Many of the games we play with our dogs are for the young. Why not? They need plenty to occupy them.
But there are things we do that can be entertaining and sustaining even when your dog gets old. Even when they can’t hear well, or move quickly or see keenly. These games serve as early puppy-hood games and as late-in-life entertainment.
The advantage of introducing them in early life, means that in later life they will be remembered and enjoyed.
I have a very elderly shepherd (15-year-old) who is having trouble with rear-end weakness, which also impacts his balance. He doesn’t hear very well, and his vision is less than what it was. Just writing this makes me cry. He is such a lovely fellow, but we are on our last months, I fear…and, also hope he has a good end.
“Not the least hard thing to bear when they go from us, these quiet friends, is that they carry away with them so many years of our own lives.” – John Galsworthy
The snow is still deep, here in northern Wisconsin. Yesterday (Mar. 3rd, 2018) he got mired in a deep drift. In the morning, the snow surface is frozen and walk-on-able, by midday it is soft. He used to be able to bound through everything (see photo below). Now on a solid, flat surface he’s still reasonably fast, bunny hopping with those previously powerful rear legs, but soft belly deep snow is not good, he doesn’t have rear power any more.
However, looking dismayed, he dragged himself out of it and onto the hard-packed trail before I could get there to help him. And that’s partially what continued games and successful interactions do; they reduce the lassitude and depression of aging. He’s still a gung-ho, I can do it myself, fellow. And I need to celebrate the time we have, not despair over a future that will be.
“Be here now. Be someplace else later.” – David Bader
What kinds of games? Those that need less agility, hearing, sight and speed. Those that use scent, larger hand signals and are done on more even, stable footing.
*Hand targeting – empty hand, palm open, elbow bent, drop hand to your side with palm facing the dog. Goal is to have them put their nose into your palm with a solid touch. This is a hand signal only cue (no verbal). Then to reward, cup that palm and drop a treat into it …this magnifies the significance of nose touching the empty palm. If they don’t see the cue, raise palm and re-signal.
*Target – use other item – ball on retractable stick, cylinder tin weighted to be pushed with nose, Kong wobbler which releases food when pushed with nose, post-it note on open door/cabinet to be pushed with nose or other food puzzle.
*Scavenging – toss food/kibble, either one at a time or by the handful to be ‘searched’ for. This game is particularly enjoyable for dogs of all ages. Larger pieces work better. This game works inside and outside.
*Search/Find it – more formal, sit/stand/or down wait and then lay track and place article or food and release dog to find it.
*Grooming – if your dog likes brushing, and mine does … this is a good thing to do with them. The key is to not do it for too long as it’s the process, not the final ‘all brushed,’ that’s the goal.
*Obedience cues – depending on whether your dog liked/enjoyed training, any cues that they previously knew may thrill them to do. Max likes and can still do: spin and twirl, retrieving, paw, perches (suitably low and stable), catch and crate games.
Even though watching an old friend decline is hard, there is still fun to be had.
Max – delighted with the scavenging game this morning, always competitive, he likes spotting kibble that younger eyes, noses and feet didn’t. And I’ve got some broccoli in the fridge, just for him … yes, his favorite vegetable. He is such a cool guy.
What have you done with your old dog to keep them and you enjoying life?
Want to start enjoyable, reward-based training and teach some of the games above to your own dog? Contact me to schedule or join one of my classes.