teaching old dogs new tricks


I know it’s an expression for a reason, but I’m trying anyway: I need to teach an old dog new tricks. Cait’s dog e-v is a great dog – super friendly, sweet, and (mostly) willing to please/learn. I’ve been working with her to run through the basics that she had forgotten.. the usual litany of sit, down, up, come, and so on. She’s been doing very well, and as the weather has improved, I’ve started taking her out and working on heeling, which she does “ok” at.

But she was never trained with any strict obedience as a puppy, and she’s 7 or 8 now. She’s also very, very skittish – to the point of being scared of her own shadow. This makes for a pretty bad combination at times. And so we have the classic instance of a dog that is great and obedient when it’s convenient for her, but the first time there’s something more interesting (or worse, frightening), you may as well not exist Today represented a classic example of this, as I took her for a walk down to the greenway and back, and she was good, but easily distracted by the 8 bajillion other dog scents along the way. When we got back home, my landlord had some people there to look at the house (he is thinking of selling it), and she got so freaked by the people on the porch that she reeled back and actually slipped right out of her leashed collar and took off running down the street – literally right down the middle of the heavily-trafficked 3rd avenue north. At this point, I had literally no control – she wouldn’t come back, and was doing the “wait until you’re 3 feet away and then bolt off again” taunting thing that dogs do so well to infuriate you. Each time she’d bolt into the road. A very dangerous situation, and I had no control.

It’s this level of control with dogs that I am curious about how to achieve – some owners manage to put that fear of god into their dogs, where the dog can literally concieve of no higher power than you saying “Come.”

I realize that Rome wasn’t built in a day, so probably the biggest thing I need to work on is my own patience. But I don’t even know where to start with this level of training (i.e. obedience, specially). I’m trying to lean heavily on praise-training versus treats, though I do use a treat now and then. And like I said, she does great great: she’s very smart and a quick learner, but there’s just no discipline – and I am not sure how to instill it. Advice?