Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

Everyone loves a greying snoot!

One of my dogs is Tizzy a.k.a. Fatty Boomboom, a Parsons Russell Terrier, she’s known as the ‘queen’ in the household and all the rest of The Rat Pack know not to mess with her.  She is also happy to have a good old rough and tumble with them and often initiates play sessions.  She has one true love, in her squeaky ball.  Overall, Tizzy is a bad ass.  Tizzy is also getting on in her years.  That doesn’t stop her from enjoying walks with the pack or going out Mantrailing in all sorts of places.  I often get comments from people about how she doesn’t look her 14 going on 15 years and how astonished they are about all the things we do with her.

Life’s sweet when you’re a Rat Dog.

And it got me thinking, do people just let their older dogs go out to pasture?  I know Tizzy’s not happy to be put out to pasture.  Yes, she sleeps a lot, as older dogs will, yes she is a little incontinent in her sleep, but medication is managing that.  Tizzy is loving life, is fit and mentally ‘with it’.  I attribute that to maintaining an active lifestyle for her.  How many times have I heard the phrase ‘use it or loose it’ referenced for keeping the human mind sharp and your body trim?  The same can be said for dogs.

Still loving life!

I wonder if by allowing an older dog to just be left to sleep and mooch about the house, we do more harm than good.  Leaving a dog to while the way the hours and not engage them with life and enrichment, gives them nothing to look forward to, to invigorate them, to want to keep going.  I’m not saying to run your older dog ragged, you do need to slow them down gradually as their body allows.  Tizzy was hiking up mountains a few years ago, I won’t take her hiking now as she’s starting to stiffen up.  But instead, I have found other ways to exercise and stimulate her mind.  I’ve created a list of suggestions of things that I do with Tizzy and you can do too:

  • Mantrailing is great for her, it’s a gentle physical workout but a great exercise for the mind with all that sniffing and problem solving,  She didn’t even start this sport until she was 13, and took to it like a duck to water.  She gets a couple walks a week with the rats for an hour plus, then has rest days and shorter walks for the rest of the week.
  • In fact, nosework in general is perfect for the older dog.  Any dog really, but we are here for the oldies today.  The dog sees the world as a cornucopia of smell so engaging that important sense is highly rewarding for them.  It gets that grey matter working hard.  Either take up a Scentwork class, or simply sprinkle their dinner into the grass and have them forage for it.  There are so many games and activities you can do to engage that snooter and as a result, have a mentally sharp older dog.
  • Vary the walks, go somewhere different and let your dog experience the new sights and smells and things going on.  They don’t have to be long walks, but if you think your dog’s fitness has slipped a bit then build them up very slowly and watch for joint issues.
  • Go to places where your dog can do lots of swimming.  Swimming is a great low impact exercise to keep your dog fit and their joints healthy.  Tizzy is a odd terrier in that she loves to swim.  I throw her ball for her and she gets the joy of chasing the ball without the harsh impact of it getting thrown on a grass surface.
  • Play with your dog.  Just because they are older now doesn’t mean they don’t love a good old rough house with you.  I play some gentle tuggy with Tizzy, she also loves ‘attacking’ my hand when I scratch under her chin and massage the folds of her neck.  She likes to run off and come back for a bottom ‘spank’, then run off and so on and so forth.
  • I do proprioception with her with some doggy parkour.  Using things around me to gently work and stretch her muscles while out on a walk.  It’s like a relaxed yoga, just to keep the flexibility in her muscles and maintain suppleness so she doesn’t stiffen up.
  • You CAN teach an old dog new tricks.  Do some nice short training sessions with your older dog.  Age is just a number and just because they are ‘x’ amount of years, doesn’t mean they can’t learn new tricks.

I hope this blog has given those of you who aren’t too sure how to keep their older pooch engaged and fit, some ideas to implement.  No matter what you do, keep your older dog’s brain switched on and they can live a much more enriching and fulfilling ‘retirement’.  If taking the time to do a bit more means a couple more happy years, I’m all for it.

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