Everyone knows that a new puppy needs time and attention to train them to behave in their new home. On the other hand, older dogs may not seem like they need training, or you may think that a senior dog won’t benefit from it. However, training your older Border Collie will keep them healthier and happier during their senior years, making both your lives more enjoyable.
Here are some essential tips for training your older Border Collie:
- Commit to ongoing training.
- Get the ‘okay’ from your veterinarian before training.
- Have realistic goals and expectations
- Be patient with your older Border Collie.
- Only use positive reinforcement.
- Keep training sessions short.
- Start simple.
Let’s take a closer look at these points and discuss how you can train your older Border Collie. It’s easier than you think!
1. Commit to Ongoing Training
Despite the well-known saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, your older Border Collie is ready and willing to continue to learn into their golden years. They are consistently ranked as the #1 smartest dog in the world, after all!
One of the best ways to ensure that you and your senior dog continue to bond and build your relationship throughout their entire life is to commit to ongoing training.
If you’ve started when your Collie is young, then you’ve already developed a routine where they understand when you communicate commands to them. They already know what kinds of behaviors are acceptable.
Once you and your dog have this relationship and they understand that their good behaviors are being positively reinforced, it’ll be easier for you to continue with this technique as they learn new behaviors.
Remember, just like with anything else, consistency is key.
Border Collies are working dogs, and they love having a schedule and routine activities. Continuous training and stimulation throughout the lifespan will help keep your pup happy and discourage any destructive boredom-driven behaviors.
Benefits to Ongoing Training
According to the American Kennel Club, training your older Border Collie will help keep them in good shape and maintain a healthy weight. In addition, training provides mental stimulation and social engagement, which contributes to overall cognitive health.
Older dogs are typically more focused and, in many ways, easier to train than young pups because of their life experience. Not to mention, your gray-haired friend already trusts you and wants nothing more than to keep being the “goodest boy.”
2. Get the ‘Okay’ From Your Veterinarian Before Training
Before you start a new training program, it’s a good idea to check with your veterinarian first. This is especially important if new behavioral problems or changes inspire your training. In aging dogs, some behavioral issues may actually be due to physical conditions or underlying illness.
It would also be helpful to have your dog’s vision and hearing checked out by your vet. Since these senses are used so frequently during training, it’s a good idea to know if your Border Collie has a deficit. This is important because if your pup can no longer see and hear well enough, you’ll know that you need to keep them on a leash for their own safety.
Other common health problems in senior dogs include:
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Heart disease
- Gastrointestinal problems
Of course, your aging pup may face various other potential health issues, but these are some of the most common that would also impact your training program.
Getting the “all-clear” from your vet before starting your training program will help make sure that your Border Collie is set up for success right from the start.
3. Have Realistic Goals and Expectations
What you expect your aging Border Collie to accomplish during training should be different than what you’d expect of a puppy. Their capabilities will naturally decrease over time, and they may have physical limitations that they didn’t have before.
Don’t expect your older dog to do tasks and tricks that are physically difficult for them, or if their vision or hearing is failing, make sure to consider that. Similarly, older dogs usually tire more quickly or sometimes need a little extra motivation to get going.
Regardless of their prior training, your Border Collie is a born herder who loves to work above all else.
They’re happiest when they have a job to do, which is a good thing when you’re trying to teach a dog a new task or command. They’re also slow to mature, meaning that they’re still typically very eager and energetic, even as they age.
The best way to manage your expectations and get positive results from training is to leverage your Border Collie’s “natural” skillset.
Like all breeds, they’ll naturally excel at certain tasks, so starting with those may help both of you get started on the right paw. Their high energy and intelligence make it easy to transition from play into training by simply adding rewards as positive reinforcement.
Here are a few easy-to-learn commands for your senior Border Collie:
- Hide their toys and teach them to find it
- Play “hide and seek”
- Call their name and reward them for coming when called
- Herding with large balls
- Homemade agility courses with slides, tunnels, bridges, see-saw
4. Be Patient With Your Older Border Collie
Patience may be the most important thing that you need to train your older Border Collie. This is especially true if you’ve adopted a senior dog and are trying to train them for the first time.
These dogs are intelligent and hyperactive while they’re in their prime. Still, an untrained Border Collie may become bored, which leads to frustration and potentially undesirable behavior like chewing, biting, or scratching.
This intelligent breed may also be stubborn, which can test anyone’s patience.
Either way, older dogs usually are a little slower to respond and react than their younger counterparts. Just like humans, vision, hearing, memory, and other cognitive processes can decline with age.
It may be frustrating if your pup has always known how to do specific tasks and suddenly seems as though they’re having a “senior moment,” but that’s exactly what’s happening.
It may be a good idea to reexamine how you communicate with your Border Collie, especially if they don’t seem as quick to respond to your commands.
For example, if you were previously using hand gestures to signal commands, you may need to combine this with a verbal cue. If you were previously using voice commands, you might need to pair it with a hand signal or raise the volume of your voice.
