A lady called me a few weeks ago and said, "Matty, can you help me? I have a dog that's 12 and needs to be housebroken."

"Twelve weeks?" I asked.

She shook her head.


"Years," she said.

That's right — years.

My question, naturally: Why did you live with this problem for so long?

Her answer: I thought nothing could be done. I just accepted it as a way of life until one day I thought, no harm in asking.

As for the answer to her question, "Matty, can you help me?" I had her dog fully housebroken in one visit. It's the easiest thing in the world to do if you know what you're doing. You don't have to live with this kind of stress and chaos. Education is the way out.

I wanted to share this story with you to illustrate only one point: You can teach an old dog new tricks.

So many people give up on older dogs without ever giving them a chance. A trained — aka educated — dog is a joy at any age. But sadly, shelters are full of 9- and 10-year-old dogs abandoned by their families because of behavioral problems that are entirely solvable! It's one of the saddest and most frustrating realities of my line of work.

There are two myths about older dogs. One is that once they reach a certain age, if they don't already know something, they're never going to. As we learned from this woman's experience: Wrong.

The other is that you can avoid "puppy problems" if you adopt an older dog. Maybe, maybe not. If an 8-year-old dog has never been educated, he won't know anything more in terms of human expectations than an 8-week-old dog. Dogs don't know what "come here" means unless we teach them. How could they? They're dogs.

That simple statement sometimes feels like the biggest hurdle of all — getting people to understand that their dog is, indeed, a dog. He's not a person. He's not a plant from Home Depot. He's a dog, and he comes with his own set of challenges and his own many rewards. But the great part is, when tackled from the get-go in the right way, your relationship with your dog can become one of the great friendships of a lifetime.

Not long after that woman's call, a man called me and grumbled, "I got this dog, and there's something wrong with him."

I asked, "What's wrong with him?"

"He won't come."

"Why not?"

"Not sure."

"Is he trained?"

I'll let you guess the answer.

Then there's the woman with the blind 11-month-old Yorkie that's driving her nuts. The dog barks. She yells. The dog barks some more. ... If yelling worked, I'd be in the yelling business. Very little overhead in the yelling business.

All of the people I've mentioned so far were living with unnecessary frustrations and missing out on the good stuff! A dog at any age is trainable. It's best to teach them while they're young, but it's never too late. Please believe me when I say 95 percent of behavioral problems are entirely manageable, if not completely erasable. The solution is education. Love him, yes. But teach him! Train him!

Love can't be the only ingredient when trying to build a long-lasting, healthy, functional relationship with your pooch. You have to teach him how you want him to behave, show him what you want him to do, guide him through the motions and reward him for a job well done. Love, praise and affection are all part of a good education.

So this holiday season, if you're thinking about adopting an older dog, that's wonderful because there are so many in need of and deserving of good homes. But if you're thinking about adopting an older dog because you think he won't come with all those nasty "puppy problems," don't sign on the dotted line too quickly. Do your homework. Get to know your potential pup. Animals are the single greatest impulse purchases in the world — which is understandable, but can nevertheless lead to problems for both of you down the line.

My holiday wish is that people wouldn't take animals home with them without a true commitment. If I could have two wishes, the second would be that getting the pooch trained would become as natural an inclination as sending the kid to school. For more information on dog training or solving behavioral problems, visit unclematty.com.


Dog trainer Matthew "Uncle Matty" Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series "WOOF! It's a Dog's Life!" Send your questions to [email protected] or Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619. © Creators Syndicate Inc.