Old dog, new tricks?
November 27, 2012 5:51 PM   Subscribe

What sorts of things should we be considering to keep an older dog amused and happy?

The new addition to our family is a large breed neutered male, aged 10-13 years (not sure; got him second-hand). We are concerned that he doesn't get enough mental stimulation and want to make sure his golden years are as pleasant as possible.

I'm looking for suggestions for techniques, tricks, tips, and products that might help in this regard.

He is dog-agressive, so can't go to off-leash parks or have play dates. He doesn't have any interest in toys and really only gets playful once in a blue moon; the only kind of play is wrestling with humans (no tug of war or anything like that will interest him). He gives up easily on Kong-style toys despite being highly food-motivated.

He usually sleeps most of the day while the family is at work, sleeps through the night, and also sleeps some of the time while everyone is around in the evenings. He's a little overweight from too many table scraps and a very healthy apetite, but doesn't seem to enjoy walks longer than 30 minutes or so (will put the brakes on mid-block). I don't think it's from any kind of physical pain: he seems to be hale and hearty, just mostly lazy.

So, I guess my question is: is this dog actually happy sleeping that often? Should we force a more vigorous exercise regime and hope he learns to like it? Are there any products that we could use during the day to give him something interesting to do, given that he doesn't like toys? Is it a good idea to leave the windows open so he can see the world and bark at things (don't worry, no neighbours) or does that stress a dog out? Are there any tricks I should be teaching (besides the basics already learned -- sit, leave it, stay, lie down, roll over, shake paw) that won't wear out the old joints? Maybe he could be trained to run a vacuum so we're not constantly picking black fur off ourselves?

It's a pretty broad question because we're willing to consider all sorts of suggestions. Just let me know if more detail would be helpful.
posted by Pomo to Pets & Animals (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
We have a 14 year old, much beloved and very lazy dog. Whenever we worry about things like this, we ask ourselves if we would even think of trying to "force a more vigorous exercise regime" on great-grandma. 98 year old grampas sleep a lot too... they've earned it. I can't imagine more pleasant golden years for a dog than lots of sleep in a warm place, regular meals, and lots of affection.
posted by ulotrichous at 6:19 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

maybe you just haven't found the right toy - have you tried taking him into the pet store and just letting him peruse the toy section, to see what catches his attention?
posted by mannequito at 6:24 PM on November 27, 2012

Dogs sleep a lot! It doesn't sound like there's a problem with your dog unless the vet has told you that he needs to lose weight.

Does he like to chew bully sticks? I will give my dog a braided one every once in a while, keeps him busy unravelling and chewing. This is also good for their teeth.

Have you tried peanut butter in the Kong? My dogs will work on a peanut butter kong forever but give up right away on other treats stuffed into a kong.

I use Natural Balance sausage roll treats with puzzle games by Nina Ottoson. The one we have is called Casino.
posted by dottiechang at 6:28 PM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

When I adopted a 13/14-year-old senior girl, I also adopted a Make-This-Old-Lady-Happy mentality. She had no interest in toys or wildlife or doggy meetups. She loved naps next to radiators, naps in sunny spots, naps on the bed, naps on the couch, dinner, and 30-minute walks on sidewalks or soft park lawns (after 30 or 45 minutes or so I would carry her in my bag -- she was tiny). I called her my dog-shaped cat. I doted on her like I dote on my own Granny. And it was fun to care for her and indulge that.

She refused to learn tricks. She refused to look out windows. She actually raised a doggy eyebrow at me once when I tried a Kong on her. Doggy eyebrows are hilarious. She liked only treats and sleep and car rides. And that was OK. The vet always said she was in great shape for an old girl. As long as the dog's healthy, it's OK.

Maybe you just adopted a dog-shaped cat. :)
posted by mochapickle at 6:32 PM on November 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

The joy they get from being out on a simple walk with their people should not be overlooked. If you don't have a big block of time for one long walk (or if he tires quickly due to age) break it up into a few walks each day. My dogs go apeshit when they hear the leash or see me put on sneakers. Speaking of which, it's time for ours now...
posted by cecic at 6:32 PM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: 10-13 for a large breed dog is old. When you're old you're probably not going to be interested in a vigorous exercise routine either. He's going to sleep a lot. Just spending time with him at his speed is awesome. Does he like to be brushed? A couple short walks a day are great. Do you have a good bed for him? Leave the windows open but only if he's not the kind of dog to go through them to chase something outside. And finally, dogs don't always show pain reliably, so if his joints are causing pain he might not show it until it's really bad.

Thank you for taking a big old dog into your home.
posted by crankylex at 6:39 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

At that age, our dog didn't care much for toys or fetch. She loved raw-hide sticks, the thin ones. She couldn't care less about the raw-hide knotted into bones (she didn't like those when she was younger either). She absolutely adored ice!
posted by Neekee at 6:42 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sounds like you're doing everything right (other than not providing a picture for us!). If you haven't had a dog in a while or don't spend time with yours often during the day, you don't realize how much dogs freaking sleep!

My senior Corgi is not into toys but she loves loves loves rawhide bones. Any kind - the big knotted ones or the little sticks. They upset her tummy a little so she can't have them every day but she would eat them all day every day if she could.

Have you tried putting peanut butter in the Kong and freezing it?
posted by radioamy at 6:45 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

If he gives up on Kongs (so does my dog, it's OK - some dogs just do not engage with toys of any kind) have you tried just plain raw meaty bones from your butcher? We get a bunch when we visit our meat market, and freeze them. We dispense one thawed out bone at a time for hours of intense but placid older dog enjoyment.

My dog also enjoys shredding tissues but she's weird.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:56 PM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Senior Doggie! Yay!

Just came to nth that dogs sleep a ton, and if your dog is happy, if lazy, that's okay.

If your dog is home alone all day while you're at work, you might want to hire a dog nanny (neighborhood kid) to come by after school for pets and love.

My sister had the kid across the street stop by every afternoon to play with her chow-mix and to let her out in the backyard. She paid the kid $10 a week, and if she felt like getting a cocktail after work, no problem, as the dog had enjoyed nanny-time and could chill an extra hour or so before Sissy got home.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:37 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just want to chime in and say that my two much much younger dogs (7 months and 4 years) spend a ridiculous amount of time during the day cuddled up on each other sleeping. I think sleeping a lot is just a dog thing in general, not just for old dogs.
posted by MidsizeBlowfish at 3:10 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

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