Could your canine senior sweetie be … bored? While dogs certainly do love routine, they also benefit from the mental stimulation that comes from learning something new or having new experiences.
So, while we may think our older dogs are content to kick back more and interact less, in reality, the opposite is true. Their senses may not be quite as sharp as they once were, and they may not move as quickly, but having fun with their people is still a thrill. Moreover, it’s a thrill that can have a positive payback by helping them maintain their cognitive agility as they age. A little time and effort on your part will pay big and ongoing dividends in the overall quality of your dog’s life.
Toys are one way to stimulate your dog both mentally and physically. Fortunately, a few companies have stepped up to provide versions that take seniors’ needs into account. And while it’s entirely normal for a dog’s passion for toys to wane with age, there are ways to revive it, such as by rotating toys weekly; novelty inspires interest. Interactive toys also pique curiosity. If your dog likes stuffed toys, look for those with “parts” that are intended to be pulled out of or off the toy. Finally, don’t miss the senior-friendly toy options now readily available.
Keep those neurons firing and log some quality time with your dog by playing games that exercise her mind.
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• Nose Work: An easy way to add some change and excitement is Nose Work. While your dog is in a sit/stay, hide a treat or toy, then release her to find it. (Cheering her on ups the excitement level.)
• Balancing Act: Keep your senior dog’s mind healthy by teaching them a new trick. Teach your dog to balance a treat on her paw or muzzle.
• Puzzles: Treats hidden behind panels or under sliding blocks motivate dogs to use both their noses and paws. Swedish-made Nina Ottosson puzzles set the benchmark in this category.
Perhaps the ultimate enrichment strategy is to provide your oldster with a canine friend by adopting a new canine pal. There are lots of caveats here—among other things, not all dogs want to deal with a new dog in their home. But when it works, it works splendidly. If you think your dog might like company, try fostering—ideally, a somewhat younger dog of the opposite gender with a compatible personality. Some suggest that the best age difference is around three years, while others say there are benefits to a larger spread; the older dog will teach the younger important social skills and appropriate behavior, and the younger dog will keep his elder busy and engaged.