My oldest dog, Bashir, an Australian Shepherd, will be eleven years old in a couple of months.
He has some arthritis and isn't as agile or fast as he used to be but that doesn't mean I've let him become a couch potato. In fact, he's as busy now as he was when he was younger; I've just changed some of his activities due to the changes in his body. If you're looking for some activities for your older dog here are some of the things Bashir and I do.
Refresh His Obedience Training
Obedience training isn't just for dogs who have problem behaviors. Instead, refreshing your older dog's obedience training is a great way to strengthen the bond you have with your dog. When practicing his training skills, you're communicating with your dog, praising his efforts, and having a great time with him. In addition, you can tailor your training to his physical abilities. For example, although Bashir has some arthritis, it's not hampering him yet so he can do all of the basic obedience exercises. However if your dog has some physical limitations, you can eliminate anything that would bother him.
Trick Training is Great Fun
Trick training is training, just as obedience training is, but dog owners tend to have more fun when teaching their dogs tricks. Bashir knows about twenty different tricks; from the simple shake paw to more elaborate tricks like, "Go to your mark and take a bow." We regularly review his tricks, teach new ones, or give a performance of all his tricks when on a therapy dog visit. One of the tricks that gains Bashir a lot of applause is his ability to spell his name. I got a variety of wooden letters at the craft store, including all of the letters to spell his name. Then I introduced the letters in his name one at a time, holding up a letter, such as 'B,' and I held a treat behind it so Bashir would touch the letter with his nose. When he touched it I gave him the treat as I said, "Beee". Over several weeks of training, when he could recognize each letter by name, I would then hold up two letters and ask him to touch one by name until he spelled his name. This is easy to teach if you take your time and it always amazes people who see it.
Scenting Games Smell Great
Many dogs, as they age, lose some visual acuity and their hearing dims but thankfully, their ability to smell remains strong. Using that sense of smell to play scenting games is something that dogs can do long into old age. Start easy, with some good smelling treats and half a dozen small boxes. Scatter the boxes on the floor and drop a few small treats in two or three of the boxes. Encourage your dog to find the treats. Then repeat this several times while cheering your dog on as he finds the treats. When he's good at finding the treats in the boxes, then begin using some other things to hide the treats. An empty oatmeal container, a cardboard paper towel roll, an empty, washed yogurt container, a hat, or an empty flower pot. Vary the hiding spots and the items but continue to use good treats and praise your dog as he's searching.
Therapy Dog Work is Made for Old Dogs
Bashir has been doing therapy dog work since he was a young dog but I've continued it with him as he's aged because he likes it and people love it when he comes to visit. In fact, I think they like him more now that he's got a grey muzzle. Many people talk to him about aging, grey hair, and stiff joints; they commiserate with him. Therapy dog work is wonderful for all social dogs who like people and are well-behaved, and it's made to order for old dogs.
Go for Interesting Walks
Walking your old dog regularly is good for him; it keeps him moving and helps him retain some muscle strength. How far you walk and how quickly depends on your dog's health and abilities. Bashir, thankfully, can still take brisk walks for about three miles and I'll continue to do that until he shows me that we need to make some changes. I vary where we walk so that neither one of us gets bored. We might walk at the local boat harbor, along a stream, or downtown at the shopping center. By varying the walks, besides preventing boredom, I can also make sure Bashir sees new sights, smells, and gets a chance to visit with people who want to greet him. After all, who doesn't want to love a dog with a grey muzzle?
Car Rides are Wonderful
As long as the weather cooperates (not too hot or too cold) I take my dogs for car rides often, including Bashir. By taking him on car rides, he can watch what's going on, sniff the smells of the world around him, and if he so desires, he can take a nap. Depending on where I'm going, he may or may not get out of the car when we arrive at our destination but he doesn't care; he just likes to go for a ride. Making sure your dog is still included in life's activities is important as he ages. When the older dog is left alone without being included in family activities he will sleep too much, not get enough exercise and far too often, he'll become mentally dull and even depressed. So bring him along, even if you have to adapt your activities for him.