Posted on Nov 10, 2013 in Animals & pets
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I know it’s just a saying, but the saying had to come from somewhere, right? Is it true that you should just give up on training an older dog?
We’ve all heard this one — usually in the context of how it’s difficult for a person to change their habits or learn something new once they are set in their ways.
Of course, many of these phrases are based in truths. Is this one of them?
Back in the 16th century, a man by the name of John Fitzherbert wrote in his tome “The Boke of Husbandry” the following statement: “The dogge must lerne when he is a whelpe, or els it wyl not be; for it is harde to make an old dogge to stoupe.”
In modern English, this essentially renders as, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
The enterprising folks of the Discovery Channel show Mythbusters decided to tackle this old adage in their season 5, episode 5: “Dog Myths.” Jamie and Adam took two 7-year-old Alaskan malamutes who hadn’t had a lick of training in their entire lives. Within four days they shattered this age old myth, as both dogs were trained to heel, sit, lie down, stay, and shake upon command. (It’s worth noting that the malamute is regarded as a bit of a stubborn breed, too.)
So is there anything special you should do to try to educate your aging canine companion? I’m glad you asked.
America’s Pet Registry recommends a couple of basic ideas to keep in mind when training your old dog… new tricks. First of all, recognize if the dog has had any previous incorrect or unhelpful training. Secondly, reinforce the good parts of the dog’s behavior with positive rewards, while restricting or otherwise redirecting the undesirable behaviors. Finally, it’s also a good idea to make these changes in small steps, rather then in one fell swoop — don’t confuse the dog completely.
By being patient and thorough, you can rather easily teach that old buddy of yours some new behaviors. Come to think of it, these ideas might help you learn how to use that new smartphone you just can’t figure out — though you might want to skip the Beggin’ Strips as a reward. They don’t taste very good.
Top photo: Jim the dog in 1938, from our own family’s collection
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