Can You Train An Older Labrador? Yes, But It’s Different

senior lab

When we think about dog training, we often associate training with puppies. However, training is something that can (and should) be conducted throughout our dog’s entire lives. Fortunately, Labradors can learn new things at any age. In fact, adult Labradors can actually be easier to train than puppies! This is because an adult dog can demonstrate a lot more self-control. So for anyone wondering if you can train an older Labrador – it is a resounding yes! 

You absolutely can train an older Labrador. While it is best to train Labs while they are young, adult Labs are just as capable of being trained. The techniques used to train older Labs won’t differ too much from puppies. However, the challenges likely will, but this shouldn’t be a deterrent.

So now that you know you can train an older Labrador, I’ll spend some time discussing why training an older Labrador is important. Also, I’ll fill you in on some of the challenges you may face, and provide some tips on how to overcome them. Let’s get started!

The importance of training older Labradors

First, let’s take a minute to stop and think about why we train our dogs to begin with. In most cases, it is due to a few basic reasons:

  1. We want to condition them to act in a particular manner.
  2. Our hope is to avoid any unpleasant or inconvenient outcomes from their natural behavior.
  3. It is important that we establish authority or control.

So the question becomes – is that any different for an older Labrador? Clearly not, so the need to train them is just as prevalent as it is with a puppy. So, if there was any part of you that was hoping to conclude that training isn’t necessary, forget it.

Training an older Labrador has its own challenges

I think we all know the old saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” There’s a reason this saying exists. However, it is not because this is an absolute truth. It is true, though, that there may be some roadblocks that you will need to work through.

These roadblocks aren’t present with younger Labs, but others are. For example, consider an older Labrador that has been conditioned its entire life to roam free. If crate training is your preferred method, this may require additional time compared to a puppy that doesn’t know any different.

The good news is that this comes with a tradeoff. In some situations, you can train an older Labrador easier than a puppy! They are more mature than their puppy counterparts. Usually, this means increased focus. They tend to take training more seriously, and they can learn new things much faster than a puppy. 

Patience is Key

When you first bring home an older adult Labrador, you will first need to allow for an adjustment period. She will need time to get used to:

  • You
  • Any other pets
  • The dog’s new home

Depending on how different their new environment is, they can become extremely anxious. Given that, we need to be realistic and empathetic. It can take weeks for an older Lab to adjust to a new home.

Overcoming the challenges

There are various methods to training and co-existing with our pets. I’m a firm believer that there is no “right” way, and that every situation is different. I’ll simply share what I have found to be the most effective, and what my research led me to conclude.

Crate your Lab, but as an olive branch

Crate training has always proven to be highly effective for me. Labs are one of the easiest dogs to crate train. I believe it’s best to start crate training immediately, as it can begin to establish a “safe-space” for them in this new environment.

Approach crate training from this mentality first. Think of it like showing up to a party where you barely know anyone. The moment you spot a familiar face you get that sense of relief. Once you have that, the possibilities for how the rest of the night goes are endless!

From here, we can expand the purpose of the crate. From here, the associations develop and habit-forming begins.

Physical Challenges

Depending on how old the Labrador is, there may be physical limitations that can present challenges in training. This is something that should be taken into consideration from the beginning. Managing owner expectations is vital.

Labradors are predisposed to a handful of conditions that could impact training. A couple of examples are:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Sensory loss – vision, hearing

Hip dysplasia

With hip dysplasia, your Lab may not be able to perform some of the more common “tricks” as it may be too painful. However, this isn’t the biggest concern with this limitation. If severe enough, the ability respond and move quickly will be reduced.

This could result in limited ability to perform other tasks they could be trained for as well. Examples may be responding quickly when called, acting as a watchdog, or playing fetch.

Sensory limitations

Age can have an impact on overall quality of your Labs use of both hearing and sight.

Hearing may especially be of concern as Labs often suffer from chronic ear infections. This is a result of their floppy ears. Moisture and bacteria can easily get trapped, and can cause long term damaging effects.

Obviously, a loss to hearing or sight can be a challenge to the training process. However, Labradors are quite resilient! Often times they are able to overcome these setbacks.

Any of these challenges should be uncovered prior to bringing home an older Labrador. Most adoption agencies have in-house veterinarians and you would be provided all of the information about your Lab’s health.

Consider online-based training for an older Labrador

Taking an online training class is a great alternative to in-person training. In fact, I recommend it for Labradors of all ages. Visit my Recommended Products page for information about my favorite online training program!

Cost advantages

Online dog training is significantly less expensive than traditional, in-person training programs. As an example, the one that I recommend is only $47! It contains hours of training modules from a certified and well-renowned trainer. Plus, you can go back and review the videos anytime, from anywhere.

Convenience

Something has to be said for the ability to attend formal training on a schedule that is convenient for you. Life is busy, and things change quickly. Flexibility is no longer a nicety, it is a requirement. Online programs provide this while in-person classes simply cannot.

Perception

The online solution can be particularly helpful for training older Labradors. For many owners, there is often a sense of guilt or embarrassment when it comes to misbehaving dogs.

This is amplified when the dog is older, and there is less perceived “tolerance” than there would be for a puppy.

Behavioral reasons

Many times, older Labradors are adopted because owners could no longer deal with them. Often this is due to behavioral problems that they could not overcome.

If there are behavioral concerns at the moment, pursuing in-person training may not be the best first choice. Trying to make headway at home first is often a better approach.

Health issues

Another reason to consider online training is if you are concerned with any health issues. This goes for either you or your dog. You can stay safe at home by taking an online training course.

Final Thoughts

Understand that you can train an older Labrador, but the challenges you face will be different than with puppy training. Every situation is different, and we have to be patient and empathetic. Establishing a comfortable environment is key, and the timeline may be longer than anticipated. Online training solutions can be an excellent way to facilitate the training process for all Labradors, but older ones in particular!

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