoodies

Sparkpaws Catalogue

If your dog is a heavy puller, like a Pit Bull, you might want to opt for a harness instead of a neck collar. These harnesses fit around your dog's chest and help you control their upper body movements by discouraging hard pulling.

Many dogs will get overexcited during walks and even start jumping up against other people or dogs. If you experience this, remember to remain calm and keep your dog under control as much as you can until the distraction passes.

Your calm confidence will rub off on your dog and help bring the situation under control in no time.

To equip your senior dog with the right tools for leash training, consider investing in a Sparkpaws walk set. Designed for comfort and security, Sparkpaws harnesses are perfect for heavy pullers like Pit Bulls, providing control while discouraging hard pulling. 

#3 Crate Training

Crate training is always a good idea. Whether you have a newborn puppy or adopt an older dog.

If your dog learns to see its crate as a safe space it will be more than happy to use its crate for extended periods.

That means you can easily (and safely)  transport your dog in your car or leave him alone at home in the knowledge that the entire place won’t be destroyed.

An adult dog that has never been in a crate or had a bad experience being locked up in the past might find it extremely difficult to even enter a crate. So as we mentioned in the preceding points - be patient with the process.

You can warm your dog up to the idea of being inside its crate by making it a cozy space that it wants to enter when it's time to sleep. Also, place some tasty snacks inside the crate without shutting the door behind your dog.

This will allow it to freely enter and exit without associating the crate with a trap. As your adult dog warms up to the idea, close the gate slowly and keep it shut for a few seconds only before opening it again.

Increasing the time the door is shut over a few weeks will help your dog adjust to the idea of being inside the crate with the door closed.


Training older dogs shouldn’t only be left to professional dog trainers. With a bit of patience, a solid routine, and the motivation to succeed, anyone can train their senior dog.

As long as you do your best to make the training sessions as enjoyable as possible, the love you show for your pet will motivate it to listen and obey. So don’t be scared of the old times at the shelter.

They might not have had the opportunity to learn any commands at their previous home, but new skills often come with new surroundings, so enjoy the process.