Older dogs hold an extra special place in my heart. Owning two older dogs myself I am privileged to experience how amazing senior dogs are every day, plus many dogs I work with in training are in their senior years and are amazing dogs!
I do meet a lot of people who have an older dog at home and who genuinely believe their dog is now too old to learn anything new, or to start training or that as their older dog now doesn’t do much then they don’t want to do much – but in so many cases this is the complete opposite!!
We’ve all heard the saying ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ but I haven’t found this to be at all true!! Not only can older dogs learn new things but they also enjoy practising things they already knew from years ago but perhaps haven’t practised or tried for a while.
Giving older dogs plenty to challenge the brain is an excellent way to help keep the brain healthy and functioning well and can help give your elderly dog more to look forward to – especially if their mobility is greatly decreased – as well as helping helping prevent cognitive issues for a longer period of time.
Brain work for older dogs will vary from dog to dog – some senior dogs have very good mobility and have trained all their lives and therefore they have very few restrictions on what they can learn. Other older dogs have lost strength in their back legs, hips, lower back or forelimbs or have perhaps lost their sight/hearing or haven’t ever done any kind of training so the types of training and brain work needs to suit each dog! Interactive toys for their meals/treats, learning basic training exercises or tricks specific to their abilities and even games which allow them to really think about playing are wonderful ways of keeping the brain active while spending quality time with an older dog.
Conditioning work and overall fitness and health can help keep older dogs active, even if slower then they were a few years ago, and help them keep their independence for longer. Conditioning work helps to strengthen as well as increase body awareness and confidence which provide an older dogs body with a large amount of benefits. Likewise older dog vets checks and alternative treatments can all help detect weakness or issues which help make staying mobile less uncomfortable and easier for dogs of all older ages.
I currently work with several veteran dogs including an awesome Border Terrier who is now 11 and works on conditioning, scent and tricks, a gorgeous Cavalier King Charles who is 9 and still does agility with me, a super Parsons JRT who is 10 and is now working on her Champion Trick Title and my own Cassie age almost 16 and Taylor age 12 who both do tricks, conditioning, dabble in agility and htm and are huge motivation for me and my own health issues! I feel so privileged to be able to work with these Golden Oldies and share their owners joy with each achievement and progression!
Senior isn’t a set age with dogs – typically dogs are classed as ‘veteran’ at age 7-8 but this can be very young for some breeds, especially smaller dogs, and for others you may observe a dog slowing down by age 6 with some giant breeds. Senior is part age but also a large part what a dog can still do and what needs adapting. With this in mind it’s worth thinking about the future with our young adult dogs! So dogs around 5-7 are heading towards senior times so we can help the transition over a couple of years as our adult dog starts becoming a senior.
Preparation can include teaching you dogs brain work they can continue to use when they are older, or teach sign language motets prepare for age related deafness. Looking at supplements to help prevent joint and mobility problems or protecting eye health are great to start earlier. Getting your dog in good shape now will be easier then a couple of years down the line plus can extend your dogs life if they are not overweight! This can include checking diet, starting conditioning and toning work or adding some endurance or changes to fitness work.
The important element to remember is to not see your older dog as retired simply due to their age, but to consider age alongside your dogs capabilities and look at what might be possible for them to try. In many cases an older dog stops doing a lot around the home not because they find it hard to move about or are more lethargic but because they aren’t being invited to go out for a game or to go on the training days they used to have so they adjust and learn to use their time for snoozing and laying about. Asking your dog to come and join you sometimes to do something fun, stimulating or a previously favourite past time can really motivate your dog to take part in more again!
Being so passionate about Senior Dogs I do have a guide for Senior Dogs which is an EBook providing suggestions and ideas for continuing physical strength, mental challenges, adapting for your older dog, and giving examples of as we can help where needed. It has been influenced by the older dogs I train with and by my two older dogs Cassie and Taylor, and feedback so far has been amazing that people who find the information and advice so helpful and enlightening!
The Ebook is called ‘Older Dogs DO Learn New Tricks!’, plus there are other books about with info for owners of older dogs. On top of this you might like to come across and look at our Senior Dogs Progress Awards which launched in 2015 on Facebook and have two levels and two training ages which are aimed at providing mental and physical activities for you and your dog to work towards together and work on strengthening the body or keeping the mind sharp. If you fancy trying something new with your Golden Oldie dog come along to this free class and a look!!!
Enjoy your dogs, no matter what age they are, and appreciate them more if they do happen to be Seniors!