Once you are a dog owner, you know that you are a dog owner for life. Even though your pets may age, they can still be just as fun in their older years as they are when they first come home. The key is to develop enrichment ideas that can keep your pet active, healthy, and alert.
These are eight ideas that can help enrich the life of your pet, but they are not the only ways that you can do that! You should always take into consideration your particular pet and even where you live. There may be things that they love to do or places that they love to go.
Why is Enrichment so Essential for Senior Dogs?
Before we get into the ideas, let’s quickly talk about why enrichment is so essential for your senior pet. An article from The Ohio State University Veterinary Medicine department states that all animals need some sort of enrichment. The enrichment adds value to their life through five basic types of enrichment.
- Food-Based Enrichment
- Sensory Enrichment
- Novel Objects
- Social Enrichment
- Positive Training
One of the best things about dogs is that even senior dogs are willing to play and have the ability to learn new things. The following enrichment ideas can help your pet increase their quality of life, their physical capabilities and can even help their bond with you.
8 Enrichment Ideas for Senior Dogs
When it comes to enrichment ideas for senior dogs, there are a lot of options. You can choose from games that you can play together, games they can play alone, unique feeding ideas, and even some customized options that your dog may prefer. Let’s talk about some of our favourite options.
Keep in mind that you need to consider what your dog is capable of doing. Some older pets may still act like puppies, while others may be losing their eyesight, hearing, or mobility. Most of these ideas can be slightly altered if your dog is losing one of these abilities. Others may be ready for you and your dog to start doing on a daily basis right now.
- Read next: 20 Great Enrichment Ideas for Your Deaf Dog
Try Puzzle Stuffed Animal Toys
Puzzle toys have become all the rage for many pet owners. Not only is it a cute stuffed toy that your pet will love, but they also present themselves as enrichment games that require your pet to think. There are many different kinds of puzzle toys you can purchase or even make.
Puzzle toys are great for a few reasons:
- They are relatively low-cost and can be found in many places.
- There are different holes where your pet can try and pull toys out of a larger toy.
- Your pet needs to figure out which hole they need to use to get to their toy.
- You can purchase replacement toys as they get old or torn up.
For pets who enjoy hunting or enjoy a scavenger hunt, puzzle toys can be a great choice. Not only can they keep your pet’s brain active with finding toys, but they can also help keep your pet busy as well. This is my favourite – the Hide-a-Squirrel.
Build Them a Designated Digging Area
Almost all dogs love to dig and play. By building your senior dog their very own digging area, it can present a lot of benefits to you and the dog as well. Some of the most significant benefits include:
- Your pet can dig in a way that is comfortable for them. They can dig however they choose and for as long as they want. This keeps them from becoming too tired or injuring themselves.
- You are able to control what is in the digging area. Many people use a kiddie pool to keep it as clean as possible. You can fill it with sand or even dirt if that is better for your pet.
- You can add toys that your pet loves, and you can reward them with treats or helping them find their lost treasure. You are also able to take the toys out and clean them.
For pets that may have mobility issues, using something like sand is a soft option that they can quickly move around to find their rewards. This is also an excellent option for senior pets who may have allergies or specific restrictions. Make sure that you are helping your pet understand this is a safe place for them to play.
Treat Toys are A Great Source of Enrichment
Similar to puzzle stuffed toys, there are also treat toys that you can use. You can purchase treat toys at a pet store, or you can make your own using a cardboard box with shapes cut out. Here are a few ways to create your own treat toy for your senior dog.
- Line up used toilet paper rolls into a box with the opening facing up. Place one treat in some of the tubes. You can also cut these at different lengths to create more of a challenge.
- Use an ice tray or a silicone mat and place peanut butter or any dog treat into the crevices. Your pet can then lick out the treat.
- Use an old towel and place treats randomly. Slowly roll up the towel and allow your pet to push their way through the towel as they gather treats.
- Create a snuffle rug with old t-shirt strips tied to an old rug. You can hide treats and pieces of their food. They then dig around to find the treats. Make sure you remove any old treats or food.
Penn State has an article on the research on how treats are a positive reinforcement for pets. When your pet receives a treat, they become conditioned to understand that what they are doing is good. By having a treat at the end of a toy or game, they are more likely to want to play an enriching game that keeps them active and busy.
Kong toys are also a popular option for many pet owners, and they can be found anywhere. You can place your own treats or the treats they sell that fit inside of the toy. Your pet can chew the toy as well as get the treat out over time. It is an excellent option for pets who may get bored quickly.
- Read Next: How to use Kongs and stuffable dog toys (plus 15 scrumptious recipes)
- Best Stuffable Kongs & Toys for Dogs 2021
Play Hide and Seek with Your Pet
Depending on the agility and mobility of your pet, a simple and enriching activity that you can do is to play hide and seek with your pet. You can hide in accessible places that your pet can find you and slowly make it more difficult for them. Even hiding behind doors or blankets can create a fun challenge.
While hide and seek may not seem like it would be that fun, it is an enriching option for your senior dog. Not only are they running around and looking for you, but they also have to listen and smell for you to help them find you. You can reward them with belly rubs and even treats so they know they did a good job.
