Here at Off Leash K9 Training Kansas City I’ve been getting asked a lot recently “Is my dog too old to benefit from your dog training?”
The old saying of “You can’t teach old dogs new tricks” is in fact FALSE. This saying is so old that its’ exact origins can’t be traced. However, one of the first times it is noted of being in print 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 old dogge to stoupe.” (“Stoupe” was the old way of spelling stoop. Fitzherbert used this word to describe the dog’s action of putting it’s nose to the ground or a tracking behavior.)
Anytime I hear this or people asking this question, I always think to myself, “Whoever said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks either: a) was not a dog trainer or b) they were not a good dog trainer.
I’m really not sure how or why this saying got started, all I can assume is that it was meant to be a metaphor to apply to humans. Perhaps, when it got started, dog training wasn’t as fine-tuned, researched and utilized. These old sayings’ origins are difficult to determine.
So with my rant over, many studies have shown that many dogs over the age of seven do have a decline in brain cells because their ability to use energy-boosting glucose as efficiently isn’t as good as when they were younger.
There 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 is needed to help maximize brain function.
If you want a little more proof, there is an episode of Mythbusters that put this old saying to the test (“Can You Teach An Old Dog New Tricks” Episode). Now, they succeeded in teaching a new trick to an old dog, but keep in mind they are engineers, not dog trainers.
Unarguably, you most definitely can teach an old dog new tricks, and even expedite the process with a well-balanced diet and exercise.
So, your dog is never too old to learn or benefit from training. However, I would still encourage people to get their dogs’ training process started sooner than later. The sooner you start training, the sooner you can have a relationship with effective communication and expectations (ladies are you taking notes, I know my wife wishes she would’ve trained me sooner).
I’ll leave you with a plead, please do not make dog training your last resort! If you get or have gotten a new dog, start the training process. It’s much easier to prevent issues than fix them later.