Have you ever had a conversation that went something like this?

Grandfather:    Hey buddy! What’s that newfangled contraption you’re playing with?

Grandson:       It’s my new phone, Grandpa! Want me to show you how to use it?

Grandfather:    I don’t know. It looks complicated.

Grandson:       It’s not! Let me show you how to send a text message.

Grandfather:    OK. You can try, but I’m not sure I’ll understand it.

Grandson:       Why not?

Grandfather:    Well, you know what they say: you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!

You’ve probably heard that saying before: you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But what does it mean? And is it true?

This popular old saying means it can be difficult to teach an older person — or animal! — something new. The assumptions behind the saying are that it can be hard for older people to learn new things and that it can be difficult to get someone to try something new if they don’t have any experience with it or have always done something a certain way.

For example, it’s sometimes more difficult to teach an older person to use a computer — or any kind of new or advanced technology — than it is a younger person. Why? Younger people have grown up with advanced technology and are more comfortable with it. Older people have less experience with it and might not have the same basic understanding of how things work.

The saying has been around for hundreds of years. In fact, some historians trace it back to a 1523 book about how to take care of animals by an Englishman named Fitzherbert.

Does that mean that an older person can’t learn new technology? Not at all! These sayings just represent what some people believe is true of most older people. As you’ll learn, though, old dogs certainly can be taught new tricks.

Whether you’re talking about older people or older animals, it’s true that it often takes longer for them to learn new things. However, with patience and a motivated learner, older people and animals can indeed learn to do anything a youngster can do.

Motivation is often the key. If someone wants to learn something new, there’s usually nothing that will stand in their way. If they don’t want to learn, then there might not be anything that can make them learn.

If you’re trying to teach someone something new, it’s important to be patient no matter how old they are. Give them all the information they need, demonstrate “how to,” and then let them try things on their own.

Be encouraging and don’t get frustrated if they don’t understand on the first attempt. Repeat explanations, demonstrations and practice until they have the hang of it. You never know when an old dog will pick up a new trick that will lead to a new hobby or a better quality of life!

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