If you play hide and seek with your senior dog, make sure you are hiding in places that are not too hard or difficult for them to get to. You don’t want them to injure themselves trying to find you.
Create Your Own Agility Course at Home
Some senior dogs are just as agile and playful as they were in their younger years. If your pet falls into this category, you may want to make your own agility course. The good thing about doing this is that you can either buy a kit online or simply use a few household items that you have lying around. Some things you can use include:
- Mop or Broom Handles
- Paper Towels, Toilet Paper Rolls
- Blankets or Pillows
You can guide your pet around the course a few times. Once they get the hang of it, they can learn to use different skills to navigate the course, which can help their mind as well as their motion. There is also the chance to change the course around to keep them thinking and using different muscles.
If you would prefer, many pet stores offer agility course kits. They come with a certain number of obstacles that you can arrange in different ways. These can be pretty cheap, and you can cater the size of the obstacles to the size of your dog. You can always start out with a few items around your house and purchase one of these if your pet ends up having fun.
Stay Active with Your Pet
As simple as it may seem, there are a lot of pet owners who forget the importance of a simple walk or alloying your pet to do things with you. For senior pets who may not be able to play like they used to, a nice little walk each day can help keep their muscles moving and help them to maintain stamina and increase their endurance.
Depending on what your pet is able to do, you may want to start with a 5–10-minute walk to see how your pet handles it. You can increase the time you walk as they get better. Spending time with your pet can also keep them bonded to you, which will make them want to please you as much as you want to improve their life.
Play a Cup Game with Them
RSPCA Victoria has an excellent recommendation for pet enrichment, and that is the cup game. Ideal for older pets who may not be able to go on walks or play, this can be done with your pet just resting or sitting down. Here is everything you need:
- Plastic Cups
- Treats or Toys
- A Flat Surface
Start by flipping cups upside down; you can start out with three and add more cups as your pet gets the hang of the game. Place a treat or toy under one of the cups and mix them around. Allow your pet to use their nose and figure out which cup the toy is under.
Plastic cups are ideal for this game because they are less likely to break if your pet knocks one over or if it falls. If your pet likes this game, you may want to have designated cups that are opaque that you can use with your pet.
Play Scent Games with Your Pet
Suzanne Clothier, an acclaimed pet trainer, encourages using scent games as a form of enrichment for your pet. Not only are they easy to play with your pet no matter their mobility level or age, but they can also be a great way of teaching your pet to retrieve items. A few game ideas she recommends include:
- Which Hand: Place a treat in one hand and ask your dog which hand they think the treat is in. If they choose the right hand, then they get the treat.
- Lights Out: Take one of their favourite toys and place it in a dark room. Tell them to go and find the toy, but make sure it is not in a difficult place for them to get it. You do now want them to hurt themselves.
- What a Klutz: While spending time with your pet, drop something in an area that you know where it is, but they do not. You can pretend to act frazzled and ask your pet to help find your lost item. Reward them with attention and treats once they find it.
She has a lot of different games in this post on her website that you can incorporate into your dog’s life. Many of them are simply finding something based on scent, which many dogs can do even if they are at an advanced age.
Another fun activity to try is placing a treat in different areas of your room and simply allowing your pet to find it on their own. Doing this will make them more interested in general but make sure that they are not constantly focused on finding a treatment. You can do this once per day at a particular time, so they know when to expect it.
Tips to Help Enrich Your Senior Dogs Life
Now that you have some creative ideas for you and your senior dog to do, there are also ways you can enrich their life without having to do anything. As our pets age, their needs and desires change. The best thing you can do is to pay attention to how your pet is changing; here are some extra tips you can use too:
- Make sure that you are spending quality time with your pet. We mentioned taking walks earlier, but even sitting on the couch or having a good belly rub can help the bond between the both of you last as long as possible.
- Just because your pet is older, it does not mean they are not willing to do or try new things. Learning new tricks can help your pet stay stimulated both mentally and physically. Make a goal to try one new trick a month.
- If your pet has any mobility issues, then you may want to make their home life more manageable. You can purchase inexpensive ramps or stairs to help them get around the house. A lot of these fold up easily for travel as well.
- For pets who are aging, being left alone is oftentimes hard on them. There are different programs online and even on television that can help your dog feel more comfortable while you are away from home.
These are just a few tips to help keep your senior dog happy, comfortable, and active. Some pets are just as youthful as they were at the age of one, so if your pet still loves to play fetch or go on long hikes, make sure that you are incorporating that into their schedule.
So many of us love our pets, and we are not prepared for aging, but it does happen. By enriching your dog’s life, you are not only enhancing their quality of life but their life expectancy in some cases. You can make sure that your pet is as healthy and happy as possible.
The ideas that we mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg. There are new toys and treats coming out everywhere that are meant to keep your dog both mentally and physically active. There are even things that you can do, such as walking your dog, that require no additional costs or equipment.
No matter what activity you decide to do with your senior pet, make sure that you are enjoying it as much as they are. Pets can often read our emotions, and if you are having fun, it will make them even happier.