It’s also important to be mindful of physical conditions and changes that can make it more difficult for your dog to get around. They may not be able to run and jump like they once were, especially if they have arthritis, joint pain, hip problems, or other common issues in aging dogs.
5. Only Use Positive Reinforcement
This tip is more of a rule, and it’s true for all dogs, not just Border Collies and not just senior pups. However, Border Collies are typically sensitive to rough treatment or corrections. When training these dogs, it’s important to be fair and consistent when giving corrections and recognize when they’re trying to pull one over on you.
A Border Collie that has experienced rough treatment in the past may become stressed when training or show other signs like rolling onto his back, ignoring you, or becoming excessively anxious and trying to do everything even faster.
Not to mention that using punishment (whether physical or verbal) isn’t likely to result in the dog demonstrating new behaviors as they’ll probably shut down and not participate.
An older Border Collie is easily motivated by the Alpha of the pack (you), and treats, praise, and play are effective reinforcers for desired behavior. It makes them happy to get to work, and the training will be a lot more effective.
Border Collies may be sensitive to loud or unusual noises, which may cause them to become frightened or just overly distracted. They may hear a simple sound that they don’t recognize and become focused on the noise instead of their training.
Using training treats formulated for your senior dog is a way to reward them while also supporting their health during their golden years.
Buddy Biscuits Hip & Joint Chews (available on Amazon.com) are soft treats with glucosamine and chondroitin, which support healthy hips and joints as dogs age. I like them because they’re made with real chicken and wholesome ingredients like sweet potato and flaxseed. They’re baked in the USA and only have nine calories per treat, so I don’t have to worry about them putting extra pounds on my senior pup.
Rewards can also be playtime or a favorite toy. Something that my pup loves is this Nina Ottosson by Outward Hound Dog Toy (available on Amazon.com). The toy has hidden compartments where you can hide food or treats, which provides hours of entertainment and fun while keeping them from doing other naughty behaviors. I like this one because of its simple design, which makes it so easy to clean. I also like that there are different levels of puzzles to make it more challenging.
6. Keep Training Sessions Short
Border Collies have short attention spans because they’re constantly trying to keep up with what’s going on all around them.
To train your older dog, you’ll need to make sure that you have their full attention. Make sure that before you get started, you’re somewhere that you can keep your dog’s attention and not in a packed dog park or in a yard next to a busy street.
Once you begin, try to keep your training sessions short. This is a good tip for all dogs, but especially for seniors and especially for senior Border Collies.
Boredom and loss of focus may reduce the overall effectiveness of the training. When your dog isn’t performing their best, they may sense your frustration or become frustrated themselves. This is especially true of a working dog that is eager to feel useful.
Since senior dogs typically can’t (or won’t) keep their concentration as long as younger dogs, shorter training sessions more frequently are usually best. For example, 5 minutes of practice throughout the day while doing your other chores may get better results than an hour every day.
Your aging Border Collie may also tire quicker than a young pup, and fatigue, joint pain, muscle strain, and other issues associated with an aging body may become more pronounced.
Another benefit is that brief training sessions will allow you to interact with and reward your dog more frequently. More treats and rewards will likely make him more excited about training as they build their confidence and skill set.
7. Start Simple
It’s important to start simple, especially if you’re training a new senior Border Collie or one that hasn’t had much previous obedience or other training.
Many times, you’ll have to “untrain” bad habits before teaching any new tricks. This may be a big problem with a Border Collie who wasn’t getting enough attention and exercise.
The breed is very active and requires a lot of physical activity. Their intelligence will cause them to get bored and engage in undesired behaviors if they don’t have something to stimulate them.
So, before you decide that costly obedience classes are the answer or think that all hope is lost to train your older Border Collie to behave, make sure that it’s not an issue of under-stimulation.
Once you move on to training your four-legged friend to do some new tricks and tasks, make sure that you start with small, easy commands. Giving praise for simple things like coming when you call lays a foundation to build on.
Make sure that you take it one step at a time and try not to overwhelm your Border Collie. Senior dogs can become more easily confused, so start with simple tasks, one at a time. Don’t move on to the next lesson until they truly mastered the current one.
An older Border Collie is just as capable of learning new behaviors as any younger dog. They may just need a little more time and patience to help them understand and master their new tricks.
Border Collies are working dogs who are happiest when they have a job to do, so keeping yours engaged in their senior years will help them stay happy and healthy. Aside from being mindful of their possible limitations, you should use many of the same best practices to train your older Border Collie as you would to train a younger dog.
- American Kennel Club: How to Train an Older Dog: Senior Dog Training
- The Dog People: The Top 10 Smartest Dog Breeds
- VetStreet: It’s Never Too Late for House – Training an Adult Dog
- Hill’s: Dog Diseases – Arthritis and Joint Pain
- VCA: Gastroenteritis in Dogs
- Fetch by WebMD: Urinary Incontinence in Dogs: Cause and Treatment
- Border Collie Health: Your guide to the first steps of Border Collie training
- K9 Web: The Border Collie – What to Expect of This Dog Breed