Teaching Your Old Dog New Tricks

The old adage, ‘ You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’, was first written in the early sixteenth century by John Fitzherbert in ‘The Boke of Husbandry’ where he wrote: “The dogge must lerne it, whan he is a whelpe, or els it will not be….”

It is true that what you teach your puppy will be more easily taught and more reliable than what he learns later in life. However, this maxim was taken literally and debunked by the MythBusters, Jamie Hynemann and Adam Savage. They trained two Alaskan Malamutes, Bobo and Cece at seven years of age, which, as we all know, is past middle age for a dog, qualifying them as old dogs. After four days of training, the furry siblings had learnt to heel, sit, lie, stay and shake on command for Jamie and Adam. Alaskan Malamutes were bred for sled pulling and the transport of heavy freight, rather than sled racing. They are described as clever dogs that are not easy to train, so the myth of not being able to teach old dogs new tricks, was clearly busted.

Training should be fun and your dog should learn tricks by enjoying them. If you teach in small steps with a marker, such as a clicker, and a powerful reinforcer you can achieve this. The reinforcer must be something your dog really likes, otherwise you are offering him a ‘non-reward’. If you have fun and make the lessons fun for your dog, he will easily learn all sorts of new tricks and your bouncy Boxer will learn that we two-leggeds don’t like dogs jumping on us – we prefer them to have their feet firmly on the ground.

Do not despair: You can teach your old dog new tricks. Remember: ‘You’re never too old to learn!’ – Neither you nor your dog.