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At least twice a week, I work with someone who says "I wish I had started on this when my dog was younger!" While it's true that teaching cooperative care techniques, walking nicely on a leash, and polite behavior around kids and the elderly are skills more easily taught to puppies, you can certainly work on all of these things with adolescent, adult, and even senior dogs. Not having adopted a puppy isn't a valid reason for not doing the work to get a handle on behavior issues. And while starting when you first brought home that new dog is ideal, there really is no time like the present!
Whether you are teaching your dog to offer a paw for a nail trim or walk nicely on leash, you will need treats. I've said it many times; we all like to get paid for a job well done. The value of a given treat is determined by your dog and the job at hand. So, while a few small treats may work nicely when teaching your dog to move away from the door and sit nicely when guests arrive, you are likely going to need something more enticing to get that same dog to hold still for a nail trim. And something even yummier to teach them not to pull on the leash. Varying the payment options and payment schedule depending on the job is important. You are not bribing your dog to behave or cooperate, you are rewarding/paying them for a job well done.
It's also important to divide your training into frequent, small sessions. While it would be nice to be able to dremel all of their toenails at once, that may not be feasible right off the bat. Instead, focus on your dog cooperating with you (i.e. not pulling their foot away, struggling, or mouthing your hand!) as you trim/dremel just one nail. It may be the case that you can trim all of the nails on one foot and I'd consider that a success! Same goes for teeth brushing. Start by just having your dog lick the doggie toothpaste off of the brush. Work up to putting the brush into their mouth and moving it around. You may only be able to brush those front teeth the first few times you try, but that's better than not brushing their teeth at all. And when it comes to working on leash skills, start indoors without the leash, having your dog attend to you and focus on walking nicely by your side. Work up to walking around inside your house on leash, graduate to your yard, and your neighborhood before venturing too far from home. Frequent short sessions on leash will result in better learning and keep your dog from getting overstimulated.
Be patient. I realize having to trim one nail every day, brush just a few teeth, or spend your time walking around with your dog on leash inside the house is frustrating. I've done all of those things myself and can confirm that I needed to take a break and walk away from the training session just as much as my dog did. Doing those frequent short sessions, however, means that now I can do all of the nails AND brush teeth AND groom my dog ALL in one session. Happily.
The bottom line is this: You CAN teach an old dog new tricks. A dog of any age can be taught to participate in care that is crucial to their well-being. They can learn that not pulling on leash means a better walk. It's just going to take some patience on your part and an understanding that Rome wasn't built in a day. Taking the time to do it right, having treats ready to reward those baby steps, means you and your dog can look forward to those grooming sessions, leashed walks, etc. that go off without a hitch. And by all means, start early if you've just brought home a puppy! Trimming puppy nails and brushing puppy teeth, introducing the leash, etc. are exactly the kinds of skills you will want to be working on with your puppy just as much, if not more than, the crate training, sitting when asked, and fetch.
As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.