The proverb is often used to mean that older people (or animals) can't learn anything new. But it's not really true, either in the human or the canine world. You can teach old dogs plenty of things. In fact, almost any command, skill or trick that you can teach a puppy, you can teach an older dog. It might just take a little longer. Researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine-Vienna worked with 145 border collies ranging in age from 6 months to 14 years old to see how attention and concentration changed with age. First they did two tests to see how quickly dogs responded to objects and humans. The older dogs tended to lose interest in the object alone before the younger dogs did, but if there was a person with the object, the older dogs were as interested as the younger ones [source: Science 2.0]
Your mature pooch may be only too happy to have you believe it's useless for him to learn new things. Especially if there's a nice, soft bed in a warm patch of sun waiting for him. But just as aging humans can keep their minds engaged by doing crossword puzzles and the like, dogs are best served when they're continually challenged mentally. So grab a bag of dog treats and get to work.
Author's Note: 10 Completely Wrong Sayings About Animals
I was so pleased to learn that you can teach an old dog new tricks. Now my 14-year-old English setter, Riley, has no excuses.
- Carlson, Cynthia. "Dogs aren't color blind -- and 10 other surprising myths about pets." NBC News. 2012. (Oct. 6, 2014) http://www.nbcnews.com/id/40419962/ns/health-pet_health/t/dogs-arent-color-blind-other-surprising-myths-about-pets/#.VDMKPFewTwM
- Canterbury Christ Church University. "Smart Asses! Mules lead the way in intelligent animal league table." May 13, 2013. (Oct. 7, 2014) http://www.canterbury.ac.uk/news/newsRelease.asp?newsPk=2105
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology. "Common Loon." (Oct. 8, 2014) http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/common_loon/id
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- Martin, Gary. "As cute as a bug's ear." Phrases. 2014. (Oct. 6, 2014) http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/as-cute-as-a-bugs-ear.html
- Martin, Gary. "Crocodile tears." Phrases. 2014. (Oct. 6, 2014) http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/104800.html
- Martin, Gary. "The bee's knees." Phrases. 2014. (Oct. 6, 2014) http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/the-bees-knees.html
- McCabe, Steve. "Do Bees Have Knees And, If So, What's So Special About Them?" Focus. July 22, 2009. (Oct. 6, 2014) http://sciencefocus.com/qa/do-bees-have-knees-and-if-so-whats-so-special-about-them
- McConnell, Dr. Carol. "Keep Your Cat Safe: Avoid These 5 Accident-Related Injuries." Vet Street. March 6, 2014. (Oct. 14, 2014) http://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/keep-your-cat-safe-avoid-these-5-accident-related-injuries
- Mirsky, Jennifer. "Do You Eat Like a Bird or a Horse? What Does it All Mean?" Real Simple. Aug. 15, 2012. (Oct. 6, 2014) http://simplystated.realsimple.com/2012/08/15/do-you-eat-like-a-bird-or-a-horse-what-does-it-all-mean/
- Rusk, Anthony. "Cancer: Cases likely will rise in aging animals." DVM360 Magazine. March 1, 2005. (Oct. 14, 2014) http://veterinarynews.dvm360.com/cancer-cases-likely-will-rise-aging-animals
- Science 2.0. "How Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks" April 1, 2014. (Oct. 15, 2014) http://www.science20.com/news_articles/how_old_dogs_can_learn_new_tricks-133131
- Science Daily. "Bat Boffin Debunks 'Blind' Myth." Oct. 31, 2006. (Oct. 6, 2014) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/10/061028092920.htm
- Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. "PNAS: Eating like a bird helps forests grow." April 19, 2010. (Oct. 9, 2014) http://stri.si.edu/english/about_stri/headline_news/news/article.php?id=1126
- Tennessee's Watchable Wildlife. "Common Loon." (Oct. 7, 2014) http://www.tnwatchablewildlife.org/details.cfm?displayhabitat=&sort=aounumber&typename=TENNESSEE&uid=09042709472995269&commonname=Common%20Loon
- University of Colorado Boulder. "Listen up: crickets have had ears on their legs for more than 50 million years." Jan. 4, 2012. (Oct. 6, 2014) http://www.colorado.edu/news/features/listen-crickets-have-had-ears-their-legs-more-50-million-years-0
- University of Florida. "Crocodile Tears." Oct. 17, 2007. (Oct. 6, 2014) http://news.ufl.edu/archive/2007/10/crocodile-tears-1.html
- Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center. "Loon Study - Frequently Asked Questions." March 13, 2014. (Oct. 8, 2014) http://www.umesc.usgs.gov/terrestrial/migratory_birds/loons/questions.html
- Wild Birds Unlimited. "Educational Resources: Hummingbirds." (Oct. 9, 2014) http://www.wbu.com/education/hummingbirds.html
HowStuffWorks looks at the phenomenon of half and half animals.