You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

Meaning:

It’s challenging to teach a person something new, usually because that person has been doing what they do for so long that learning how to do it differently is hard.

Synonyms / Related Phrases:
1. Old habits die hard
Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks, the Saying

The Origin Of “You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks”

Despite what this phrase says, you actually can teach an old dog new tricks. Some may find it more difficult to teach an older dog in comparison to a younger one, but even so, it’s still possible for a dog, young or old, to learn tricks.

The idea of it being more difficult to teach things to an older dog has been around since at least the early 1500s. For example, in Fitzherbert’s Book of Husbandry, 1534, there’s a part that reads:

“He muste teche his dogge to barke whan he wolde haue hym, to ronne whan he wold haue hym, and to leue ronning whan he wolde haue gym; or els he is not a cunninge shepeherd. The dogge must lerne it, whan he is a whelpe, or els it wyl not be: for it is harde to make an olde dogge to stoupe.”

At the end of this quote, it mentions that it’s difficult to make an older dog ‘stoop.’ According to ThePhraseFinder, the word ‘stoop’ used here meant for a dog to put its nose to the ground to find a scent.

Anyways, as for this expression, it goes back to at least the 1700s. It is written, for instance, in the book Divers Proverbs, by Nathan Baily, 1721. The wording is a bit different, but it is still very similar to the modern phrase: 

“An old Dog will learn no Tricks.”


Example Sentence(s)

  1. I tried helping my friend’s dad learn how to operate a computer, but I guess you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, because he just couldn’t seem to understand what I was trying to explain to him.

Note: We have the meanings for popular sayings, but sometimes when it comes to their origin, these can be unclear. In such cases, what you’ll usually see are theories or guesses that take a gander as to where the phrase may have come from, but these may not be accurate.

Additionally, the quotes that I… quote, are typically the oldest that I can find. These come from old books, poems, or newspapers, etc. Keep in mind, though, that there could be an older recording overlooked it by accident.

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