Obedience training can certainly be accomplished at any age, yet we must use discretion when training the older dog, since obedience training is psychologically demanding. We should differentiate between old and seriously infirm. To effect a good program of obedience, we must always have infinite patience. But, with the older dog, we sometimes need more patience and gentleness than usual.
The older dog is approached with the same basic techniques as his more youthful counterpart, but certain compensations should be made. Hand signals need to be more distinct, to accommodate a gradual failing eyesight.
Verbal commands should be extra clear and lengthened to counteract any possible hearing impairment. When in doubt, the learning or placing phase of obedience can and should always be carried on for an extra few days to an extra week. We don’t want to encourage resistance by exerting weak corrections, so we must compensate with extra placement.
A dog who is older will not move as quickly as he did in his prime. If your dog is not taking advantage of you but is simply sitting more slowly, then you must allow those extra few seconds before exerting a sit correction. Should the dog be arthritic or suffer from serious hip dysplasia, you may want to dispense with the SIT command altogether and just have your dog do a Stand-Stay at your side when you stop.
In this way you will have heeling control without discomforting the dog unfairly. Once your older dog is sitting with reasonable speed and comfort, it takes very little extra effort to make him stay. A Sit-Stay increases your control over the sit.
A dog who finds it hard to negotiate walking, or one who lies down and gets up very slowly, will have to be placed on the down for an extra week, on a soft surface, so he won’t resent it. When you return to heel your dog off, he may very well require more time to get up from the Down-Stay than from the Sit-Stay. This holds true even with a young healthy dog. So you must have extra patience allowing him to rise as you give the command to HEEL.