Can Old Dogs Learn New Tricks?

Thanks for CuriosityStream for supporting this episode! Go to to learn more. { ♪INTRO } They say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but that saying might not be as trustworthy as you’d think. Past puppyhood, dogs aren’t actually set in their ways. In fact, research shows that not only can old dogs learn new tricks, but teaching them could be a really good way of improving their quality of life. A few studies have investigated this specifically. For example, a group of European researchers trained 265 dogs across multiple studies as recently as 2017 to push their noses against a touchscreen. It showed them pictures like flowers, cups, and other things. And when the canines picked the right picture, they were given a treat. It took the animals a while to really get the hang of the game. But eventually, even the oldest doggy participants caught on, and they could consistently pick the correct picture to get a treat. While all dogs could learn to pick the right image, the researchers did notice that dogs over the age of 13 were much slower at learning than the younger ones. And that’s because dogs, like humans, take longer to learn things as they get older. Dogs’ cognitive development parallels ours in some ways. Just like kids seem to be faster at picking up new languages than adults, puppies seem to be generally quicker on the uptake than older dogs. A 2014 study that tested 145 border collies on skills like memory and attention found that dogs’ faculties start to decline as they get older maybe in a similar way that happens in humans. They also found that older dogs were just
generally less interested in new stimuli. While puppies are curious about anything and everything, older dogs tend to lose interest in things more quickly, or tune them out entirely. So in order for older dogs to learn new things, you have to try a bit harder to capture their attention. But even though it takes them a bit longer to learn new tricks, that doesn’t mean it’s any less important. The researchers think that just like older
humans can derive satisfaction from brain puzzles like crosswords, a bit of mental stimulation might be great for keeping older dogs healthy and happy. A 12-year-old dog might not have as much energy to play fetch as she did when she was a puppy, but she can still benefit from playing games. And computer games like the ones used in these studies require less energy, so they might just fit the bill. The researchers even suggested their experimental setup could potentially be adapted to let dogs play computer games at home. So not only can old dogs learn new tricks research suggests it’s a great idea to try and teach them. It may be a little tougher for them, but it seems to be worth the effort. If something as simple as training your dog sparks your curiosity, you may be looking for even more ways to learn. CuriosityStream is a subscription streaming service that offers over 2000 documentaries and non­fiction titles from some of the world’s best filmmakers, including exclusive originals. They have videos on nature, food, exploration, tech, and more — which is one of the reasons we like them so much. There are just so many choices. You could watch Man’s First Friend, because you’re already watching this episode about dogs, right? Learn even more about our 20,000 year history alongside our canine companions, including how our bond with them came about. You can get unlimited access to content like this starting at $2.99 a month. And as a special thanks to our SciShow audience, you can get the first 30 days for free! You just have to sign up at and use the promo code “scishow” during the sign-up process. { ♪OUTRO }

100 thoughts on “Can Old Dogs Learn New Tricks?

  1. I have a 17 year old pit bull and last week I thought her how to play dead. She took to it like a duck to water, she’s actually still doing it.

  2. There's an episode of Mythbusters where they tested this very saying. I'm aware it's not the best to cite them but I thought it interesting.

  3. Don't believe a single word. I tried to teach our dog chess. Boy did he suck. He wasn't able to move single pieces without throwing off others, and he primarily tried to eat the figures when not looking totally bored.

  4. Scince essentially proving stuff we know. Again. In other news water is wet……. Oh wait that one might not be. Honestly though sayings like this arent even about being scientificly correct.

  5. Really liked this video. Not only can old dogs learn new tricks, but another commonly held misconception is that certain breeds behave differently from others, which there is only incredibly little evidence for. One of the most extreme examples of this idea is the very strange fact that golden retrievers tend to bite people only slightly more than other breeds. Besides that, there is extremely lackluster evidence in any behavioral differences due to breed.

    Essentially, It comes down to the owners. Dogs are more like humans than most people would think. In the same way that a person's childhood will influence their personality as adults, so will a dog's treatment and environment affect them as they learn what is acceptable. However, even more incredibly, a dog's entire lifestyle, manners, and personality can be changed by properly retraining them, unlike most humans. The moral of this story is that dogs are what we shape them to be, and aside from things like mental illness caused by trauma or certain genetic factors, we alone are solely responsible for the ways they behave.

  6. I'd love to have these touchscreen games for my TentiexChihuahua puppy, he's a very quick learner and craves novel challenges all the time, bought him the hardest puzzle treat boards I could find… they became old hat after only about 2 weeks!

