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Have you ever wondered how to keep your old dog young at heart? How can we ensure they stay active and joyful?Why is engagement in senior dogs important?
In a recent conversation with Oliver Kadlcek, the founder of GEE HAW Dog Training, we gained valuable insights and heard heartwarming stories that enhance the engagement of senior dogs.
Why is engagement in senior dogs important?
Engagement in senior dogs is crucial for their overall well-being. Through gentle training, we provide continuous mental stimulation, preserving their cognitive sharpness. These sessions not only offer a positive outlet, preventing boredom and contributing to emotional health but also strengthen the bond between the senior dog and their owner.
A dog's past lifestyle, whether one of activity or leisure, significantly influences the training landscape. When it comes to engaging with your older dog, tailored training offers a gentle and enjoyable form of physical exercise, taking into account your dog's age and health. This not only helps address ingrained habits and behavioral issues but to contribute to an improved quality of life.
We are training to keep the dog sharp, but not for competition. All training needs to be adapted to breed specifics and to the age of the dog."
Equally important is educating dog owners on essential handling skills and promptly reinforcing desired behaviors. Training at its core involves cueing behaviors that senior dogs are already familiar with, making it an enjoyable activity. Here are practice methods you can employ to boost engagement with your senior dog:
1.Walks and Explore:
Daily walks are important for senior dogs, providing exercise, fresh air, and mental stimulation that contribute to their overall well-being. Exploring different routes adds novelty, keeping their lives exciting and stimulating their sensory faculties. If the dog's joint condition allows, a beach trip during low tide can serve as obstacle training by navigating around rocks to maintain agility.
In cases where a dog is hard of hearing, Oliver suggests waiting for the dog to look back at the owner and then visually signaling for recall. Shouting is discouraged, as dogs naturally look back before wandering off. The recommendation is to turn around and walk away, prompting the dog to follow, mimicking their natural off-leash behavior. This exercise is similar to lead walking, whether training a young or senior dog.
We want to find out the motivation of the dog, and the owner should be the motivation. We don't need to force them."
The method involves walking away from the dog, gradually shortening the lead, and using food as an incentive. This captures the dog's interest, providing them with choices. Even if the dog strays off or sniffs around, reinforcement is applied as long as the dog stays engaged. This approach applies universally, including instances where dogs roll in something. Let them do so, but reinforce their engagement.
For a senior dog, the goal is to have them walk beside you in a heel position. If they're walking a meter away, that's great. Offering a treat and encouraging them to come closer reinforces their positive behavior, allowing them to make choices.
Oliver also shared an inspiring example of Allyo from the Carlow Dog Training Club. Allyo, a twelve-year-old Staffordshire Cross, achieved the Silver level in CGC Award despite being partially deaf. Her recall training placed emphasis on visual cues, adapting to her hearing impairment. This serves as a testament to the flexibility of training methods tailored to the unique needs of senior dogs.
2.Interactive Toys and Scent Games:
Creating a mentally stimulating and engaging experience for your dog can be both enjoyable and rewarding. One effective approach involves incorporating interactive feeding methods or scent games.
This can be done both indoors and outdoors. Outdoors, you can scatter food in the yard, and indoors, you can hide it. This joyful scatter food game taps into your dog's innate instinct to forage, keeping them mentally active. By hiding your dog's food and encouraging them to search for it, you stimulate their sense of smell, providing a mentally enriching experience. Since dogs often pick up on routines and habits, introducing these new activities adds an element of surprise, keeping their minds sharp.
Keep life interesting for your dog. Continue bringing them out to the pet shop. Let the dog pick their own toy."
Consider introducing innovative toys or feeders, such as those with buttons that record messages. By associating the button with feeding time and allowing your dog to accidentally press it, you create a fun and interactive feeding routine. Patience is crucial as your dog learns the connection between pressing the button and receiving food. This method not only adds a playful element to their day but also encourages cognitive engagement.
During mealtime, actively engage with your dog, play with them, and introduce activities that capture their interest. Reinforce positive behavior through patience and repetition, allowing your dog to learn at their own pace.Through these activities, it will not only promote cognitive development in dogs but also deepen the emotional bond between you and your dog.
They learn by the consequence. They do something and something happens afterward. If it's a good thing for them, they are more likely to do it again."
Participating in social activities, whether with other dogs or spending quality time with people, is beneficial for senior dogs as it helps them maintain their social skills and emotional connections.
One of the social connections can be foster a positive relationship with the veterinarian by making regular visits to the clinic and becoming familiar with the veterinary team. Building this friendship ensures that when senior dogs need medical attention, they can approach it with a calm demeanor, reducing anxiety and fear.
Stay young at heart! Stay young! Don't have an old age pension attitude."
Oliver also shared how he keeps his nine-year-old Husky, Max, active and happy. Whether responding to sled dog commands during off-leash moments or choosing toys at the pet shop, his dog surprises Oliver with continued engagement, evolving habits, and ongoing joy. Even at 9 years old, his dog proudly achieved the CGC Bronze level, proving that age doesn't define the vibrancy of our senior canine pals.
As dogs age, our role as dog owners evolves into becoming companions in different ways, emphasizing the importance of cherishing each moment. His advice underscores the significance of creating a vibrant environment, encouraging a positive mindset, engaging in outdoor activities, and maximizing the unique sensory advantages of senior dogs, especially their powerful sense of smell.
By combining appropriate physical activities, intellectual stimulation, and social interactions, dog owners can ensure that their senior companions continue to lead active lives during their golden years.