Modifying Tricks for Senior Dogs – Advice from an Dog Trainer

Written by Courtney Bryson

You Need an Expert

When you need expert advice, you seek out an expert. So, when I was looking to write a blog about teaching tricks for senior dogs, I reached out to  my friend Paula Nowak owner & head trainer at Canine Country Academy, LLC.

Paula also pointed out to me that many senior dogs need modifications of existing tricks due to physical limitations. She shares some great insight!

In this blog, I’m sharing what Paula taught me about teaching new tricks and modifying existing tricks to senior dogs.

Lawrenceville dog photographer gets tips for how to modify tricks for senior dogs from a CDPT certified dog trainer, Paula Nowak
Senior dogs can have physical limitations that require routine modifications to tricks and behaviors as they age. Lawrenceville dog photographer Courtney Bryson gets advice from a dog trainer.

1. “Sit”

Accept more of a crouching position, only ask while the dog is on carpet, rug, or yoga mat (comfort and stability), or ask to sit on a pillow or rolled up blanket.

2. “Spin”

Accept any attempt to turn their body (head turn or allow a wider circle). Use a target stick or wooden spoon with cream cheese, peanut butter, or other smearable option to help lure them into the position. This is great for dogs with sight issues

3. “Between”

Teach your senior to come stand between your legs through luring with a smelly treat. This can build confidence and give them a safe place to stand if you are in a busy area.

Increase the challenge, if appropriate, by asking them to step up onto a low surface between your legs (not asking for feet of feet since that could be more taxing).

4. “Jump through a Hoop”

Instead of asking for a full jump allow the dog to walk through while the hoop is touching the floor and then high enough just for them to easily step through. A great way to have fun without a lot of physical effort

5. “Go Around”

Teach them to go out around an object by luring with a treat or using a target stick/wooden spoon. This is great for mobility and a dog with vision issues can learn to follow a smelly lure around objects.

6. “Shake”

Allow them to offer their paw just barely off the ground. Alternate sides if they are comfortable doing so while seated or standing.

Sneior dogs not only need extra snuggling, the also need modifications to tricks and behaviors due to physical limitations with age.
Simply accepting a new "good enough" behavior can help your senior dog perform tricks long into their golden years.

Bonus Tip – Hide Fitness Building in Fun Tricks!

  • Front paws up on a stable stool (a few inches high)
  • Back and front paws on low stool or curbs while on a walk
  • Walk over low items or around items for body awareness, stability, and
  • confidence building (a broom handle, a folded rug, water jug)

So, in short, yes! Yes, your senior dog can learn new tricks. And many of these modified tips can help even your senior dog get great professional photos. 

 Big thanks to Paula Nowak for sharing her knowledge this week.


Paula Nowak is the owner of Canine Country Academy, LLC.

Paula has been featured on Atlanta Plugged In helping even more people learn about various dog training and behavior topics. She also contributes to blog posts including: Brit & Co, and CEO Blog Nation.

Paula has earned her AKC Novice Rally title with one of her dogs, Curly. She has also achieved a NW1 and NW2 title with her dog Molly and looks forward to their first attempt at NW3. Curly also has an Advanced trick dog title through Kyra Sundance’s Trick Dog program. Norby, their 2 year old Toy Fox Terrier, is working on Nose Work Competition and his first Trick Dog Title.

Paula is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA), AKC Star Puppy and Canine Good Citizen Evaluator, Connection, Cooperation & Control – Level 1 Instructor and Certified Trick Dog Instructor through Kyra Sundance’s program. She is also a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.

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Courtney of CM Bryson is a pet portrait and lifestyle photographer who takes interesting narrative photographs of all sorts of pets –– cats, dogs, donkeys, you name it. She has an amazing ability to capture the fun-loving side of your pets, as well as their deep attachment to you, all while also being able to stage hilarious photoshoots that bring out the inner comedian in your little guys. Whether you’re looking for a serious, high-concept portrait or a hilarious photo of your pet sure to make you giggle for years to come, Courtney might just be the pet photographer for you.