Who was it who said that senior dogs don't want to have fun? Ask any dog whatever their age if they want to play, and unless they are seriously ill, it will be affirmative. Your little dog may not be as fast or as steady on their paws as they used to be, nor may they have the same stamina, but with some creative thinking, games can be altered to accommodate the aging pooch. The worst thing for an aging dog is being excluded from family activities. They need to feel useful, wanted and loved. With a small dog it is a bit easier to include them, even if it means carrying them when they tire on a walk. Larger dogs have different issues, but in this article we will focus on small senior dogs and what we can do to keep them fit, active and mentally alert. Games in general need to be a bit slower, and slightly less physically challenging. But it is important to build some exercise into their day, to strengthen their leg muscles, and maintain their circulation. Accommodating your older dog can be as simple as changing the pace of an activity. A game doesn't have to be done at full throttle, your dog should be encouraged to go at their own pace and still get the same praise, cuddle and small treat as a reward for their effort. Changing the elevation of a game, the pace, the distance and the time involved will still allow your little grey nomad to enjoy life and feel useful and loved.
Swimming or playing in water is a fun activity that can involve your dog in the warmer summer months. The waters buoyancy takes the stress out of your dog's limbs, allowing them to play without pain. If you don't have a swimming pool, then a child's paddling pool will do for some small dogs. Another option is an outing to a quiet river inlet, which would be ideal. You may have to go into the water yourself, to give your dog confidence. As dogs age, some may become fearful as their strength diminishes, preventing them from doing things that they used to do without a thought. So, give them ample encouragement and be there to support them. They will love the extra attention and feel important, which will boost their confidence. It is a great activity to cool down a hot dog and can be a sneaky way of bathing them! Older dogs feel the cold, so don't overdo the water play. If they want to stop, then end the game. Wrap them in a fluffy towel and cuddle them dry.
This activity is a simple trick to add strength to your dog's hind legs and lower back muscles. It is all about revisiting the trick of teaching your dog to beg. They may have learned this when they were younger, but chances are you don't ask them to do it any more. Bad choice, as this is a great chance to strengthen the hind quarters of your dog - an area that is often the first to weaken. Sitting up and holding for a few seconds at a time will strengthen ailing muscles. Your dog will love the extra attention (and the reward treats) and when everyone claps and says what a smart dog they are, you can see them puffing up with pride. Not only is it a good exercise trick to do with your dog on a regular basis, it will build their confidence and have them acting like a dog half their age!
Tug of war is a cool game for a small senior dog to engage in. Not only is it a natural outlet for their pent up energy, but it is a good exercise for their mouth and teeth. Use a soft tug rope and drag it past your dog's nose - they will respond by grabbing it and tugging as you hold it firm to resist their efforts. Driven by the need to win, your dog will become fully involved, with huffs and puffs and pretend growls as they shake, pull and strive to win the rope. Let them win after a few minutes of the game. Follow their win with a hug and lots of praise while they will no doubt chew on the rope. Then take the rope back, reset your dog (this is good training for them) and repeat the game. You may get tired of it, but your dog won't. At the end let them know the game is over by taking the toy away after they have had a good victory chew, and take the dog for a mini walk around the back yard or throughout the house to complete the game.
Stairs are often too much for a small senior dog to cope with as an exercise tool anymore. If you set up a ramp around the home that has a gentle incline, it will be perfect to strengthen those aging muscles. Don't over do this game, especially in hot weather. You can train your little dog to quietly walk up the ramp and sit at the top, then come back down and get a treat. You can even put a nice smelly treat at the top to encourage them to keep going up the ramp. Dogs of this age should work for their treats as they don't do the same amount of exercise as they age. Just giving treats for the sake of it doesn't mean anything, but if they have to overcome a challenge, and then get a treat - they will feel important and their grin will be so wide they may be in danger of tripping over their tongue!
As your dog ages, they won't have the energy that they used to. Your dog may enjoy just lying on the porch watching the world go past. Things change as age creeps in, like not having the same bladder control or lack of energy to run a marathon. Just as you researched what to do when you got a dog, so you should research about caring for the senior dog. Dietary needs will change, exercise needs will change, your dog will change. But they will always have the same willingness to please, to be part of your family. Tailor your dog's golden years to be enjoyable, and adapt things to suit your pooch. A more comfortable bed may be needed to support those aching bones. Steps can become difficult for an aging dog and can cause injury if they slip or fall. For slippery surfaces, consider getting carpet runners so your dog can get a grip. Platforms instead of steps into the car or the house will help prevent jarring on the muscles and bones. Sniff out gentle activities that keep them active and flexible is important. It can be frustrating for a dog when the mind is willing but the body can’t keep up. Spend quality time with your doggo, offer support when needed, and make the golden years of their life the best they have ever had!