Wednesday, February 22, 2023

RETRO Episode 59: Old Dog, New Trick Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

RETRO Episode 59: Old Dog, New Tricks

Record Date: February 20, 2023

Air Date: February 22, 2023

Original Air Date: August 21, 2019


Welcome to Bunny Trails everyone, cold open while I tell Shauna HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!




Shauna is celebrating a new decade in her life, and for that I thought we’d share an episode we did back in 2019, You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I know you aren’t that old, but this birthday is a big one in American culture and is jokingly used as a way to indicate you are firmly on your way towards the end of your life, even though based on your family history you probably aren’t even half-way there yet.


I did enter this new decade with neck pain, so I feel like I’m getting old at least. But in spirit, I feel young. I still have at least a dozen new things I want to try like stained glass and paddle board yoga. So if 40 is old, I hope this adage, You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, is just a fun saying and not accurate. 


We’ll find that out in the episode. But before we let Shauna get back to her bucket list (or more likely homework), I want to say thank you to our Patrons for making Bunny Trails possible. It’s free for you to listen whenever you want, because people like Charlie, Emily, JGP, Jan, Heather, and Pat help cover the costs. And of course, a big shout out to our Dean of Learning, Mary Halsig Lopez.


If you are interested in getting cool perks and helping keep Bunny Trails free, check us out on Patreon.


If you want to send Shauna birthday wishes, you can do that on our website,, or email us at, or find us on social at bunnytrailspod, or if you really wanna go old school, send her a message to Bunny Trails, PO Box 1359, Derby, KS 67037.

And now, from August 21, 2019 - the before times - comes episode 59: You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

Bunny Trails

Episode 59: Old Dog, New Tricks

Record Date: August 20, 2019

Air Date:  August 21, 2019


Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Shauna Harrison

And I’m Dan Pugh

Each week, we delve into the origin and history of an idiom, or other turn of phrase, and discuss how it’s been used over time. 

This week I want to talk about an old phrase that I’ve never really liked much… You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.


From the Oxford English Dictionary: When one is accustomed to doing things in a certain way, it is difficult to change or adapt

Now I want to point out, while the book definition does not implicitly say this, I have often found the phrase to have an underlying tone of age-discrimination. 

But as we will see, the phrase wasn’t so absolute when it first came into the language. 

Origins and History

~1530   John Fitzherbert’s,  Book of Husbandry (rev. ed.) f. xxiv   The dogge must lerne it whan he is a whelpe or els it wyll not be, for it is harde to make an olde dogge to stoupe.

1636   John Philipot in Camden's Remaines (new ed.) Prov. 300   It is hard to teach an old dog trickes.

1775   Cortes Telfair wrote in the Town & Country Spelling Book. i. 16   It is hard to teach an old dog new tricks.

1835   Chambers's Edinb. Jrnl. 7 Feb. 9/2   The absolute difficulty which an old dog experiences in learning new tricks.

1872   Nursery 11 16   I'll take a cigar to keep my nose warm. It is a bad habit, I know; but you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

The courier., December 19, 1896, Image 10

About The courier. (Lincoln, Neb.) 1894-1903

  • In the funnies, or comedy pages, there is a game called, “You can not teach an old dog new tricks”.

1912   Engin. Mag. July 591/2   In many cases such efforts at decentralization are still very crude. It is hard to teach old dogs new tricks.

Art July 1931

Frederick Stanely

Old Dog, New Tricks

July 11, 1931

1985   Industry Week (Nexis) 21 Jan. 48   The modern executive has to be a learner, sometimes willing to change—the exception to the rule that you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

A Quick Thank You

Today’s show is sponsored by our Patrons.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, since the 1300s the word “patron” has meant: A person standing in a role of oversight, protection, or sponsorship to another.

Patron comes from the Latin word for Father, Pater (PA Tier), then becoming Patronus meaning champion or protector, then to Patron, meaning one who sponsors something… like a Patron of the arts. 

