Age is Just a Number

Whether 11.5 years old or 20 months, it's not a dog's age that matters.

When I’m out with Risa, I’m often asked how old she is. When I reply “She’s seven,” people often comment that her age is the reason why she’s so calm/well-behaved/good at whatever we’re doing. As if just being older makes her a genius.

I’ll admit one has to take age into account when working with a dog. It would be foolish to ask a young puppy for a 5-minute sit stay. It would be ill-advised to ask an elderly dog to jump over a 3-foot high jump. And most people who’ve had an adolescent dog know that they, like human teenagers, like to push boundaries and see what they can get away with!

But it seems to me that the general public thinks that as a dog gets older, it becomes trained. That Risa’s age is the sole determining factor for her good behavior and her ability to perform in various dog sports. Age is not the issue. It’s the amount of time one spends training a dog. If your 2-year old Lab pulls frantically on the leash when you pass another dog, he’s still going to do it when he’s 8 if you don’t train him not to. Had I done no training with Risa when I got her at 2.5 years of age, she’d be a fearful, dog reactive, untrained 7-year old now.

Certainly, as dogs age, they calm down some. A hectic, frantic puppy may mellow out as he ages (granted, this is NOT always the case!). Dogs’ attention spans increase as they age as well so they can maintain focus over longer periods of time. However, if you don’t work with your dog, this isn’t going to matter much.

So when you see Risa calmly walking alongside me and staring into my eyes as we pass another dog or if you see us practicing rally or freestyle, keep in mind she’s not good because she’s older. She’s well-behaved because I’ve taken the time to work with her. We’ve been together almost 5 years now. That’s 5 solid years of training practically non-stop. There’s rarely a day that we don’t actively train. Even when we’re not training, she’s still learning. So, in that respect, age does matter a little bit. Because she’s older, we’ve had more TIME to work together. But her age alone is not a factor.

About Jamie

I'm just a traditionally-trained artist with interests in dog training. I currently teach classes at the local obedience training club (tricks, freestyle, and Rally-FrEe) and I also teach classes professionally for an organization who helps veterans train their own service dogs.
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2 Responses to Age is Just a Number

  1. Kristine says:

    Great post! I agree that age is only a very small factor. There are shelters full of older dogs that also have very little self-control. It’s all about training and learning how to work together. Every time I am complimented on my dog’s behaviour I always try to make it clear she used to be a nutjob 24/7. It’s only through two years of very hard work that she is now able to behave so well in public. Most dogs aren’t naturals at understanding the human world. We have to teach them.

  2. Jamie says:

    Exactly. Whenever people comment about Ris’ behavior, I try and stress that it took a lot of time and training to get there. It might discourage some owners, I suppose, seeing as it’s not an easy thing to have a well-behaved dog. But at least I’m being honest. It didn’t happen overnight!

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