We’ve all heard the saying ’You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ but there is plenty of evidence to refute this. The quote is intended to make a comparison with people who get themselves stuck in a rut and can’t keep up with the changing world.
Charlie learning to shake hands
We know that’s not true. I have friends who are in their seventies and eighties who are studying at university, learning to speak Spanish and play the ukulele.
But what about dogs? How did the quote originate? Is there a general belief that older dogs can’t continue to learn? Well, let me use my own dog, Charlie as an example. She is aged at least thirteen (she was a rescue dog and the vet had to guess her age) and in the last year she has learned four new commands – up, drop, shake and wait. It took a lot of time and gentle coaxing (and treats!) but she soon picked it up.
Charlie - on the right - poses with a friend
When Charlie first came to me, she was in a pretty bad way. She had come from a background of abuse and neglect. It was all I could do to keep her from peeing every time I paid her any attention. She was sweet and loving but afraid of everything and everyone. Over time she began to trust me and learned that giving her commands did not equate to ‘telling her off.’ Fast forward eight years and she is now a happy, well-adjusted girl - although still very clingy - and now responds to commands not only from me but from others without the cowering and peeing that inevitably used to be her response. It is only in the last year that I’ve begun to include ‘tricks’ as part of her command repertoire.
Charlie the adorable pirate dog
Although rescue dogs bring their own unique set of challenges, if you’re prepared to be endlessly patient you will be well-rewarded. Not only can you teach them new tricks but you can change old, negative habits and introduce new, positive ones.