4 Ways to Mentally Stimulate Your Senior Dog  | PetFirst
4 Ways to Mentally Stimulate Your Senior Dog 
Pet Care & Health

4 Ways to Mentally Stimulate Your Senior Dog 

by PetFirst Pet Insurance
2 months ago

Canines and humans experience many of the same aging patterns – graying hair, aches, pains and stiffness, sleeping more and slowing down. Thanks to modern technology and specifically Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), we now have scientific proof as to just how similar the canine brain is to our own.

Both humans and pups suffer cortical atrophy (brain shrinkage), but exposing your senior dog to new experiences, scents, sights, and sounds can alter the brains physiology6.   

“Brains of animals that have lived in changing and complex environments actually become larger,” Stanley Coren, professor of canine psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, said. “New connections develop between existing neurons in the cortex as a result of experience. Recent evidence demonstrates that it is even possible to grow new neural cells in important areas of the brain that are associated with learning, memory and the organization of behavior7. 

Forget the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!” It turns out that the key to slowing cognitive decline in your senior dog is to exactly that…teach them new tricks! You can actually make your dog’s brain more efficient by providing experiences!

Keep reading as we discuss 4 ways you can mentally stimulate your senior dog.

Play Games 

Fire those neurons and spend quality time with your senior by exercising your senior dog’s mind.  Just as some humans do the morning crossword or Sudoku puzzle, get your dog using her nose, paws, and mind. Below are a few games you can play with your pup to exercise your senior dog’s mind:

  • Balance: Teach a new trick, such as balancing a dog biscuit on her snout until you say, “okay!”  Then she can eat it!  
  • Cognition Training: Roll out the Red Carpet!  Well, it doesn’t have to be red, but place treats inside a carper runner and roll it up.  Have your dog unroll it with her nose. Push a button or ring the bell!  You can find talking buttons at various websites or hang a bell near the door and train your pooch to ring it when she wants to go for a walk.  
  • Nose or Scent Games8 : Surprisingly exhausting, but without physical exertion, nose games satisfy as most dogs love a good sniff! Think of it as hide ‘n seek with treats or even pieces of cloth that have interesting scents.    
  • Puzzles: The challenge is just finding the right one as so many can be found in the marketplace these days. Since most dogs are motivated by food, the majority are designed to hide treats under sliding, flipping or other types of panels and the dog must seek them out.  You can make your own by placing a dog cookie in one hand and making your dog nudge the right one to get the reward hidden inside!  
  • Taste Test: Let your pooch sample small bits of unusual flavors always off the pet-safe list – but challenge her taste buds to something new9

Adopt a Friend 

Sometimes getting a canine pal can breathe life into an aging dog. The duo will keep each other company, and it just might give your older pal something to do by mentoring a younger pup.  

The newcomer does NOT, and maybe should NOT, be a puppy! Know your dog. Children of any species can be trying to an elder’s patience, so maybe just a few years difference. Regardless, supervise and make sure your senior has a place to get away for a little quiet from time to time.  

Move it or Lose it

Exercise helps well-oxygenated blood flow to tissues and removes toxins from the body.

Activity keeps nutrients like glucose at optimum levels in the brain so that it can function properlyAs in any training or exercise program, pay attention to your dog and note if he or she is enjoying it.  Break the activity into small achievable steps and always end on a positive note.      

  • Do not let your senior dog exercise for long periods of time or under hot or humid conditions. Most dogs wish to please their owner and will risk their own health to do so. 
  • Do not force your senior to exercise. If he looks tired or unwilling, call a time-out. Limping, stiffness, lameness, tenderness in limbs and spinal areas are all reason to seek veterinary advice.  
  • Don’t over-treat during training as older dogs add weight more quickly and lose pounds more slowly due to changes in their metabolism.   

Walk your normal walk in reverse or choose a totally different path.  As you stroll, stop and take your senior through his “sit,” “stay” and “come,” but also toss in something he never learned before. Be patient and keep it fun. If your best pal is having a little trouble keeping up, get him a wagon or stroller, so that he can still sniff and see the sights by your side.  


Talk to your veterinarian about supplements that may improve cognitive function as well as protect your dogs brain.

Vitamins E and C play a big role in protecting both the brain and nervous system from free-radicals. In combination with sufficient exercise, they have been shown to slow the impacts of aging10. Whatever you and your older fella or lady do together, do it together, and remember that variety is the spice of life

By offering new and different challenges, you just may ward off cognitive decline, for you and your senior pet! 

Here at PetFirst1, we know accidents and illnesses can happen to all pets – regardless of age. PetFirst Pet Insurancecan help cover unexpected vet visits2 and can provide peace of mind. PetFirst Pet Insurance1  has cat and dog insurance policies2 to fit every budget. 

Consider getting pet insurance for your furry friend today.

1PetFirst Healthcare, LLC (“PetFirst Pet Insurance” or “PetFirst”) is the program administrator authorized to offer and administer pet health insurance policies underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company, a Delaware insurance company, with its main office at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, or New Hampshire Insurance Company or The Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania, each with its main administrative office at 500 West Madison Street, Suite 3000 Chicago, IL 60661. For costs, complete details of coverage, and a listing of approved states, please contact PetFirst Healthcare, LLC.

2Like most insurance policies, insurance policies offered by PetFirst Healthcare, LLC contain certain exclusions, exceptions, reductions, limitations, and terms for keeping them in force.

6Exercising Your Senior Dog’s Brain

7Exercising Your Senior Dog’s Brain

8“How to Teach Your Dog to Play Nose Games” by Pat Miller, Whole Dog Journal, August 20, 2019. 

9“Can Dogs Eat Pickles?” by Denise Fleck, Crazy Rich Pets

10Exercising Your Senior Dog’s Brain

Denise Fleck is the Pet Safety Crusader™ having personally taught more than 20,000 humans to rescue Rover or help Fluffy feel better.  She has a special spot in her heart for senior dogs, and currently serves as the Board President of The Grey Muzzle Organization.  Learn more about her work at www.PetSafetyCrusader.com  

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