Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

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It is a "pupular" belief that you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

However, I have three dogs, and one of them is 11-years-old. When he was a puppy, we taught him the basics, like sit, stay, paw, etc. But last summer, we wanted to teach him a couple more. Surprisingly, he learned just as well. It might have taken a little more time to teach him, but he still understood. 

In a similar experiment, two Mythbusters, Jamie Hyenman and Adam Savage, from Discovery Channel tried to train two seven-year-old Alaskan malamutes who had never learned a trick before. After only four days, Hyenman and Savage taught both dogs five tricks! And malamutes are known for being stubborn dogs, so this experiment definitely proved the myth wrong. 

It might be slightly more difficult to train an older dog than a puppy. This is because older dogs have made life-long habits that might be hard to break. However, older pets have also gained a closer relationship to the owner, making certain aspects of training easier. 

An article by "Puppy Education" has three main tips for training older dogs. It says to be patient, use other dogs as examples, and give a reward for good behavior. This article discusses how dogs are animals that naturally love praise and want to make their owner happy, so with the right methods, any dog--no matter what the age--should be able to be taught a new trick. 

My only suspicions with the idea that any dog can be taught a new trick is the idea that the owner is not a good trainer or the environment around the dog is too distracting. These could be extraneous variables that prevent a dog from learning.

Regardless, here is a video that gives a lot of useful tips for training older dogs. Every website stresses the importance of patience!

Photo by Petsami/Google Images

1 Comment

Hi Sierra,
I definitely agree with you and these studies that older dogs can be trained. It is easier to train them when their puppies because they have to learn one way to do things so it's easier to train them to do things the way you want. I also agree with the outside variables you brought up. I think the environment that a dog gets trained in is a big part. For example, there are many dogs in frats here at PSU that simply have too many distractions to get the proper training they need to be well behaved dogs.

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