Leonardo Da Vinci had Patrons like Medici and Cesare Borgia. Bunny Trails has similarly awesome Patrons, including Charlie Moore, Pat Rowe, and Mary Lopez. 

If YOU want to become a Patron of Bunny Trails, and get cool perks like early access to episodes, behind the scenes content, monthly mini-episodes, and more,  you can visit us, or you can find links to it at

Pop Culture and Modern Examples

How to Teach Your Old Dog New Tricks

by Ted Baer

March 1991

A well-known and highly praised dog trainer proves that by using the humane approach when training a dog, an owner can teach an old dog new tricks! How-to advice plus 25 tricks in all. Many instructive full-color photos.

Seasick Steve - You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

Blues/Rock Vibe

Released May 2011

There must be something wrong with me

What it is I can't quite see

I can't seem to do nothing right.

Maybe I need to change my style

Been this way for a long long while

Maybe there's a few things I ought to fix.

Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

In 2016, Stanley Coren PhD., DSc, FRSC wrote in Psychology Daily in his regular column “Canine Corner” that You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks. In the article he cites a research study that had just been published by the Messerli Research Institute, part of the University of Vienna, which shows Old dogs may learn more slowly, however they will remember.

Even Google has got into the action with a clip they released in March 2019

We see a room that has been ransacked, presumably by “Cooper” the dog. The camera pans to see a large, older dog sitting in the corner with its face buried so it cannot see you as the human says “Cooper, did you do this?”

It then jumps to the Google home page where someone is asking “Can you teach an old dog new tricks”. The ad is meant to show that you can find anything you need on Google, but also imply it doesn’t matter if you are uncomfortable with computer or the internet, Google is easy and here to help.

Favorite Things About the Phrase

When I was researching this episode, I came across another phrase that I was vaguely familiar with from my days growing up in Texas: There’s Life in This Old Dog Yet.

there's life in the old dog yet and variants: an assertion of continuing competence, strength, etc., notwithstanding evidence to the contrary.

[1840   S. Grey in New Sporting Mag. Feb. 76   Men are to be found who would kill the old hound, And his long years of service forget; But a hand I'll ne'er lend to destroy my old friend, ‘For the life's in the Old Dog yet.’]

1840   Jackson's Oxf. Jrnl. 1 Feb. 2/5   The New Sporting Magazine for February 1840... Contents:—‘There's Life in the Old Dog yet!’

1852   P. L. Simmonds Sir John Franklin & Arctic Regions 356   Sir John Ross, we know, went out in the Victory to Regent Inlet, and was frozen in for four years, and all the world gave him up for lost—but ‘there's life in the old dog yet’, as the song has it.

1899   E. L. Godkin 15 Nov. in Life & Lett. (1907) xviii. 240   As to my health ‘there is life in the old dog yet’. I went abroad in May completely broken up, but the doctor there assured me there was nothing wrong but having worked too hard and too long.

1922   H. V. Esmond Law Divine ii. 45   Bill. But—but Dad's married—besides he's thirty-eight. He's much too old to go messing about with widows. Ted (chuckling). There's life in the old dog yet.

1940   Time 15 July 49/1   Tallulah Bankhead demonstrated that there's life in Pinero's old girl yet.

2000   Truck & Driver Nov. 11/1   She might be long in the tooth but clearly there's life in the old girl yet, as she can still be found at work shunting scrap trailers.


Shauna: That about wraps us up for today. Thank you so much for joining us. We want to ask of you two special tasks for this week. First, would you be willing to rate us on your favorite podcasting app and leave a review? 

And second, we’d like you to tell at least 2 people about the show that you think might like it. It might be a book lover, a writer, or just someone you know who likes a little humor with their word history. If you mention us to your Twitter followers, please tag us with the hashtag #BunnyTrails


Word of mouth is still the best way to grow a podcast, and your help is greatly appreciated!

If you want to join the community and chat more about the show, or phrases and their stories in general, you can Join the Community on Patreon. You’ll find the link to that and everything else we do at

Thanks again for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. Until then remember... 

Words belong to their users.

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