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They say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks — but that saying might not be as trustworthy as you’d think.

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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.

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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.

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