Is your dog getting up there in age? If dogs start to slow down, become less active, and get grey hairs around their muzzle they are entering their senior years. The key to helping them live many more years is to provide great nutrition, regular exercise, and daily mental enrichment. Dogs’ mental abilities can decline as they age. You may observe your dog panting and pacing, being confused or unable to navigate their way around your yard.
Doggy dementia can start early, especially in large and giant breeds. A great Dane may exhibit decreased cognitive function as early as at 6-7 years of age. Smaller breeds take longer to age and usually show first signs of mental decline at 11-13 years. Regardless of your dog’s size however, we can slow down this process by providing plenty of enrichment and stimulation. Today we will look at five brain games you can play with your dog every day!
Take a picnic blanket or beach towel. Spread it out on the ground and put some treats on top. Now fold it or bunch it up. You’ve just made a quick and easy food puzzle for your dog!
They will have to figure out how to get the treats from the folds of the blanket. This can be surprisingly tricky for dogs, because they can smell the treats but not see them.
Sniffing is a great activity for older dogs as it encourages them to focus and problem-solve. This challenge will be novel every time because you can fold the blanket in a different way for each training session.
As dogs age, they often lose their coordination and balance. We may see them pacing and slipping or struggling to get up without tumbling. You can help your aging dog retain balance and coordination by practicing some body awareness every day.
Put up a board low to the ground and set some treats on it. Have your senior dog balance across the board and eat the treats. Start with just one repetition and over time work up to having your dog balance 5-10 times.
You can also do this on your walks; have your dog balance on curbsides, on fallen logs, across low benches. Just make sure that they are close to the ground so that your dog won’t get hurt if they step off or fall.
As our dogs age their teeth may not be able to chew hard bones anymore. What your dog can always do though is enjoy some frozen treats! Take an empty yogurt container and fill it with water or low-sodium broth. Now put different treats in there, such as little cubes of cheese or hotdogs. Freeze it and give it to your pup on a warm day. Having to lick and work to reach the food is going to provide mental stimulation as well as a new sensory experience.
Make sure that the treats you put in there are small. Because older dogs have less physical activity, they can become overweight quickly if fed too many calories. This will lead to aching joints and back pain. Treats don’t have to be big to be tasty!
Muffin tin game
Take a muffin tin and put treats into the indents. Now cover them – with tennis balls, for example, or lids of food storage containers or water bottles. Your dog will have to move what is on top of the treats to eat them.
This will help improve focus and encourage your pooch to problem-solve. You can vary what you cover the treats with every time to make this a continually novel and exciting challenge.
If your dog is struggling with this, lift a ball or lid to show the treat underneath – so that they understand they must lift them up themselves to eat.
Aging dogs have decreased sensory input as they are not as inquisitive and curious as they once were. You can make sure that your pup still experiences many different surfaces and textures by setting up a little “surface safari!”
You can use whatever you have around the home. Take cardboard, cookie sheets, bubble wrap, an air mattress, etc. and spread those out on your floor and then guide your dog across the different surfaces with a cookie. You can also do this outside. Have your dog walk in sand, on grass, in snow or over pebbles. Just make sure to not go on any slick surfaces in case they slip and fall.
The Bottom Line
Aging dogs are less active and curious than they used to be in their younger years. This can lead to a cognitive decline as their natural interest in exploring and moving around decreases.
You can help your aging dog keep their mind sharp and focused by setting up a little brain game for them every day. Continually challenging your dog’s brain is the best way to prevent doggy dementia and provide a lot of mental and physical stimulation for your dog. Make sure to be very encouraging as your dog is solving these puzzles and reward them often with great treats!