Just like humans, as dogs age, they benefit from being mentally stimulated. In a recent study, researchers in Vienna taught elderly dogs to play computer games and found that they can help slow down mental deterioration. The scientists used touch-screen tasks on a computer, combined with rewards, to motivate them to perform.
The study compared computer games for elderly dogs to elderly people doing Sudoku puzzles and proposed that this could also be an alternative to more physically demanding activities.
Physical limitations often mean that elderly dogs do not get walked and many spend a great deal of their time sleeping. Inactivity can make joints cease up and the resulting pain and general lack of stimulation can lead to a general sense of apathy.
The researchers are hoping that the computer-game study might kick-start the production of a living-room friendly alternative.
But until then, try some of these simple alternatives:
1. Re-visit some basic commands – Use a puppy training manual and teach some simple commands. Target training is another great way of engaging them too.
2. The prospect of getting a reward helps release feel-good hormones. So make sure you use their favourite treat to motivate them to perform
3. Engage all their senses to stimulate different areas of the brain – For example snuffle mats encourage them to use their sense of smell and touch to find hidden food
4. Ditch the food bowl. Present some of their daily food ration in a Kong or Treat Ball so they have to work at finding it
5. Hydrotherapy can be mentally and physically stimulating for dogs that love water. The buoyancy of the water prevents concussion on the joints and helps build muscle. Make sure you find a pool with qualified hydro-therapists. Also check with your vet beforehand as there are some conditions for which swimming is not appropriate.
Applying these simple activities into an elderly dog's routine will help create positive emotions, slow down mental deterioration and improve quality of life.
Caroline Clark is a consultant in animal behaviour counselling and you can find more information at www.peteducationandtraining.co.uk