Special Section

Teaching an Old Pet New Tricks

training experts provide tips on everything from housebreaking to hunting

photos by Marisa Wojcik |

By Mickey Mueller, of Waggin Tails Doggie Daycare; Ann Braue, of Ann Braue’s Canine Training; Karen Rude, of Rude Dog University; Lisa Van Fleet, of Birdstone Labradors; Heather Mishefske, of emBark; and Brad Schindler, of Cutaway Kennel.


• Your pet won’t obey “come” if they weren’t taught what it means.

• It will also not obey if “come” always means something negative. Build desired behaviors (commands such as “come”) by using positive reinforcement such as rewards and praise. 

• There is no need to physically correct a dog. Observe how a trainer/instructor interacts and builds a relationship. 

• Behaviors may fade over time if not reinforced.

• Be consistent. Everyone in a household needs to send the same message.

Barking & Biting

• Treat a puppy like an adult. Don’t let puppies bite, thinking it’s cute or normal.  

• If your pet bites, hold their mouth shut and firmly say “no bite.” Do not give a pet a treat or toy after they bite, as they will come to expect it. 

• If a pet bites out of aggression or fear, a professional is recommended.

• Let a playful-biting dog know early on how much biting can hurt by stopping the activity and saying “no.”

• Don’t roughhouse or play tug-of-war, as it reinforces aggressive behavior.

• Do not immediately respond to a bark, as they’ll learn that it will always get your attention. 

• Be firm in training against barking; use commands and reinforcement, and examine the environments/situations when it occurs.

Staying Off Furniture

• Get a crate and use it. Pets must bond with it by sleeping in it and, yes, they will cry the first few nights. If you take pity on your pet and allow it in your bed, it will go on beds and furniture.


• Dogs are den animals that naturally want to stay clean, so a puppy’s best friend is a crate that is big enough to sleep in and that’s about it.

• You must supervise them when they’re young and they will show you when they need to go (they circle, whine, and carry tail awkwardly).

• Carry around a rolled up newspaper and, when your puppy pees of the floor, hit yourself with it because you weren’t watching it. Watch them all the time!

• If they do go inside, clean it really well because they like to go where they did before.

• Puppies need to learn to go outside, as it is not naturally inherent, so reward them with treats when they do.

• May take a year before a dog can be trusted to be alone and wander the house.

• All dogs want to please their owners, so you must show them where to go.


• You can teach an eight-week old puppy to sit and lay in one day. Put a small piece of food in your hand, put your hand in front of its nose and then swoop over its head. Say “sit,” then (if needed) put a little pressure on its back. Do this a few times and you’re golden.

• The key to making a funny trick out of a boring one is what you call it. If your dog backs up on command, it may not seem like much, but ask it to “do the garbage truck; beep, beep, beep.”

• If you can teach your pet to “touch” an object, transfer that power to doors, cabinets, and the fridge.


• Get a dog started on birds (one suggested clipped-wing pigeons and another said frozen pheasant wings)

• Introduce the practices that you want early on. For instance, get them in kiddie pools, tall grass, cornfields, and woods.

• To simulate retrieving a bird, get a few wings from a game farm and keep them in the freezer (spouse permitting). Attach them to a dummy to help train retrieving.

• Drag a wing in the grass to simulate tracking.

• Put a wing on a fishing pole to simulate bird flushing.

• Be consistent with training. If you don’t enforce commands at home, you won’t get cooperation on the hunt.

The Puppy Rule of Twelve

By the a time a puppy is 12 weeks old it should:

• Experience 12 different surfaces (of varied textures)

• Play with 12 different objects (of varied textures)

• Experience 12 different locations

• Play with 12 new people (of varied ages, sizes, etc.)

• Hear 12 different noises (but don’t scare)

• See 12 fast-moving objects (but don’t chase)

• Experience 12 obstacles (climb, jump, sneak, etc.)

• Play with 12 different dogs (puppies, safe big dogs, etc.)

• Eat in 12 different locations

• Eat out of 12 different shaped containers

• Experience a leash/collar 12 times (and in different locations)

• Handled by owner/family 12 times each week