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Do Dogs Improve With Age?


I think there’s a mistake that many of us make with our dogs: we expect that with increasing age their behaviour will improve.


So many times I’ve had a client say to me, “well he’s young; that behaviour will get better/disappear as he gets older”. They’re due to be disappointed.


Behaviours that we don’t like in our young dogs will just get worse as they get older if we do nothing about it. Dogs don’t “mature” out of bad behaviours; those behaviours get worse because they are being practiced on a regular basis. Remember the saying? Practice makes perfect!


Certainly puppies will have exuberant (and sometimes annoying!) behaviours, but that’s because, yes, they’re young and energetic, but also because they haven’t been told any differently. They don’t know that they’re not supposed to jump up and place their muddy paws on your new suit. They don’t know they’re not supposed to pull on leash, bark at the neighbours, or chew your new carpet, unless you teach them not to do those things.


Good behaviour doesn’t come with age, it comes with rules and boundaries. Set by you. Consistently enforced by you. And maintained throughout your dog’s life.


I was reminded of that just this morning, as I walked my 12-year old dog, Sabra. As per usual, she was off leash, walking the trails on our property. She wandered off into the woods, and when I called her to come back, she didn’t. I made an excuse for her – “she didn’t hear me” – and called again. Nada. But I could see her. And I could see that she heard me that second time (her head turned slightly in my direction). But she decided she didn’t have to come … until I went and got her.


I was shocked. But only slightly. Because I had done this. I had forfeit my leadership points over the previous weeks by allowing her privileges that she hadn’t earned. I had allowed her to get up on the couch without asking permission, I had allowed her to bark loudly and demandingly when she wanted to go out, and I had allowed her to break her “stays”. Why? Because she turned 12 and I felt that age should have its privileges.


I was wrong.


I always remember my previous German Shepherd, Nevada. I didn’t set a high standard for her initial training because she was a pretty good dog. She was okay and I felt that was good enough. (I was comparing her to my other dog at the time, who was a major challenge!) But as she got older, “okay” became “not so good”, eventually descending into “yikes, why is she such an a***?!” Now I was doing the same thing with Sabra. I had let things slide, and I was paying the price. My dog was giving me the paw!


So I have pledged to recognize when I’m making age-related excuses for my old girl, and I plan to stop doing it. She deserves to be respected as the smart, capable dog she's always been.



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