SNIFFBUSTERS: Can You Teach An Old Dog New Tricks?

By Marissa Leotaud

In this edition of Sniffbusters, the team here at Cuteness HQ makes a surprising discovery when we put an old adage to the test.

SNIFFBUSTERS: Can You Teach An Old Dog New Tricks?
credit: Cuteness

When you say the phrase, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks," you're probably not talking about an actual dog. This is something humans like to say to explain why grandma refuses to touch the internet or why you just aren't up for cartwheels in the grass with your ridiculously flexible niece.

When it comes to our canine companions, however, can we teach an old dog new tricks?

According to researchers in Vienna, cognition in older dogs is not all doom and gloom. Their study was prompted by Chaser, the border collie who knows more than 1,200 words. Researchers wanted to find out if Chaser would maintain such high levels of doggy intelligence, even after she enters her teen years.

The study included 95 border collies ranging in age from five months to nearly 14 years old. The dogs were taught new visual associations in order to test their reasoning skills. Younger pups did actually complete the "trick" in fewer attempts but researchers believed that this may have been due to random guessing. Older dogs, however, took their time with the test.

dog in glasses reads the red book
"Patience, young grasshopper, patience."
credit: igorr1/iStock/GettyImages

When the study was repeated six months later (for good measure), results showed that most of the dogs performed well, regardless of their age. Long-term memory especially seemed to have no correlation with age!

These old dogs learned some new tricks and showed just as much promise as the youngsters. We never doubted them for a minute.

SNIFFBUSTERS: Can You Teach An Old Dog New Tricks?
credit: Cuteness