The old adage ‘use it or lose it’ seems to be as true for our dogs as it is for us, and while our dogs can’t do online puzzles or crosswords, we can make sure we continue to train them within the limits of their physical abilities, teach them new skills and give them problem-solving exercises to keep them thinking and exercising their grey matter.
Forget that ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ – in fact a dog who has had a lifetime full of learning opportunities will be just as adept at mastering a new skill as a younger one with fewer learned behaviours to call on.
Brain games for older dogs enrich their lives, prevent boredom, and give us a way to interact with our veteran canine companion in a fun and stimulating way.
Games in the house
Engage your dog’s brain with interactive games. Many of these don’t involve leaving the house and so you can give your dog mental puzzles to solve without tiring his body. These can be as simple as hiding treats inside an old toilet roll for him to shake out to more advanced search and sniff games.
There are many interactive toys on the market – from Kongs that your dog can chew to remove treats (although these may be too tough for older teeth) to treat dispensing balls that can be easily rolled, or snufflemats that can be used to hide treats and even meals. Make sure all toys can be played with lying down so your dog isn’t standing for long periods or for when your dog needs to rest.
Games on a walk
You can play hide and seek games or lay scent trails with treats for your dog to follow – but be aware that you may need to keep him on a lead so he doesn’t wander off, especially if his hearing isn’t as good as it was.
Use your nose
While sight and hearing can fade in older dogs, their sense of smell seems to be more robust – and nearly every older dog seems to be able to sniff out a smelly treat.
Brains In Older Dogs
You are what you eat – and owners need to make sure their dog is getting a good species appropriate diet that gives them all the nutritional support they need to support good mental health – and that they are drinking enough water. Sometimes as dogs get less mobile, they don’t get up and go to their water bowl so often – and a dehydrated brain is an unhealthy brain!
There are however certain conditions that affect older dogs that are not just the normal signs of ageing – and Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) is one of these. Most behaviour problems that occur suddenly in an older dog are as a result of clinical issues such as CCD so your vet should always be your first point of call.