Tips for Keeping your Senior Dog Mentally Sharp

February 20, 2014

By Langley Cornwell

It’s hard to believe that we have what is considered a senior dog now. I remember when she was just a scruffy, malnourished little runt, shaking on my lap as we drove her away from deplorable conditions. Now, eight years later, she’s fat and happy, gracefully entering her golden years. According to the ASPCA, most dogs are considered senior by the time they reach seven years of age. Larger breed dogs age faster than smaller breeds, but between seven to ten years is a good average.

If you have ever shared your life with a senior dog, you are likely aware of the physical decline associated with the aging process. Dogs, like humans, also experience mental decline as they grow older. As a responsible pet owner, you want to do your part to keep your senior dog mentally sharp. Simple things like changing your typical walking routine or taking an alternate route will offer a renewed perspective for an older pet, but it’s good to do more. The best thing you can do is construct ways to keep your dog’s mind active with brain games that require problem solving skills.

Start Where You Are

Teaching your senior dog new tricks is a fun way to engage her mind. You can start with the basics like shake, roll-over and play dead, and get creative from there. If you don’t know how to get started, the article Training an Older Dog will provide an overview.

Name the Toy

Does your dog know her toys by name? A fun learning game for aging dogs is to teach them to fetch their favorite toys by name. Start the training in a room with only one toy. Clearly say the name of the toy and encourage your dog to retrieve it. If she isn’t a natural born retriever, shower her with plenty of praise and high quality treats like CANIDAE Pure Heaven Biscuits when she successfully brings you the toy.

When you are convinced she has linked the name of the toy with the toy itself, add a second toy to the exercise and ask your dog to retrieve the toys one at a time. If she gets confused or brings you the wrong toy, repeat the command and, if necessary, lead her to the correct toy. Once she has mastered the names of those two toys, add another. Continue the process until your dog has learned the names of all of her toys. This may be a lengthy process, but the exercise itself is good brain-work and it’s helpful for stimulating your older dog’s mental acuity.

Once you master Name the Toy, a natural next step is to teach your dog to clean up his own toys. Not only will this activity help your senior dog stay mentally sharp, it will also help you keep your house tidy, which is a nice side benefit.

Hide and Seek

Stimulate your dog’s mind further by hiding her toys and asking her to go find them. Begin by requiring your dog to sit and stay while you hide a toy. Then tell her to go find the toy. Since she already knows her toys by name, she should know what she is looking for.

If Hide and Seek is too complex using toys, start smaller. Ask her to sit and stay, and hide a treat as she watches. Then tell her to go find it. Work up to finding the toys. It’s also fun for you to hide and have your dog look for you.

Whatever you choose to do with your aging companion animal, the goal is to keep her mind stimulated. Relax and enjoy this time together; it’s something you will cherish in the coming years.

Top photo by grilledcheese
Middle photo by Lucy Otterwell
Bottom photo by Marc Dalmulder

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell

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  1. DMatsuura says:

    The new sport of Canine Nosework is great for senior dogs. No matter how old your dog gets, his nose still works. I have been training the young dogs to do nosework and we always set up the scent boxes at the end of practice for the old guys to toddle through the course and find the boxes with the food in it. It’s so much fun to watch them have a blast. Diane @ CANIDAE