Can an Old Dog Learn New Tricks?

Canadian Golden RetrieverEmma adopted seven-year-old Shelby from a local pet shelter.

“I went there looking for a puppy,” Emma said. “But, I fell in love with Shelby instead.”

Shelby, a golden retriever, was slightly underweight and shelter volunteers worried that one of her owners maybe abused her. Despite her reluctance toward strangers, Shelby took to Emma immediately.

Despite their kinship, the volunteers warned Emma that Shelby had to be rehomed numerous times and was frequently returned for behavior issues. They didn’t want her to follow through with adoption unless she was absolutely sure she was up for the challenge.

“Even if I couldn’t train her, I promised I’d find a way to live with her shortcomings.” Emma recounted. “I knew Shelby belonged in a cozy home more than she belonged behind bars.”

Unfortunately for Emma, a full-time retail manager, there was no preparing her for Shelby’s incontinence and behavior issues. Shelby was food aggressive, frequently urinated on the floor and in her crate, and she was emotionally needy. Emma’s neighbors complained they could hear Shelby whining the entire nine hours Emma was at work. To make matters worse, she wasn’t getting much sleep because Shelby frequently cried at night.

Help was One Call Away

Emma had heard from a friend that dog behaviorists specialize in complicated issues, such as anxiety and aggression. Behaviorists are certified to treat dogs who are acting out. She found Muhammad online listed as a local canine behaviorist. He promised he could help sort out Shelby.

Muhammad met with Emma and Shelby on a warm Saturday in July. He sized Shelby up, communicated with her, and took her for a walk. After, he discussed in detail her behavior issues with Emma, and then created a plan of action he promised would bring harmony back to the household.

Teaching the Old Dog New Tricks

Canine behaviorists first observe a dog’s situation before studying the dog’s psychology and ultimately eliminating certain behaviors. Muhammad asked Emma what her biggest frustration was, and she didn’t hesitate to reply that it was Shelby’s incontinence, especially in the crate while she was at work.

He advised Emma to tire Shelby out as much as possible before putting her into the crate. He said, “Dogs should be passive and calm before going into the crate.” He also advised that it was unwise to give her a lot of water before crating her. “Never let her enter the crate thirsty, but be prepared to walk her again after giving her drinking water.”

Emma set her alarm an hour earlier, and in the mornings fed and watered Shelby before taking her on a long walk. Muhammad also advised Emma to hire a daily dog walker, someone to come over in the afternoon and feed Shelby lunch, water her, and take her on a long walk.

That first week, there were no more incontinence issues and by introducing yet another caregiver to Shelby, she became less frightened of new people.

“Shelby was happier,” reported Emma. “I didn’t hear any complaints from my neighbors, and at night I walked her again. So, at bedtime she was really tired and we both got enough sleep.”

Muhammad worked with Shelby three times over a thirty day period. By the end of their time together both Shelby and Emma had learned an abundance of skills and new tricks. Shelby could sit, play fetch, roll over, and her anxiety seemed all but eliminated.

“Old dogs can learn new tricks!” Said Emma.

Choosing a Behaviorist

A qualified canine behaviorists will first observe your unique situation before making determinations. When selecting a behaviorist, it’s important to check their credentials and seeks out reviews and testimonials. Muhammad’s website featured a number of satisfied customers, now including Emma.

If you’re thinking about choosing a behaviorist, it’s important to seek one that is certified by the Dog Behaviorist Association. Or, you could find a veterinarian who moonlights as a behaviorist. The important thing is that you select someone who understands the unique needs of your dog, and who can create a plan that will benefit you and your dog.

Overall, Emma and Shelby are doing quite well. After a year together, Emma says Shelby is a much calmer and happier dog. She is enjoying her golden years with Emma, and happy in a forever home. And, Emma is happy because her old dog has learned all sorts of new tricks.


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