Dog Training Tips for Seniors

18th April 2019

Dogs can make ideal companions for senior citizens. Canine companions offer loyalty, provide joy, and give unconditional love. Dogs are totally accepting of their elderly owners. They don't see any wrinkles or physical limitations. Instead, they only see someone to love who loves them back.

A dog's devoted and affectionate nature can make a senior owner happier and even healthier, but it must be understood that caring for a pet comes with responsibilities, commitment and time, as well as physical and financial requirements.

A dog's basic needs include food, exercise, entertainment, safety and shelter. He also requires veterinary and grooming care. If you are not able to provide some aspect of these care basics, know whom to ask for help, whether a family member, friend or professional.

This is particularly true with regard to exercise. If you are not able to walk a dog frequently, consider exercise options such as teaching the dog to play fetch or practicing obedience. There are also plenty of dog walkers for hire who can take your dog for a stroll or romp. If you choose a very small dog, he may get enough exercise just running around the house.

Whether or not your dog stays mainly indoors, be sure he always wears identification. Affix ID tags to his collar and ask your veterinarian about getting the dog microchipped, which is a permanent form of ID that will help ensure he will be returned to you if he becomes lost.

Training Assures Your Safety

Training is essential to helping a senior remain safe around his or her pet and ensures the dog's safety as well. As pack animals, dogs naturally need a leader in their lives. If they don't find one, they will try to become the leader, which can create numerous behavioural problems. Thus, the human in the home needs to be the pack leader. To become the leader, you must practice obedience, set rules and apply them consistently, and praise your dog's good behaviour.

A good place to start training is by teaching your dog to follow you, such as through doors, into the car, and on stairways. When your dog is behind you, you not only decrease the chances of tripping over him, it also teaches good manners which form the basis for effective training.

Following are some common behavioural issues and training tips to help manage your dog's bad behaviour.


Many seniors live in apartments or assisted living facilities in close proximity to other people. While some breeds tend to be noisier than others, any dog can quickly become a nuisance barker if he is not taught good manners.

While his ability as a watchdog may be a plus for a hearing-impaired senior, a dog that doesn't know when to stop barking becomes a problem for everyone. However, if he regards you as his leader, your dog can be taught to bark to alert you to a disturbance, and then be quiet when he sees that you have the situation under control.


Keep the dog out of certain rooms where he can get underfoot. For example, training your dog to stay out of the kitchen-where most household accidents occur-is a good safety measure. It also helps to prevent your dog from begging for food.

Teach your dog to "stay" in a certain place. If he is tempted to break from this invisible boundary, use baby gates to block off no-go areas.

A crate or pet carrier provides a natural safe haven for your dog. Keep a crate or dog pillow in a quiet area of the home, and direct your dog to go there when you need to set boundaries. While he may not like being separated from you, he will still feel secure.


Teaching reliable toileting habits is necessary for good health, cleanliness and safety. A "puddle" on a tile floor is a slip hazard, not just for seniors, but for anyone visiting the household.

Separation anxiety

This is a common behavioural issue among dogs, especially "single" dogs who live with one person. Because dogs are social creatures, they generally do not like to be left alone. When alone, they can show a variety of signs of distress, such as barking and whining, destroying things, soiling the house, digging, and scratching at the door.

One way to help reduce a dog's tendency to be stressed when left alone is to leave him at home frequently, in his crate or a room where he cannot hurt things or himself, for varying lengths of time. It is actually unhealthy for a dog to never be left alone, because there will invariably come a time when he cannot be with you. Dogs need to learn they can be left alone and will still be safe.

Recall (coming when called)

A dog that ignores his senior owner poses a serious danger. You can get hurt if you are forced to chase after your dog in attempts to catch him.

In the saddest of situations, a dog that runs into traffic and is injured or killed will bring great grief (and expense) to the elderly owner.

Walking on lead

A walk for exercise and fresh air should be a pleasant experience. In order to give you safer control of the dog, use specially designed equipment to manage his behaviour. Remember, a well-managed dog on a walk does not set the pace-the owner does.

Never use a retractable lead. They can cause eye and face injuries, cuts and burns. They do not help your dog to understand boundaries and leadership. A 2 metre cotton lead is the safest choice for walking your dog.

Jumping up

Jumping up is both annoying and dangerous. A large dog that jumps up can knock over an elderly person, and even a small jumping dog can tear fragile skin with his claws.

Front door behaviours

A knock on the door can be an exciting event for a dog, whether he sees it as fun or alarming. If he doesn't have sound leadership in place, it is natural for a dog to want to know who the "intruder" is, to determine whether the person is safe or dangerous, and to protect his territory and pack. However, an-out-of-control dog at the door is undesirable for many reasons-he may dash out the door and run into harm's way, he may get underfoot and become a trip hazard, or he may become aggressive to the visitor.

While these are some of the more common dog behavioural issues, each dog, owner and situation are unique. One on one training with an experienced dog behavioural therapist, such as a Bark Busters trainer, helps to make for a well behaved dog and ensures your own safety.

A Socialised Dog is a Happy Dog

A well socialised dog is comfortable meeting and being with others, including dogs, other pets, and people of all ages. He has been introduced to a variety of situations and yet knows he and his pack have remained safe through them all. An insecure dog, on the other hand, may become a fear biter. Because he does not know how to act when he encounters someone new, his defensive reaction is to bite. This dangerous behavioural pattern can be addressed with training.

Dogs are typically protective of their elderly owner because of the emotional bond and because they may see the person as a weaker member of the pack. A dog's deeply rooted sense of loyalty will drive him to protect his owner. No matter the size or breed, if a dog feels threatened, he may demonstrate aggressive behaviour and even bite.

Your dog needs to learn to feel comfortable with all visitors to the home.If you require assistance from a personal caregiver or home health care provider, your dog must learn to understand that this stranger will not harm you. Should you voice discomfort or flinch when a health care provider treats you, the dog may perceive that the caregiver is hurting you. Be sure to reassure your dog that you are OK. Allowing your dog to continue this misperception can contribute to aggressiveness to all visitors.

The chaos created by young visitors like grandchildren will inherently raise the energy level in the house, bringing new stress to the dog. Here are some ways to control such situations.

If your dog begins to bark or nip at visitors, remove him from the area and place him in his safe crate or pillow.

Have children of school age drop a piece of food near the dog. The dog will see this as a friendly gesture and will know the child is not to be feared.

With very young children, parents need to remain vigilant to monitor their youngster's interactions with the dog and teach her to treat the dog with respect and gentleness.

Never invite a child to feed the dog by hand-this teaches the dog it is acceptable to take any food from a child. Because of a child's small size, the dog may view her as an equal, and thus may try to take advantage of the situation.

Never leave a young child and any dog alone together. This is when most dog bites to children occur.

Happy Dog = Happy You

Consistent training and leadership go a long way toward ensuring a happy dog. By treating your dog with a balance of understanding, discipline and affection, you will be richly rewarded with a loyal, grateful and loving companion in the years ahead.

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