Is it really necessary to teach a dog anything other than basic obedience?
While it isn't vital to teach your dog how to roll over or beg, these activities are usually interesting and fun for them. Many dogs slip into undesirable behavior patterns due to boredom or anxiety. In my personal experience, I have found cognitively enhanced dogs to be happier and more balanced.
Other than fun, is there really any point to it?
When you teach desired behaviors, they can be used to replace undesired behaviors. They are also great for helping some dogs to build confidence or develop impulse control. For instance, one of our nurses has a storm-phobic rat terrier. By running him through his trick repertoire during storms, she can divert his focus from the weather to the task at hand. The resulting confidence helps him to better cope with his fear.
Is it true that dogs can't learn anything new when they're older?
Absolutely not! By using positive training methods and finding what motivates your dog, you most certainly can teach an old dog new tricks!
How do I know where to start?
Try building on activities your dog already likes to do. If she's very athletic and eager to please, consider agility. Scent hounds, such as beagles and dachshunds, love nose work. There are even facilities where herding breeds can work flocks of sheep!
What if don't have a lot of time?
Consider teaching a series of simple tricks. My wife spends about 10 minutes a day on trick training with our young dachshund. There are also puzzle toys and brain teasers available that can help your dog avoid boredom when you are not at home.
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