Whether you have recently adopted an older pet, or have given up trying to correct your pet’s bad habits, it is not too late to teach him good manners. From house training to digging and chewing, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) offers tips on how to train your problem canine or feline.
"Consistency and positive reinforcement are the key to training a pet of any age," says Link Welborn, DVM, AAHA past president. "In fact, older pets may be easier to train than puppies and kittens because they have a longer attention span."
Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks
House training should be a breeze for older pets who have less urgency problems and better control. Keep a close eye on your dog or confine him to a specific area while indoors. Take him to the same outside spot every time he goes to the bathroom. Use consistent encouragement and give him plenty of praise afterward. Treats can be used to assist in house training. Make sure that the treat is given immediately after the pet has gone potty. If the treat is given when the dog comes inside, you will train your dog to walk through a door, not go potty outside.
Solving the Litter Box Blues
Training your older feline companion will be easier if you use the same brand of litter that she previously used. If you don’t know what kind of liter was previously used it is a good idea to offer several different types. This can be done by using the disposable aluminum trays and filling each of them with different litter (the litter that she digs in and uses most often is the litter you should use). Please note that cats have preferences for texture and smell, so buying a litter that smells better to you may cause your pet to avoid the litter box.
Food treats and positive reinforcement will help your pet learn basic commands such as "sit," "stay" and "come." Plan your commands ahead of time and make sure that everyone in your household uses the same commands so your pet doesn’t get confused. Say the command once and then physically put your pet in the position you desire if he doesn’t obey. If you continuously say the command and the pet does not listen it will reinforce the fact that they do not have to listen to you.
Older Pets Love Toys Too
Toys aren’t just for puppies and kittens. Older pets also need stimulating toys and plenty of exercise to prevent them from digging and chewing out of boredom. Chewing in kittens is common, but they usually outgrow it. Consult your veterinarian if your older cat is still chewing; she may have a medical problem that needs attention. Keeping a close watch over your pet so he doesn’t have an opportunity to misbehave and using consistent praise to reinforce good behavior should eliminate most behavior problems.
The key to any training regimen is consistent, positive reinforcement of the desired behavior rather than punishment. Never physically punish a pet; this may lead to biting out of fear, or other aggressive behavior. Use praise and attention as a reward when the desired behavior is exhibited and ignore inappropriate behavior.
If your pet continues to display unwanted behaviors despite your best efforts, visit your veterinarian to discuss the problem. Your veterinarian will examine your pet to rule out medical conditions that could be causing or contributing to the behavior, as well as provide advice and additional resources to help solve the problem. Your veterinarian can also refer you to a behavior specialist. The most important thing to remember is to be patient, you may have years of bad habits to break and this can not be accomplished in a day or two.