The Knack: How to teach an old dog new tricks, by Roy Page

"I don't know why people say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. It's certainly more difficult to teach them, for the same reason that it's difficult for an older person to learn something new. There's a general attitude in life that the older you get the less likely you are to accept change, but that doesn't apply to everybody, and it doesn't apply to dogs. Everything a dog learns is done by routine. If you start them when they're young, they'll learn quickly. If they're older, you'll have to break their old habits first. In these circumstances, patience is a virtue. Training methods have changed dramatically since I started 20 years ago. In those days, it was put the lead on and yank the dog around. Now, you would speak to your dog in a kind voice and the teaching would be done in a sort of play method. If you've got a dog that pulls your arms out of your sockets, get his attention with a toy or a titbit, use the lead gently and give him a reward when he walks to heel. This could be food, or just a bit of fuss. I only have to change the tone of my voice and say `You're a naughty boy' and my dog has his tail between his legs.

"Your personality counts for a lot, too, when training dogs. You have got to be prepared to put yourself in the position of your dog and understand the way he thinks. He might be a loveable, well-behaved pet, but disappointingly unresponsive to learning new tricks. This is when you should ask yourself whether you're doing it for his benefit - or your own ego." Roy Page is chairman of the Obedience Liaison Council for the Kennel Club of Great Britain

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