How Training Can Help Keep Doggie Dementia at Bay

Many people turn to training when they get a puppy or first adopt a rescue dog or find themselves faced with frustrating behavioral issues. But once the dog has gotten older and mellowed out, regular training often gets put on the back burner or stops entirely.

But there’s one very good reason older dogs need to learn new tricks: To keep doggie dementia at bay.

Just like humans, dogs can and do develop dementia as they age. In fact, Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD), as it’s formally called, affects approximately 50 percent of dogs over the age of 11. By age 15, 68 percent show signs.

Because the symptoms are so subtle and develop over time, even the most devoted pet parents can miss them. It’s often up to a veterinarian or professional trainer to talk with the owners of senior pets and educate them about common signs, which include:

  • Disorientation/confusion
  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Walking into walls or furniture
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Inability to recognize familiar people or pets
  • Forgetting trained behaviors
  • Slow to learn new tasks
  • Lack of self-grooming
  • Change in bathroom habits
  • Loss of appetite
  • Changes in sleep cycle

As with human dementia, there’s no known cure for the condition in dogs. But there are steps pet parents can take to help slow the progression and improve quality of life.

Brain Exercise

Mental stimulation is key to keeping a dog’s mind active and engaged. Puzzle toys, brain games, repeating old tricks and learning new ones are all great options. Private, one-on-one training can help owners understand what their dog is capable of and how to best address their needs.

Physical Exercise

Studies show that regular physical exercise contributes to both mental and emotional wellbeing for both humans and dogs. And research on humans also indicates that exercise is more effective in slowing mental decline when paired with stimulating toys and games. Pet parents should be encouraged to keep their dogs active through walks, training exercises, interactive treat dispensers, and even trying new activities such as gentle, age-appropriate agility.

Staying Social

Dogs are, by nature, social animals and suffer in isolation. So having the opportunity to regularly connect with other dogs and people is another important component to warding off doggie dementia. Private training or training in a class setting, especially those geared toward senior dogs, can fulfill this basic need.

Your turn: Do you have any other tips to help senior dogs stay mentally sharp in their golden years? Tell us in the comments.

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