‘Can an old dog learn new tricks?’
It was nearly seventeen years ago that I spotted a little grey bundle in a rescue kennels. He was an odd looking thing, with a grizzled coat that stuck out all over the place, and a Jack Russell head with eyes that didn’t look terribly interested in me peering at him. He was only 2, but he looked ancient!
At the time I simply wanted a dog. Any dog. A dog of my own. I wanted a rescue dog. I took him for a walk and not much happened. That weekend I took him home. He was a very withdrawn little mutt, until he spotted another dog. At that point he transformed into a banshee.
As it turned out, he became the start of my career. After many struggles and a lot of work but a lot more fun, he became Pepper, ‘The Flying Flea’ or his official working register Kennel Club name ‘Red Hot Chilli Pepper’. He did Agility, Obedience, Working Trials training and was the ‘small dog’ in the ‘Superdogs’ Display team.
Can every rescue dog be given a new lease of life? It’s not always easy, it’s not always cheap, but nothing worth having in life is a simple walk in the park. And walking a barking, half-crazed terrier in the park isn’t easy. I learned so much from him, and he was my little mate. I still miss him.
Often I get calls from owners asking if an older dog can be trained. The answer is, yes. Pepper learned to “wave” when he was 15 years old, and in the year before he died, he learned to bark to call me when he couldn’t manage to reach something.
Sometimes, a rescue dog has not had the chance to learn about life and ‘normality’. It can take them a long time to adjust to what you take for granted as familiar. These dogs need careful, long-term social experience. They need to go at their own pace. You need to help them.
Getting a new puppy isn’t straightforward either, so it’s not always the better choice! In my work, get more calls for puppy and adolescent behaviour problems than rescue dogs.
I have seen several cases where the families called me the day they brought their rescue dog home. Perfect! This meant that any worries they had, they could ask me to assess what to do next. As months pass, they moulded these dogs into good citizens.
Sometimes, the dogs are just relieved to be somewhere where they can adapt and learn without fear.
Get yourself a good trainer – someone qualified, with proper credentials, with a code of practice, and no harsh methods or talk of old-fashioned dominance theory. Give your new dog the best chance you can. Keep notes of the early days so you can look back at how far you have come. You will be amazed!
With Pepper I learned a huge amount about training a terrier. About their determination, and about my own patience. About the benefit of silence and observation.
And the love, oh the fun and the feeling that I gave him a chance. I will never forget the day a lady came over after a dog display we had just completed, pulled a roast beef joint from her bicycle basket, and stuffed a wodge of it into Pepper’s mouth. He was extremely happy about that part of his career!
So folks, if you want to blame anyone for my presence on this site then the fault lies with rescue dogs!
This month we are supporting the Oldies Club: Please consider a donation to the fabulous “Oldies Club’ who care for and rehome older dogs. You can donate here