‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ means that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to change the way a person does something when they have been doing it the same way for many years.
In other words, you can’t change someone’s long-established ways, especially as people grow older. The expression can relate to a person’s habits, traits or mindset.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks – Examples
- My mum’s 75 years old now and I’ve been trying to teach her how to surf the Internet for ages but she just doesn’t seem to get it. I guess you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
- My 17 year old son has just started having driving lesson and he is now trying to give me tips on driving and road safety. I reminded him that I have been driving for 30 years without even one accident or one speeding ticket. I don’t know who he thinks he is! I told him, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, son!”
Proverb Or Idiom
Some refer to this common English expression as an idiom, while others argue that it is in fact a proverb. Well, there are many citations of the expression throughout history which suggest that it is in fact a proverb but I’d say that, like many proverbs, it could also be classed as an idiom when you consider that:
- A proverb can be defined as a short sentence, well known and regularly used by many people, which expresses a certain truth, useful insight or piece of advice, and is based on common sense, wisdom or the experience of life.
- An idiom is a short phrase or sentence whose meaning is not deducible from those of the individual words. it is a figurative expression.
I believe both of these definitions can be attributed to the expression, ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks‘, don’t you?
A Few Similar Expressions From Around The World
French – Ce n’est pas a un vieux singe qu’on apprend a faire la grimace.
Rough translation: You can’t teach an old monkey how to pull a funny face.
Spanish – El loro viejo no aprende a hablar.
Rough translation: An old parrot can’t learn to speak.
Italian – I vecchi non imparano cose nuove.
Rough translation: Older people don’t learn new things.
My personal favourite out of the three here is the French one; the French do love to complicate things, don’t they? There must be others we could add to the list, so if you have a similar expression in your language or you know of other sayings from around the world that have a similar meaning, please tell us in the comment box below.
- Old habits die hard.
- It’s never to late to mend.
- You’re never to old to learn.
You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks You Tube Videos
So you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
This video features the rescue dog, Vinnie, who was at the time of filming this video, 13 months old. The owner had had him for 5 months and he was unable to do any tricks when she got him. Whilst he wasn’t exactly an old dog, this video does go some way to prove that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
Seasick Steve – You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks
You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks Lyrics – Seasick Steve
Is It True That You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks?
If we take the literal rather than the figurative meaning for a moment and look at what Margaret Nee says (on this blog post) regarding a dog’s ability to learn new tricks:
They become wiser. They continue to be interested in new experiences and new opportunities. They are happy to learn new tricks, by the way. They are on their own path of development, their own journey, and shouldn’t been discounted as “done” when they are really getting the hang of this crazy human culture. Just because they don’t need training doesn’t mean they don’t need mental stimulation.
I believe that a similar sentiment can be attributed to people. Generally speaking, the older we get, the wiser we become and people, by and large, are also interested in new experiences and new opportunities.
Indeed, you CAN teach an old person new tricks as long as the person is willing and open to the learning process. It’s true that the older we get the more we tend to get stuck in our ways, but I believe that every one of us has a great capacity to learn new ideas, new systems and new techniques as long as we adopt the right minset.
A great quote from Henry Ford (the founder of the Ford Motor Company) is, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether 20 or 80.” Too often people get to a certain stage in their life and adopt the attitude that they cannot learn anymore. “I’m just too old for this” is a common mantra amongst those who are facing a new learning challenge but choosing to adopt a negative and ultimately disempowering mindset.
Others protest that, “This is how I’ve always done it” as they close their mind to the possibility of a ‘new way’ of looking at things. This is a mindset that I have little time for, actually. Nothing stays the same and there is always a new idea, a new a approach or something new to be learned. As long as you tell yourself that you can learn something new, you will learn something new. Similarly, as long as you are open to the possibility that the other person might be right, you are open to the possibility of learning something new.
As Gandhi once said: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” This is how I think we should all try to live our lives, then, even when you are an ‘old dog’, you’ll find that you really CAN learn new tricks!