This blog comes three-fold: One part based on a client interaction; One part based on a Facebook live video I watched, and; One part based on a blog I recently read. Well, messages in 3’s should always be listened to! That’s why today’s blog topic is about keeping old dogs active. Let’s dive in!
As our senior dogs begin to age, they also tend to sleep more and have less stamina on walks or outing. It’s easy to just fall in the habit of letting that happen. Letting them sleep more. Avoiding the walk altogether. Taking the young dog but leaving the old guy at home. As with people, we know that if you don’t use it, you lose it! That goes for minds and bodies alike. So, as rehab professionals, we can benefit our senior canine patients by being able to provide some simple advice that can go a long way towards maintaining health in our patients.
1) Engage their nose! A dog’s sense of smell remains intact into their older year. This is a good thing, because it is a major tool in which a dog can engage in and learn from their environment. One thing that I’ve heard from multiple sources is to provide dogs with things to sniff and investigate.
a. On walks, let them sniff. Let them take as long as they want. Perhaps even take them to new places to sniff, or along routes that are ‘full of good smells’.
b. Set up some smell zones for them. This one was from the FB live video. Go to a second-hand store and buy the nastiest pair of shoes and a well-worn pair of pants or shorts. Throw them out in your yard for your dog to find and sniff. If you have friends with old dogs, creating a ‘stinky clothing swap’ so that your dog can smell new ‘treasures’ every week!
c. We had a very old doggie patient that was wheelchair bound. Her owner would come to her appointments 30 minutes early to allow her dog to sniff our toy bin and dirty laundry hamper. She once remarked that she would love to book our exercise room for half an hour just to allow her dog to wander around and sniff it! (Well, there’s an idea as well!)
d. If the dog is still fairly active and mobile, why not encourage the owner to look into Nose-work / Scent-work) classes (identification of certain smells), Tracking (following a scent track), or even ‘Barn-hunt’ (finding a rodent – safely encased in a protective tube) within a maze of hay bales.
e. Play hide and seek (with treats, toys, or yourself) in the house. Use a snuffle mat for feeding. Throw kibble out in the yard. Create a trail of treats. Use multiple feeding stations, each containing a small portion of the dog’s food.
2) Take them out! As mentioned above, going out to sniff is great for the mind, and it keeps the dog active. However, when dog’s bodies start to get weaker or sore, they might not be able to go the same distance. In this instance, I’ve suggested that owners look into getting a wagon for their dog. It might be that the dog starts on the walk, then goes in the wagon for the remainder, getting out at certain spots to sniff or meet and greet. One past client used a cart attachment for his bicycle (like one you would put kids into), in order to take his dog to favourite spots. That dog loved to go for rides to the ice cream store to meet people and get a mini cone, and then go to the park. I have another client that has thanked me profusely for suggesting this solution, because his dog can now go on long hikes with him and the rest of the household pack. If a dog has significant mobility limitations, then a wheelchair can be a liberating option! We carry a wide variety of carts that have been donated to my clinic so that owners can see the carts, test them out, perhaps rent them for a short time to see how their dog might like one. The gift of mobility is just that, a gift. Often an owner that is otherwise opposed to the suggestion will warm up to the idea when they see how happy their dog is to be able to move again.
3) Puzzles and Tricks! You CAN teach and old dog a new trick! On this front, there are many games that are now available for dogs to work through to get a wee treat – figuring out which item to slide, push, nudge, etc. in order to get a food reward. Honestly, you can create these things yourself with some imagination and an old muffin tin for example. Simply making the suggestion might get the owners creative juices flowing! As well, there are a number of books or online resources that an owner can find in order to teach their dogs some simple tricks… and it’s never too late to work on some basic obedience!
4) Just spend some time with them! This sounds too simple, but it bears saying. Dogs enjoy spending time with their owners. So, maybe advise that owners just spend some extra time, petting, playing a backyard game of short distance fetch, giving tummy rubs, grooming, or massaging them. I really think that some of the benefit of coming to physio / rehab is the interaction piece as well. I’m ‘Auntie Laurie’ to all of my patients. I have a relationship with them. Most dogs love coming to the clinic because of the interactions with any / all of their ‘Aunties’. That’s therapeutic as well. However, if engaging in a regimen of rehab is not financially do-able then perhaps the owner can bring the dog along to friends’ houses, or have friends come over to visit, or see if any neighbour kids would like to come and visit with your dog.
Well, that’s it off the top of my head! I’m sure there are plenty more suggestion, but sometimes just getting the ball rolling is enough to empower an owner to help keep their senior dog a little bit more active and healthy as they age!
Until next time…