At our dog training facility in Northern Virginia, we always hear, “Is my dog too old to benefit from your dog training?”
This is an old saying that its’ exact origins cannot be traced; however, one of the first time it is noted of being in a print version was in 1534 in The Boke of Husbandry by John Fitzherbert. Fitzherbert wrote, “The dogge must lerne it, whan he is a whelpe, or els it will not be: for it is harde to make an olde dogge to stoupe.”
“Stoupe” was an older way of spelling “stoop.” Fitzherbert used this word to essentially say, “put the nose to the ground to find a scent (aka tracking).”
Anytime I hear this or people ask this question over the phone, I always reply with, “Whoever said you cannot teach an old dog new tricks either: a) was not a dog trainer or b) they were not a good dog trainer.
I’m not sure why this saying started, maybe it was a metaphor that was really meant to apply to people. Possibly, when it started, dog training wasn’t as fine-tuned, researched, and utilized back then. It’s really hard to tell the origin of the saying.
With that said, many studies have shown that many dogs over the age of seven do have a decline in brain cells because they lose the ability to use energy-boosting glucose as efficiently as when they were young.
Their was a study at Toronto University, that was published in the British Journal of Nutrition, which showed that dogs who were regularly given an “anti-age diet” containing special dietary fats found in some natural vegetable oils such as coconut oil, can improve their memory which in return helps improve their learning skills.
These special dietary fats, called medium chain triglycerides or MCTs, are unique in that they have been shown to be converted into energy that can be absorbed by an older dog’s brain, providing the necessary fuel that it needs to help maximize their brain function.
For a specific example of how an older dog can learn new things, we just recently finished training 8-year old Golden Retriever “Skeet” who came to us for obedience and he was dog aggressive. As you see in this 8-year old dog’s video, he was clearly able to learn new things, and keep in mind, this was only in 14-days in our 2-Week Board and Train Program.
If you want a little more proof, Mythbusters recently put this old saying to the test with their, “Can You Teach An Old Dog New Tricks” Episode. Keep in mind, they were able to and they are engineers, not dog trainers.
So, unarguably, you most certainly can teach an old dog new tricks, and if you add in a good well-balanced diet and exercise, you can even expedite this process further.
So, your dog is never too old to learn or benefit from dog training. However, I still encourage people to get their dogs’ training process started sooner than later, just so you and your dog can start your relationship with effective communication and expectations, you can read more about this in my blog on “Do Not Make Dog Training Your Last Resort.”