  7. My old dog managed to teach himself plenty of new tricks.

    How to open the treats cupboard himself. How to sneak a chip off the plate when nobody is watching. How to sneak up on next doors cat. Every day was a schoolday for him…

  8. As a senior human I can assure you that the older dog's first reaction to the computer display "trick" was "What fresh hell is this?" It's a tribute to dogs that they didn't just bite the people running the experiment. I would have.

  9. It'd probably be easy to teach a dog to use a speech device that says "food?" "please open" "yes" "no" "don't touch" "bed, please" and "play time?"

  10. Of course they're going to use the smartest (and notably, the most neurotic) breed for a study like this, lol. My border collie picks up things really quickly. He's still in his prime years, but I don't expect him to stop being able to learn new things as he gets on in his years. I'm just wondering how an older Husky would fare in the same kind of study, those guys are stubborn!

  11. I got a nine year old min pin from the spca and I tought him how to do several things. like riding on my shoulders, dancing, and finding people and leading them back to a safe place.

  12. Hi SciShow team – very quick accessibility note! There's some text at a very steep angle in this video (around 00:30), which is pretty tough to read for people with visual processing disorders, nystagmus, or dyslexia. I get that it's also being read out, but I had to pause to check I wasn't missing anything.

    I love your work, never forget to be awesome! j

  13. Old Dachshunds are very difficult to teach new tricks if anything at all. For that matter young Dachshunds are difficult to train.

  14. Scientists really like to take a saying that wasn't meant to be taken literally way too literally, don't they? lol
    Great video, keep up the good work. Ruff Ruff bark.
    Have a nice day/night.

  15. 2019: scientists teach dogs computer games.
    2021: Team of dogs wins world championship in e-sports.
    2030: The few remaining humans of the great canine war live on leashes just to serve their masters. The dogs.

  16. I don't you guys can say a study on border collies gives info on all dogs, and if you can please explain it. Also please mention the size of studies

  17. The gender (ugh)-neutral for a dog isn't "she", it's "it". Keep your gender politics off the channel, thank you very much.

  18. I taught my nearly blind and nearly deaf 13 year old dog how to lay down to get a treat. So I think they can learn new tricks. It just took the poor old boy A LOT longer then my other dogs.

  19. Come on admit it. You only did this subject so you could use all the adorable doggy clips you couldn't fit into the Cuteness episode :p

  20. I've never had a puppy. I'm that person who seems to accumulate strays and second-hand dogs without actively seeking either. Haha. But they do fine. Even the kinda dopey ones learn their basic commands.

  21. Researchers: You should limit your 12yr old kids screen time to promote mental health and growth.

    Also researchers: You should give your 12yr old dogs screen time to promote mental health and growth.

  22. My 13 year-old (not the one in the picture) is amazingly fit for her age. My dogs and I (my senior dog and my 4 year old who is pictured) go for three-mile walks every day. Both my dogs know commands in English and Japanese. But I never thought of teaching my senior dog new tricks. I'm going to do some research on the best way to go about this. Brilliant idea!

  23. I think, just like humans, they can learn more complex stuff when they are older. Atleast ift they had enough intput when they were younger

  24. The phrase is mostly used to refer to how it is harder to learn as you get older, so this is a still a fine phrase.
    This whole video basically sums up that it is harder to teach an old dog new tricks than young dogs, & that the same applies to people which is when the phrase is most oft used.
    It doesn't mean old people shouldn't keep learning, just to be more patient with yourself as you get older. When my grandma was teaching herself another language & struggled she would bring up old dogs & new tricks as a way of explaning why it takes her longer than before, so to be patient with herself.
    Similarly old dogs & new tricks is often brought up in regards to puppy house training. It is much easier to get a puppy housetrained than if you get a older dog & try to teach them the same thing, so if you can it is best to teach them when they are young.

  25. Not to disagree with, or dispell anything that you said; but to offer a different point of view.
    As a kid (several decades ago) I remember "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" being use in relation to a human, more than a canine. Or so it was where I grew up.
    It was one of those sayings that pointed out a person's shortcomings through a comparison to an animal. I guess it was supposed to either lessen the severity of the insult through the indirectness of the comparison, or or make it worse by comparing you to a dog.
    I heard that phrase from all of my relatives, about other relatives or acquaintances. But no one ever told me that while I was teaching a (real) old dog a new trick. So I never took the saying as being literal.
    Also, remember that dogs, just like people, have different levels of intelligence. Some are quit smart, and learn quickly (too quickly at times), while other dogs are dumber than a box of week 9pd rocks, and will not learn much.

    Take it for what it's worth.

  26. Well, geez, thanks guys… Now my dog won't stop playing counterstrike on my laptop and when I try to get him off he barks at me in Russian.

  27. Wait, dogs playing video games, you mean my mother's 9 year old bisheon frise could be grading the Lord souls in dranleic's dark souls 2

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