If you have an older dog, you’re probably adapting how you care for them. Consciously or unconsciously, we tend to be more cautious with our older pups. And sometimes it makes us sad to see how they are changing.
While your senior dog will likely never show that puppy exuberance again, that doesn’t mean your aging dog has abandoned play.
Instead, owners need to recognize why their dog’s play style may change and adapt and find new ways to help senior dogs play.
Old dogs can learn new tricks
The first prevailing myth about old dogs is that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
False! New dogs have an excellent capacity for learning new things if you have the patience to teach them.
More often than not, people take this old saying to heart and don’t change things up with their dogs.
There are other ways to expand your dog’s horizons when you stimulate your dog and encourage your dog to learn new games and tricks.
You can help your dog keep a curious and excited mind about the world by going on new walks, meeting new people, and playing with new dogs.
It’s not uncommon for older dogs to change their temperament when they get older.
If they were once aloof with other dogs, they might like them now!
Used to get annoyed with toddlers and children? They suddenly fall in love with them.
Never underestimate your dog’s ability to learn and grow. Teach your dog and stimulate them by changing environments and learning new things.
Be mindful of your dog’s aging body
So that’s about the aging mind, but what about your dog’s aging body?
Many older dogs can suffer from joint pain, hearing loss, sight loss, and weight gain. On the more extreme end, you have dogs with arthritis and heart conditions to understand.
With joints and bones specifically, your dog can lose bone density and experience reduced mobility.
That’s why games like fetch or frisbee aren’t good ideas when playing with your senior dog. The impact of jumping into the air to catch the flying object can hugely damage your dog’s joints. It can be painful too!
If your dog is losing their senses in some way, certain games no longer work for them.
Don’t worry! Here are some ideas to change how you play to suit your dog’s new stage of life.
Discover new ways to help senior dogs play
If your dog has mobility issues
Playing fetch may be off the roster if your dog suffers from mobility issues, but retrieving dogs can still get the thrill of retrieving with games like hide-and-seek and football. Keep your football game slow as you roll the ball toward your dog for them to retrieve it for you.
Dog swimming is also an excellent activity for dogs with joint pain. They’ll feel weightless in the water while still getting great exercise.
If your dog is losing their sight
Whether it’s cataracts clouding your dog’s vision or full-on blindness, it can be challenging for your dog to manage these. Help your dog strengthen their other senses with nose games and hearing games.
A snuffle mat is a great nose puzzle toy. Snuffle mats are patterned cloths with flaps of felt to create intricate designs. The felt has pockets where you can hide treats for your dog to find. Your dog’s task is to sniff out the treats to get the reward.
If your dog is losing their hearing
Hearing loss is expected with older dogs, so you’ll need to ensure that the games you play are nearby.
You won’t be able to use your voice to prompt your dog to do tricks or follow you.
One puzzle game you can try is a lick mat. Lick mats are similar to snuffle mats but are made of rubber. They have a mini obstacle course that you lace with a spreadable treat like peanut butter or pate. Your dog then needs to lick around it to get its treat.
Puzzle games, in general, are great for deaf dogs and senior dogs. Most are blocks where you hide a treat under a sliding piece, and your dog needs to move the pieces to discover the treasure. There are puzzles at different difficulty levels so you can progress from two-piece puzzles to doggy sudoku!
If your dog is losing their sense of smell
Hide-and-seek or squeaky toy games are great for dogs with sharp hearing but a faltering sense of smell. Hide-and-seek is even more fun when you add a squeaky toy to the mix!
Hide around your house with a squeaky toy and squeeze the toy to give your dog a clue where you’re hiding. Reward them with treats and cuddles when they find you.
If your dog is still mobile but tires easily
Try at-home agility if your dog is getting older but seems fit and healthy. You can guide your dog through a mini agility course using gestures and treats.
Weave poles and slides are best for older dogs. You can try jumps, too, if your dog is up to it! Dog agility is super fun and engages the mind in new ways, providing physical and mental stimulation.
Bottom line: Help senior dogs play
There are so many ways to play with your senior dog!
Enrich their lives by playing games and introducing them to new environments and faces.
Your dog is still a playful puppy at heart. If you follow the tips in this article, you can unlock that playful side again.
Olivia De Santos is an animal lover, professional writer, and canine care video content creator. She loves spending time with her senior dogs, Blue and Pip, and writing pieces to help people become better dog owners.