The saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” is just not true. Senior dogs are capable of learning basic commands and even new tricks. In fact, physical and mental stimulation can help keep your senior dog sharper and healthier for longer. Whether you’ve adopted an untrained dog or you’re just looking for a new idea for playtime, try these tricks and games to play with your older dog.
As your dog gets older, you may notice a decline in physical activity or cognitive function. While it varies depending on the dog’s breed and size, most dogs are considered seniors once they reach the last third of their expected lifespan. You can help your dog maintain a high quality of life by keeping them active, both physically and mentally, in their later years. Teaching your old dog new tricks and games is a great way to do this, and it’s also a great way to bond with your furry friend.
Note: Consult with your veterinarian before attempting to teach your older dog tricks that involve physical activity. This could aggravate physical ailments such as arthritis or joint issues.
Perhaps you’ve adopted an older dog who has never been taught training commands. These basics are a great place to start and fairly simple to teach. Using small treats, motion for your dog to perform the command you’re speaking, such as “come,” “stay” or “sit.” When your dog performs the command, give verbal or physical praise before rewarding your dog with a treat. This will help your dog learn to work for praise rather than food.
Once your dog has learned basic commands, you can move on to more advanced tricks, such as “roll over.” To teach your dog this command, start by sitting or kneeling in front of your dog and asking your dog to sit. Hold a treat close to your dog’s nose with your palm facing up. Move your arm over and around your dog’s head as you turn your palm face down. Your dog’s head should follow the treat in your hand and they may roll on to their side as their nose turns toward their shoulder. Reward your dog with praise then a treat. Repeat this move, but don’t stop your hand once you pass your dog’s head, keep it moving all the way in a circle so your dog has to flip over to its other side in order to keep following the treat.
Reward this new accomplishment with praise and a treat. Once your dog gets the motion down a few times, add the verbal command, “Roll over!” Continue practicing, speeding up the process as your dog becomes more accustomed to the movement. With some practice and patience, eventually your dog will learn perform the trick at your command.
“Shell Game” for Dogs
If you want to get a little creative during playtime with your older dog, try playing a version of the “shell game.” This simple game will entertain your dog, allowing them to flex their cognitive muscles without being physically strenuous. You’ll need a handful of treats and three empty, clean yogurt containers or plastic cups.
Sit on the floor facing your dog and place a treat under one of the cups, giving your dog the signal to stay. After a moment, give your dog the ok to go after the treat. Repeat this a few times until your dog learns to recover the treat from under the cup.
Next put out the additional cups, still placing the treat under just one. Mix the cups around while your dog stays. Once you give your dog the ok to recover the treat, they’ll have to find the correct cup. Your dog may find the correct cup right away, sniff around each one to find the treat, or simply knock them all over. Regardless, this fun game to play with your dog will pass the time while you bond with each other and can help keep your dog mentally sharp.
Training Tips for Older Dogs
Remember, as with any dog, patience is key when training older dogs. You should also focus on teaching your senior dog one or two tricks at a time. It’s easy for an older dog to become overwhelmed when trying to learn too many new things at once (just like it can be for us humans).
Senior dogs may have a more difficult time staying focused than younger dogs, and might take more time to learn commands and tricks. You might have to make training sessions shorter or less frequent if you find your dog is having difficulties. Look for signs of exhaustion such as yawning, drooping ears or excessive lip licking. Sometimes it’s ok to end the lesson early and spend more time loving on your furry friend. After all, love and care is what they need most during their golden years.
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