Mental Health is Just as Important
Mental health is just as important as physical health, and is especially important for senior pets. Senior pets often are not able to do all of the activities that they used to be able to do, and as a result can suffer from boredom and depression, but mental stimulation can be just as tiring to an animal as physical exercise. There are plenty of ways to keep your senior dog busy, from training to nose work to problem solving games! Remember that older animals may be a little stubborn at first, so when first introducing a new game or training a new behavior, go slow at first until they understand what you are asking.
You may have heard the old saying “you can’t teach old dogs new tricks” but it is not true! You can absolutely teach old dogs new tricks. The best part about training an older animal is that you can train just for fun. They probably already know all the basic commands, such as sit and stay, so you can focus on more fun behaviors like paw, spin, or bow. There is an endless list of behaviors to train on the Internet, so get out your clicker and some treats and get to work! Combine mental and physical stimulation by using training to create a sequence of behaviors for your dog to do to stretch their body different ways, like doggy yoga! Remember, cats can be trained too!
Even while their sight and hearing begin to fade, many pets maintain an excellent sense of smell making nose work an excellent option for mental stimulation. Here are some examples:
- Throw their kibble on the floor or in the yard to encourage them to use their nose to find all the pieces.
- Hide yummy treats around the house and let them sniff the treats out.
- Put a little dab of a scent on a toy and ask them to find it in a hidden location, or just put different scents around the house for them to explore.
- Allow them to follow scents and to sniff to their heart’s desire on their daily walks.
Problem Solving Games
To help keep your pet’s mind sharp, incorporate some games into their daily lives. The possibilities are endless so here are just a few examples of games to play with your pets, or ways to get them to problem solve:
- Put some kibble and treats in a puzzle feeder for them to work out. A puzzle feeder can be as simple as putting a few treats in an empty water bottle and having them figure out how to get the kibble out.
- Put a treat under a cup and scramble it around with other cups so your pet has to guess which cup holds the treat.
- Assign names to your dog’s toys and ask for them each by name. You could also teach your dog to put the toys away into a bin by name, if you’re really ambitious! (Some cats may be able to do this!)
- Play hide and go seek with your pet. Ask them to sit and stay, then go hide and call them to you.