Let’s face it – dogs just don’t live long enough. They wag their way into our lives and our hearts, fill us with love and joy for 10 – 15 years on average and then they’re gone. It’s important that we spend as much quality time with them as we can during their short lives and help them keep as mentally fit as possible.
Just like humans, dogs need exercise. Going for a walk, even a slow one, is a great way to get that physical exercise. This and the mental stimulation that goes along with all the sights, smells and sounds they get along the way will help them stay healthier. But what do you do when your dog develops arthritis or hip problems and can no longer go for walks? Do you just let her lay around the house with nothing to do but sleep?
Providing mental stimulation for your older dog is important even if he or she can’t get much physical exercise. There are several ways to accomplish this.
1. If you haven’t already, put your dog on a regular feeding schedule of twice a day instead of free feeding because dogs actually look forward to meal time. Food is a great mental stimulator. Dogs have a sense of time and know when it’s time for a meal and you can be sure they’ll be ready and waiting.
2. Read out loud to your dog. I know, it sounds silly, but dogs love to hear our voices – unless, of course, your dog is deaf! I once gained a fearful dog’s trust by simply sitting out in the yard with her and reading out loud. I believe our voices have a calming effect on dogs, especially those who may be distressed over not being able to get around like they used to or those who are dealing with arthritis pain or other discomfort. The sound of your voice gives them something else to focus on and mentally pay attention to.
3. Give your dog toys that are mentally intriguing, such as toys that spill out a few treats at a time as it rolls around on the floor. There are an amazing number of interactive toys you can find either online or in your local pet shop.
4. Purchasing a dog bicycle trailer or dog bike basket (for a smaller dog) may be a little costly, but what a great way to spend some quality time with your aging dog. You get the exercise and your dog gets to go along with you, which is really all a pack animal wants – to keep the pack together. Your dog gets the mental stimulation of all the sights, sounds and smells along the way and of course you can stop anywhere for a short excursion for your dog.
5. Take some extra time to play games with your senior dog. One such game could involve shredding up newspaper, putting it in something like a shoebox, hiding a treat under the shredded newspaper pieces and letting your dog find it. Once your dog has the hang of this, you can even hide the shoe box somewhere around the house with the treat inside and have your dog find it and get the treat.
6. If it isn’t a warm day, take your dog with you on errands around town. Just remember to never leave a dog in a warm car for even a few minutes since the inside of a car heats up very fast and can cause heat stroke in your dog within minutes. Taking your dog into a local pet shop on your errand run will cause great mental stimulation with all the sights and smells. Maybe even let her pick out a new toy or treat.
7. If your senior dog is still alert and able to learn new commands or tricks, work on teaching something simple, using treats as a reward. Be careful not to over-treat an overweight dog, though. But even a tiny treat is exciting to a food motivated dog. You might teach your dog to “shake hands” or “play dead”. There are many books on simple tricks to teach dogs. Learning to use a clicker with training is easy and very rewarding for both you and your dog.
8. If your dog is not overweight, a fun exercise for him or her is in finding small treats or kibbles you have hidden around the house. This keeps your senior dog mentally active because he or she has to look and smell out the treats. For some dogs, especially older ones, food is a great motivator and reward for using their mental capacity.
Just because your dog may be looking and acting like a senior citizen, don’t underestimate the value of quality interaction between the two of you. It is still important to keep his or her brain stimulated and functioning as much as possible. Physical exercise is also very important, even if it has to be at a slower pace than in younger years. Keeping your dog active, both physically and mentally may actually help extend the quality of life for both of you!
About the author:
Karleen Lindsey has worked with dogs most of her life and has been a professional groomer for over 20 years. She has fostered and adopted many dogs and realizes the benefits of keeping them active mentally and physically. To learn more about taking your senior dog along with you on bike rides, check out her review site of dog bicycle baskets and trailers