‘Old dog’ learning new tricks

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 2, 2011

“You can‘t teach an old dog new tricks.”

I‘ve heard that most of my life but never knew its origin. Since it was on my mind, I decided to see who said it first.

I discovered this on the Internet about old dogs and new tricks.

“This expression, alluding to the difficulty of changing one’s ways, was first recorded in 1523 in a book of husbandry, where it was used literally. By 1546 a version of it appeared in John Heywood’s proverb collection.”

Then I found this reference, a slightly different version but carrying the same intent.

“An old dog will learn no tricks.” Nathan Bailey, Divers Proverbs, 1721.

So apparently, the phrase suggests that learning ceases for dogs and for people too, when they reach that stage in life known as “old.” Seems there was a belief that beyond a certain age, folks stagnate.

All these thoughts about new tricks came into my head because I am in the process of learning a few myself, and admittedly, I questioned whether this older dog could do as well as the younger dogs learning along with me. I got my answer this past weekend, but before I go into that, let me share some other Internet information.

One article I read sought to dispel the thought that we don’t learn all of our lives. This is what it said.

“People can learn at any age. Prior to the 1960s, it was considered nonsensical for people to seek education in midlife. Not only was the brain slowly starting to “shut down,” but also the working years left in one’s life were slowly coming to an end. With the baby boomer generation and longer life spans, middle-aged people seeking education has gained widespread acceptance.

Science has come to show that as we age, the possibility of learning does not deteriorate.”

Well that was good news. So I read on.

“As people age, their brain actually gets sharper, due to myelination. Myelination basically protects brain cells and increases conductivity in the brain. Improved interconnections in the brain leads to improved reasoning skills. Science has shown us that “life and learning doesn’t end at 50.”

More good news — I‘m past 50 and science says I can indeed learn new tricks. So now, back to the weekend.

Late Friday afternoon I started what is a 10-month journey of learning and it is something I’ve wanted to do for a while. In a yoga studio, located on the top floor of Balance Health Studio, facing the Gulf of Mexico, more than 20 other eager learners and I began classes leading to a 200-hour yoga teacher certification.

As I waited for this first class to start, I’ll admit I was anxious. The voices in my head were yapping full speed.

“Can I keep up? Am I too old? Do I know enough to be here? What happens if I look foolish? What if nobody likes me?”

With all this churning around inside me, I heard the teacher welcome us. Then she led us through more than an hour of poses, the first of several challenging hours of yoga practice over the weekend. The evening continued with us getting to know each other and ended with some wonderful quiet time also known as meditation.

Over the course of the next two days, I found myself challenged, uplifted, energized, inspired, smiling a lot and learning many new things. Here are some examples of what I learned.

• I can keep up fine

• I know enough to be there taking the training

• Vanity is not at home in a yoga studio

• My sweat glands work extremely well (one reason vanity flies out the window)

• People like you if you open up and let them get to know you

Finally, and most importantly I learned people and maybe dogs too, are as old as they allow themselves to feel. And, that it is never, never too late to learn some new tricks.