Teaching Old Dogs

Dog tricks

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Is this true? Although I do believe that people are capable of change in some areas of their life, I do wonder if there are certain traits that have been ingrained too deeply to change.

My first step father was an alcoholic. He had to hit rock bottom in order to quit drinking, but he quit nonetheless. He successfully changed. Alcoholism is a habit though, not a trait. It’s not in the same category as, for instance, anger and selfishness. Those characteristics are often ingrained in us as children and become a part of who we are. Therefore, they are much more difficult to change.

This is proven best in those who have had multiple marriages. Their ex-spouse often has the same complaints about them, as does their current spouse. Without a doubt, both of them pointed out the issue, yet the person still refused to change. Most likely, that was because they never accepted or believed that they in fact, had an issue to begin with.

When two or more people point out an issue in someone, then that person should evaluate themselves. It’s very unlikely that both people who mentioned it, did so simply out of spite. There was a valid reason behind their claim and therefore the issue should be addressed.

What baffles me most, is that even after several people have pointed out the same issue in a person, they still refuse to accept that they have a problem. Do they honestly believe that everyone is just “out to get” them by fabricating these things? I suppose for many people it’s easier to place the blame on others, or perhaps they are simply in denial.

To me, this is similar to if a person steals a tool from a store. You, seeing them in the act, label them a thief.  They in turn, look at you as if you’re out of your mind for accusing them of such a thing. Although the evidence is in their hand, they’re not a thief. It’s you who can’t see correctly.

It is impossible to change someone. They have to be willing to change themselves. But if they don’t believe that they have an issue, how will they ever change? What does it take for someone to realize that they have traits that need fixing?

I hate to think that there are some people who will never change, but I’m beginning to wonder if there are.

If we can’t teach an old dog new tricks, then why waste energy on it? Perhaps with a different perspective, the dog’s old tricks may not seem so bad after all.

I suppose the best advice then would be, instead of focusing on other people’s issues, we should only focus on our own.

“If you change yourself, then you will change your world.”

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16 Responses to Teaching Old Dogs

  1. DailyMusings says:

    Thought provoking post. I must take exception to you writing that Alcoholism is a habit- Alcoholism is a disease. Alcoholics become habitual drinkers, but they are not doing out of a habit just like any other habit. It is an addictive illness. That being said I believe people need to “do the work” if they want to change something about themselves that they don’t like. You can never really change someone else though, IMHO. If they want to change and ask for help to do so,be there for them. There come a time in life where you have to make the decision to accept a person as they are, or cut your losses and let go.We need to get along with co workers, with family members, so sometimes we just need to get it through our heads that it is what it is. Acceptance. Like you said, focus on being better people ourselves, not trying to change others.


    • mewhoami says:

      We may have to agree to disagree on whether alcoholism is a habit or a disease. I do agree however, that it is an addiction. It’s an awful addiction, which often requires the help of professionals in order to overcome it.

      I like your statement about how people need to “do the work if they want to change.” Very seldom does change happen overnight. It is a process which requires a desire to change, as well as a great deal of determination.

      As you said, there are times when all we can do is accept the traits of others. We don’t have to like it, but sometimes we have to accept it. If they ever change, great! If not, so be it. It is what it is.


  2. suzjones says:

    The more posts and comments on the posts of others that I read from you, the more I am inspired by what you write. You truly have a gift and I am grateful to count you amongst my blogging friends.
    This is another piece of inspired writing. The only person who can change someone is the person themselves. 🙂


    • mewhoami says:

      Wow, thank you so much for the compliment. That means a lot to me, especially coming from you. It is a privilege to have you as a blogging friend also.

      Isn’t it interesting how even though we know that to be a fact, we’re still hopeful that something we say or do will cause that change to happen? It reminds me again of the Serenity Prayer. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”


      • suzjones says:

        I think it is human nature to look for an easy way out of things don’t you. If I could swallow a table that would change my character to what I wished, then I would be all over. It’s such hard work otherwise 😉


        • mewhoami says:

          You’re right. We always want to go the easy route. But, as we learn over the years, the easy route usually takes us either to a cliff or a dead end. The hard way is worth the difficulty and the sweat, for the reward is much greater.


  3. culturemonk says:

    “This is proven best in those who have had multiple marriages. Their ex-spouse often has the same complaints about them, as does their current spouse”

    so true. Funny how the majority of people who are divorced always think that all the fault lies on their ex


    • mewhoami says:

      It’s always the other person. It’s rarely them. But, it takes two to make and break a marriage. Both parties were at fault and that goes for every relationship. It is not a one man show.


  4. Glynis Jolly says:

    Yes, often we don’t see our own issues because we’re busy finding the issues in others. I know I’m guilty of doing this. With this said though, some issues others have are just dreadful whether we feel the need to point them out or not. Those issues play havoc on the daily life of the people around them.


    • mewhoami says:

      I completely agree with you. It’s nice to say that we can ‘ignore’ the issues of others and just focus on our own. But, there are some issues that can’t be ignored no matter how hard we try. Those aren’t just the annoying habits, they are the ones that directly effect others and bring additional problems.


  5. Superb post. Gets into an area which I am writing about. People who are narcissistic are pathologically resistant to change or even introspection. They have psychological defence mechanisms to protect against this.


  6. April says:

    I agree with Sue, your writing inspires me too. As far as teaching an old dog new tricks? It can be done, I’m a great example. However, I did have to look at myself in a realistic manner, and admit to my “faults”. I just went through this with my mom in the last week. She needs to change certain things, and instead of pussy-footin’ around the issue, I was blunt. I made my mom cry twice this last week, but she now sees herself, and most of all she is starting to believe in herself. Sometimes, it isn’t necessarily the person denies the behavior, but that nobody has talked to them in a way that in comprehensible to them. If that isn’t possible, then give up—turn your back—we don’t need people like that to bring us down.


    • mewhoami says:

      What was it that finally caused you to look at yourself in a realistic manner? Did it take ‘hitting rock bottom’? You don’t have to share too deeply, just an idea is what I’m looking for. This just seems to be an impossible task for some people and I cannot comprehend why.

      I suppose the reason for many, is what Navigator mentioned in the comment below. That’s the only thing that makes sense.

      I do agree that walking away from such people sounds like an excellent plan. Unfortunately, sometimes that is not entirely possible.


      • April says:

        For me, it was my cancer diagnosis. It led me to face my mortality. I didn’t want to waste any time and alienate people in my life.I didn’t want to die an old, bitter, lonely woman. In my instance, I had to hit rock bottom. I also received the gift of acceptance from my sister, who passed in March. However, I have always had an inner need to please people. Because my sister “lived” in the time she had left, I recognized that I wasn’t really living. I recognized that I wasn’t happy, and I had to seek out help to find the way. I could see that I kept others at arms length, and I simply didn’t want to do it any more. I chose love, which included loving myself.

        I’m not too sure about narcissists, the only thing I know, is that people act and do things for a reason. My suspicion is that narcissists are developmentally stunted, hate themselves, so they must torture others in order to feel superior, or they have a deep hurt that only they will be able to find.

        I also believe a person will not change unless they recognize their flaws. If faced with them, and they deny—there is simply no help or understanding.


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