Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Games for Older Dogs


Your aging friend is no longer up for the hikes and the active games you always enjoyed together. Now a short walk in the neighborhood is about all she can manage. What can you do to keep her life interesting, both for her sake and yours? Here are some of the ways we’ve enriched our aging companions’ lives without taxing their strength.

Workouts that Work

Dig It
Give your dog a digging spot in the yard. Loosen a patch of soil and bury toys or bones for her to find. Help her get started, then watch her sniff and dig with aged gusto. She’ll be giving her front legs and shoulders a good workout, without the jarring and twisting that can come with running and playing. Take photos of her digging, especially when she finds the bone and has dirt all over her face. You’ll cherish those photos someday as you remember the fun she had.

Water Fun
Swimming can be excellent exercise that’s easy on the joints, so if your dog enjoys it, see if you can find a safe spot to take her for a short swim. We urge you to put a doggy life jacket on her as her memory of what she can do and the reality of it may be quite different. Be aware that her endurance won’t be what it once was, so give her a bit of a break between tosses – if you’re playing fetch – and call a rest time before she’s overly tired. A shallow kiddy pool in the shade can also be nice on hot days for a water-loving dog. If the bottom is slick, stick on some non-slip bathtub strips before filling the pool.

When it’s too hot, cold or icy for an outside walk, take your dog for a walk in the house. Just clip on a leash, grab a few treats and start walking. Adding in a few commands she knows and enjoys (Sit, Wait, Come), then praise, laugh, and reward her when she does them. Be sure you give her enough room at corners and through doorways and give her the time she needs to make turns. This can be a fun time of enjoying your bond and giving your old companion some gentle exercise and special attention. No one says things have to be complicated to be beneficial.

Doggy TV

Feed the Birds
Yes, really. Many dogs enjoy watching birds or squirrels, and if your dog can still see well, set up a bird or squirrel feeder outside a low window or sliding glass door. Give your dog a comfortable bed there, and let her enjoy the activity.

Park It at the Park
On nice days, take your friend to the park and sit on a bench near the playground, if your dog enjoys children. Not too near, unless your dog LOVES children, so you won’t have children running up to her. Enjoy the opportunity to sit quietly with your dog, while she watches the children play. One of the gifts an older pet gives us is the reminder to slow down and enjoy the little moments of life.

Out and About

Sunday Drive
Sunday afternoon drives aren’t just for human retirees. Many dogs love car rides, and taking your dog along can make her day. As long as it’s not too cold or hot, consider inviting your dog if you’re heading out for a drive or for some quick errands. If your dog has trouble getting into and out of the car and is too heavy for you to lift, you might want to consider buying a ramp to make it easier for her.

Social Life
Remember all those socialization outings when your dog was a puppy? Well, she might like going back to some of those same places, and you might like taking your calmer, more mature dog around with you. Pet stores, garden centers, cafes, and more could all be on your list of fun places to go with your dog. Do be careful of places with slippery floors if they are difficult for your dog, but if she enjoys it, an outing together with your steady, older dog can be a sweet time together.

Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks

Old dogs can and often love to learn new tricks, so this can be a good time to teach your older friend some new fun. Now that she is probably more thoughtful than she was in her youth, she may even pick tricks up faster, and besides, she’ll love the special time with you. Some good tricks for an older dog are Bow, Shake, Leave the Treats on the Paws, Wag Your Tail.

We hope these ideas help you enjoy these special days with your aging companion. It is hard to see our dogs’ abilities declining, but there are ways to make these years special for both of you. Keep in mind that your dog doesn’t think with regret about what she can no longer do. She lives in the present, and YOU are the best part of her day. Enjoy today with her!

By Melissa Fischer,

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