Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks – Study

Old dogs can indeed learn new tricks
Old dogs can indeed learn new tricks

– A new study into the ability of dogs to learn when they are old has concluded that senior dogs can indeed learn new tricks – when they could be bothered, that is!

A long term study by Vienna’s University of Veterinary Medicine in Austria followed one hundred and forty five Border Collies throughout the course of their lives, conducting experiments on their ability to learn, pay attention, maintain interest and so on.

Over a range of experiments, it was found that younger dogs (between three and six years of age) learned faster, but older dogs learned too – just at a more sedate rate. Indeed whilst older dogs learned as well as younger dogs, they quickly lost interest in new items and activities designed to pique their interest – preferring those people, activities and items they were already familiar with. So it would appear old dogs can indeed learn new tricks – contrary to the popular saying – it’s just most times they couldn’t be bothered.

Sound familiar? The researchers thought so too, and believe studies on ageing dogs can provide useful insights into the process of ageing in people – particularly cognitive ageing and age-related brain disorders such as Alzheimers disease and other forms of Dementia.

However there were some limitations to the study the researchers should have thought about before spending years and lots of taxpayer dollars on their research:

. They set up a laboratory room to simulate a “natural” house environment the dogs would experience during their lives. Yet they picked a working breed to study, which spends the majority of its life outside and at work – not in the “unnatural” environment of the home.

. The experiments they used were not related to the way the breed was designed. For example they used juggling paint cans to draw the dogs’ attention, which is all very well, but hardly likely to maintain the attention that a moving livestock animal would. If anyone has seen a Border Collie “lock” onto a farm animal to work it, you will know that regardless of age they are quite adept at maintaining fierce concentration for long periods – something the Daily Dog doubts a jiggling paint can could mimic.

So as you can see, this study, whilst interesting, has a number of flaws to it that bring into question the veracity of its findings. Perhaps when designing the study, the researchers should have been more careful by selecting a range of breeds and studying them in their true “natural” environments, rather than just one breed, observed in a psuedo-natural environment.

Undoubtedly however there will be more experiments of this kind conducted in the years to come. The pups4sale team hopes they will be run better than this one so we can have more confidence in their results. Having said that, it is nice to know we can expect our 13+ year old rescue Bull Mastiff X ACD X Bull Terrier “Ben” to still learn a thing or two – when he can be bothered of course! 😉

2 Responses to “Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks – Study”

  1. EJH

    BUT, BUT, BUT,

    Seven to ten year old dogs are NOT old — just mature. Like mature humans of course they can learn..
    Really OLD dogs (13+), like OLD humans (80+) find learning new things difficult. And often distressingly confusing.

    Then, of course, aging ‘people’ (canine and human) tend to start forgetting — teh most recently learned new behaviours/knowledge go first.

    Which is why it is well worth your while to teach pups and children everything that is important for them

    Voice of experience — I’ve had several dog who have lived out their allotted years (13 to 16) and aged parents and grandparents including the in-laws.

    I woud really not be bothering old Ben, unless it is a necessary behaviour for him to remain with you.

    • pups4sale

      EJH, “old” depends on the breed of course. For a St.Bernard or a Great Dane, 8 is getting right up there. Whereas for a Maltese, 8 is just getting warmed up! We start training our pups from 6 weeks of age (regardless of breed), and by the time they are 18 months old they can just about make a cup of tea for us in the morning. HOWEVER that is because we train them morning and night; put a lot of time and effort into it. So yes early training is vital. But as for Ben at 13+….we have an agreement that as long as he can remember to sit for his daily frozen bone, we’ll call it a job well done 😉

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