Can You Teach An Old Dog New Tricks?


The saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks is well known. It basically means it seems to be difficult to teach something to someone who is past their youth (how ever that is defined).

But is it true?

I want to list a few reasons from personal experience why I don’t think it is always true.

Things Learned In My 30s

When we moved to Taiwan in 1992, it wasn’t our first experience living in other countries, but it was the first one we would be required to actually learn another language in order to fulfill our assignment.  My wife had lived in Brazil for two years where she learned Portuguese using a “barefoot” (i.e. informal) method.  She had learned that language extremely well.

So naturally, I assumed she would easily pick up Mandarin, while I would have to struggle.

In the end, with diligence and effort both of us learned to speak Mandarin.  I was successful as a language learner in my 30s.

Not so young dog (but not old), new trick.

Things Changed in My 40s

I had never been overly committed to exercise once I was married (in my mid 20s).  I had spurts, like a lot of guys do including aerobics back in the 80s (don’t dwell on the thought too long, it wasn’t a pretty site).

But I wasn’t in shape, and as I got a few years past 40 I realized the shape was becoming amazingly pudgy.  So, beginning when I was 44, I decided to make a change.  I decided to start regular exercise.

At first I walked, then moved up to running.   After a short time out due to injury (guys in their 40s should probably not play basketball with 20 somethings), I have run regularly since I was 44.

The change was starting to exercise by running at least 3 times a week.

Older dog, new trick.

Things Changed in My 50s

Probably not really fair to list this one.  I haven’t been here (in my 50s) all that long.

But I have made some changes.  After I turned 50 I swore off adding sugar to my coffee.  Sounds inconsequential, I suppose, but I had used sugar in my coffee since at least my sophomore year in college.

Drinking black coffee has helped me to enjoy the taste of the coffee, instead of a sweet taste.

Old dog, another new trick.

The Moral of This Story

You may be wondering why this journey of rambling about things I have changed through the years.  Truth is, I think all of us believe we are not able to change many things.  The truth is we all change things constantly.  We just don’t always recognize it.

We change the channel. We change telephones.  We change cars.  We change hair styles (or some of us give up hair all together).  We change….well, you get the picture.

We have more ability to change than we probably give ourselves credit.

The truth is, you can teach on old dog new tricks.  You just have to be willing to try.

What about you?  Have you started doing something new lately?  Something you haven’t done before?  Why not share it with others by leaving a comment.

 Don’t Miss The Movie Pass and Dining Dollars Giveaway!

If you enjoyed this post, I hope you will subscribe to my RSS feed! You can also follow me on Twitter here.

by Thad on May 4, 2012 · 8 comments

in exercise,life

  • MyMoneyDesign

    I have learned a great deal in my 30’s that I never realized or cared to know in my 20’s. You can learn new tricks as long as you want to.

    • Thad

      I think you are correct. The problem is that so many people just stop learning or doing anything new as they age.

  • Pam at moneytrail

    Great points, Thad. I think having an open mind and the willingness to try new things keeps us young!! Over the past three years, I have been learning about Web design, blogging, marketing and small business skills. These skills are world’s different from being a teacher and stay at home mom!

    • Thad

      So much to learn! So many things to continue to discover. It surely makes for a fun experience.

  • TB at BlueCollarWorkman

    For starters, that’s awesome that you learned mandarin! Supposed to be a hard language to learn! There was a great post on GetRichSlowly recnetly about not letting yourself decay and your post combined with that reminds me that we shouldn’t let our physical OR mental selves decay. We should always be ‘learning new tricks’ and not letting ourselves stagnate…because that’s when we get senile and stodgy (spelling on that one?). Great job continually learning new tricks!

    • Thad

      Mandarin was hard, but we had a great language school environment. There are actually much harder Chinese dialects (Cantonese, Hokkien, Hakka). Learning new things helps us stay sharp.

  • Jason @ WSL

    I don’t know if I can say that I’m old…

    I can of course but then I’d be adding insult to injury for all of those people that are older than me.

    :) Have a great weekend Thad!

    • Thad

      Age is all in your head…til you wake up one morning and it hits you: Everything hurts! Just kidding. Have a great weekend!

Previous post:

Next post: