Growing up, I was fortunate enough to have an older dog as part of the family, so I can tell you from experience that playtime with the senior set is a little different from playtime with puppies.
That said, the joy of being a dog is ageless. Dogs love to play, whether they’re 3 or 13 — it’s up to us to adjust the type of play according to our dogs’ comfort levels.
Here are some fun and safe games to keep your senior dog fully engaged and active.
1. Ante Up
For this canine version of 3-card Monte, all you need are 3 empty cups with a couple of holes poked into them (to let scent out) and a dog treat. Place a treat under a cup, slide the rest of the cups around on the floor and then ask your dog, “Where’s the treat?”
This is a great option for dogs who have a hard time moving around. You get to spend time together, engage his interest — and he gets treats.
2. Finders Keepers
This is a thrilling game for older dogs who still remember the glory of the hunt. Hide some treats around your house in cups or easily accessible containers. Tell your dog to “Find it!” and let him sniff around.
Don’t make the treats or toys (or even yourself) too hard to find. Remember, he’s a senior. Try this game with your retired search-and-rescue dog who spent a lot of time doing exactly this type of activity on a more strenuous scale. He’ll love it, and so will you.
Although he’s not a puppy anymore, your dog likely still enjoys tug-of-war. Modify it slightly to accommodate any health issues, such as weakened jaw muscles and lost or loose teeth.
My German shepherd Gypsy used to love this game, even when she was an old lady. I’d get down on the floor and pull out her favorite toy, an old pink octopus. She’d light up, chomp down it and we’d tug away. As she got older, I had to adjust for her infirmities, but she loved this game so much!
The old octopus is still lying under my bed, missing a few legs. I don’t have the heart to get rid of it.
Watch this adorable short film about a young dog who tries everything to get an older dog to play with him:
Even though your dog is a senior, he will still enjoy moving around and playing fetch. Many dogs enjoy fetching a ball or a stick (or an octopus), and fetch allows for exercise to keep him from getting chubby and sassy in his old age.
Watch him closely to make sure he isn’t tiring out or in pain. Try not to throw the ball as far or as hard as you used to do.
“I’ll throw the ball for an older dog to fetch, but I won’t throw it as far, and I’ll do it, say, 5 times instead of 15,” says the author of For the Life of Your Dog. “Then when the dog brings it back to me, I praise her as if it’s the most wonderful thing she’s ever done.”
Some dogs can’t handle this type of exercise because of arthritis or other infirmities. Use your best judgment.
Swimming is fun for dogs of all ages. It’s low-impact and easier on the joints — plus, it’s good exercise. If you’re fortunate enough to have a pool or live near a body of water that allows dogs, give it a try.
Susan McCullough, writing in Senior Dogs for Dummies, says: “Few exercises are better for a senior dog … than swimming. Dog paddling provides an excellent aerobic workout for your senior pooch’s muscles, joints and ligaments without placing undue strain on any or all of those body parts.”
McCullough suggests that smaller breeds don’t even need a pool — “let them take a dip in your own bathtub” with supervision, she says.
Watch your dog closely when he is swimming. Senior dogs tire and get cold more quickly than do younger dogs.
Your Aging Pet Can Still Enjoy Life
Senior dogs love to play as much as their youthful counterparts do. Make adjustments to their exercise and activity routines based on your judgment and their abilities. Check with your veterinarian if you have any questions.
Most of all, get out there and have fun!
- MSPCA: Having Fun With Senior Dogs
- Quick and Dirty Tips: Great Games to Play With Older Dogs
- Raising Healthy Dogs: Playing With Your Senior Dog