Perhaps you’ve noticed that the dog you’ve had for many years has begun to slow down. She doesn’t seem as interested in the things she used to love, and she isn’t as interested in investigating new things as she once was. While you might be a little relieved that your dog is no longer getting into every possession you own or rolling in every stinky thing in the yard, perhaps you worry that she has lost some of her zest for life. The veterinarian has ruled out physical pain or sickness as a cause for the changes in your dog, and tells you with a shrug that your dog is just getting old.
Teaching an inherently interesting and rewarding game like Treasure Hunt is a great way to reinvigorate your older dog. Older dogs sometimes get very stuck in their routine. Being encouraged to do something new will prompt them to think in new ways. Exposing the brain to new stimuli and encouraging it to work in new ways may even stave off some of the symptoms of doggie dementia.
Searching out a reward by smell is about as innate to a dog as it gets. Utilizing your old dog’s sniffer is also a great way to build confidence in dogs that are becoming deaf and blind with age. For dogs that have become anxious about exploring new environments because of the fading acuteness of their senses of sight and hearing, Treasure Hunt is a great game to motivate exploration again.
The goal of this training is not so much to teach a new behavior as it is to reinvigorate a fading known behavior. Training should be fun and, above all, safe for your dog. Use a body harness and walk with dogs that are very unstable on their feet, and use a leash to help guide blind dogs around obstacles.