You can’t teach an old dog new tricks is a common phrase that means it is challenging to teach a person something new, usually because that person has been doing things a certain way for so long that they’re too stubborn to learn how to do it differently.
Synonyms / Similar: old habits die hard
The Origin Of “You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks”
Is it true that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? No! Despite what this phrase says, it is possible for older dogs to learn new things. So for those wanting to teach their older canines how to sit or rollover, it’s still doable. Will it be more challenging for them to learn in comparison to a younger dog? Maybe. They might be more stubborn, and they might also not be as physically capable, so keep that in mind. However, the point is that a dog can learn new tricks at pretty much any age, young or old.
So, what’s the deal with this expression if it’s wrong? Here’s the thing: Some sayings are meant to be taken literally. If they are, then it’s easy to point at them and go: “That’s incorrect!” So It’s more about the idea they try to convey, and in this case, the idea is that if someone is set in their ways, it can be hard to get them to do things differently, even if the new way is better.
Anyways, this expression makes an early appearance in the 1700s. For example, it appears in the book Divers Proverbs, by Nathan Baily, 1721. The way it’s said was a bit different, but it’s still similar enough:
“An old Dog will learn no Tricks.”
So that would make this saying around 300 years old, at least!
- I tried showing my grandpa how to use a game console controller, but it seems you can’t teach an old dog new tricks because he didn’t seem to get it. He preferred gaming on mobile instead.
Note: We have the meanings for popular sayings on this site and their origin too. However, sometimes the exact origin of a phrase unclear. Even so, the quote you see on the page is typically the oldest citation I could find. These usually come from old books or newspapers. Keep in mind, though, that older quotations may exist and I overlooked them.