Pet health: Later-in-life training is a good idea

06/18/2014 7:27 PM

06/18/2014 7:27 PM

Q: Our 5-year-old terrier mix has always been rambunctious. She jumps up on people and runs around in circles whenever we take her out. We assumed she’d grow out of it as she got older, but her craziness is the same as it was when she was just in her puppy classes. Our vet recommended a trainer, but after a certain age isn’t it true that training is almost impossible?

A: Conventional wisdom says that old dogs can’t learn new tricks, but nothing could be further from the truth. And the assumption that, post-puppyhood, there’s no pressing need for professional training anymore is also false.

This confusion is understandable, however, given that most training services tend to be directed at puppies. Puppy kindergarten is crucial, of course, seeing as early socialization is the cornerstone of dog training. Without it, Posh might’ve turned out fearful and aggressive as well as rambunctious. But training in early puppyhood is only the beginning.

In fact, few dogs will behave acceptably well enough without a second or third round of training, whether in an organized class setting or with an independent trainer. After all, basic manners don’t come easy to our human children, so why should we assume a six-week puppy class will suffice?

Unfortunately, it has been my experience that while 95 percent of my clients’ pups and rescues see a training professional within the first few months, only 10 percent or fewer pursue additional professional training –– presumably because they don’t think it’s necessary.

As long as the dogs are house trained and more or less know how to sit, stay, lie down, walk on a leash and not jump up on people, most owners are content.

But is the dog?

I’m not so sure. Even if dogs could be trained and maintained so simply, I’m of the opinion that dogs whose owners don’t value a challenging lifelong training regimen aren’t as happy as they could be. After all, most dogs need social companionship, mental stimulation and robust exercise along with food, water, shelter and healthcare.

Listen to your veterinarian: Hire a trainer he or she recommends. Take a basic manners class. Then maybe a more advanced one after that. And more later.

What do you have to lose? Even if continuing education doesn’t straighten your dog out, putting her through her paces will undoubtedly improve her quality of life.

Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to khulyp@bellsouth.net.

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