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10 Ways to Keep Your Senior Dog Mentally Sharp

It’s good for all of us to stay physically active and to continue socializing and learning as we grow older. To keep using our bodies and our brains.

I have an 11-year-old black Lab mix who still seems mentally sharp but physically he’s slow and stiff.

I take him on short, slow walks (15 mins) to keep his body as loose as I can, but in this post I want to write about keeping our senior dogs THINKING. Working their minds!

If you have a senior dog, or a younger dog for that matter, let me know what other ideas you have in the comments.

It’s not complicated, but here are some ideas:

How to keep your senior dog mentally sharp

How to keep your senior dog mentally sharp

1. Continue with short walks.

Get out and sniff! My dog doesn’t move very fast but he loves to stroll around the grass sniffing every bush, tree and corner. Even if we’re just standing around for the majority of our walk, he’s still out and about vs. napping on his bed.

2. Give your dog different types of puzzle toys.

I often write about how puzzle toys are great for high-energy, young dogs. But they’re helpful for senior dogs as well.

I notice that my senior dog gives up on puzzles a lot easier than my young dog so the key for him is to use extra yummy treats in the toy or to choose puzzles that are fairly easy. Every dog is different though.

We like the Kong Wobbler for both our dogs, which you can fill with dry food or treats.

I also recommend the Nina Ottosson puzzles for dogs.

3. Socialize your dog if he enjoys other dogs.

My senior dog absolutely loves seeing other dogs and also people. It’s like he’s even more social now that he’s older. We took him to a family reunion over the 4th of July and he was so happy just being in the group!

If your senior dog enjoys being around other dogs or people, consider taking him to the dog park (maybe during quieter hours), strolling through a store like Petco or setting up a “playdate” with a friend’s compatible dog. They don’t have to actually “play.” I know Ace just enjoys being in the presence of other dogs vs. playing.

4. Visit new places.

You can get really creative with this or you can do something as simple as drive to a neighborhood you normally don’t walk in and go for a short stroll. With Ace, I like to drive to different parks and then get out and walk for 15 or 20 minutes. If there are benches or picnic tables, we’ll sit down and take a break. You could also visit dog friendly stores like Petco or the Home Depot.

5. Take a dog training class.

If your senior dog has the energy, sign up for an obedience class, nosework class or trick class. It’s OK if he needs to take a break partway through or if you have to just watch the second half.

I recommend emailing or calling the instructor and asking what he or she would recommend based on your dog’s experience and energy. For Ace, an advanced beginner class would work just fine.

6. New toys!

Surprise your senior dog with a new toy! Perhaps a stuffed squeaky toy or some sort of treat-dispensing toy. Then engage with him for a few minutes. My senior dog still loves to play with balls and stuffed toys as well as tug toys but he doesn’t play unless I get on my hands and knees and play as well!

Ace and his toys from Mighty Paw

Which brings me to …

7. Play with your senior dog!

Sometimes dog owners forget to play with their seniors! Ace and I play almost every day for at least a few seconds. I try to get him to chase me for even a few seconds or I’ll roll his tennis ball down the hall or I’ll just do my version of a “play bow” to get him to wag his tail.

A post shared by Lindsay Stordahl (@thatmuttcom) on

We joke around a lot, Ace and I. For example, if a large Amazon box arrives I’ll get in the box in hide and Ace thinks it’s great fun to bite and paw at the box. We are silly.

8. Go for a car ride.

Most dogs love a good field trip, even if it’s somewhere as ordinary as the bank drive thru. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just involve your dog when you have the time.

9. Play “find it.”

Hide treats or dog food around the room or out in the grass. Ask your dog to “wait” or “stay” and then say “Find it!” and encourage him to search for the food. It does not take long to catch on. Ace loves this game. He also loves searching for a tennis ball or searching for ME if I’m holding a food reward like deli meat!

See our post: How to play find it

10. Take your dog to a coffee shop, brewery or patio that allows dogs.

Ace visiting San Diego Beerworks

Here in San Diego, dogs are welcome pretty much everywhere so we have tons of options right in our own neighborhood. But, seems like most Starbucks locations have an outdoor seating area and as long as your dog is behaved, no one should mind. Same with the outdoor seating areas of fast food restaurants, especially if it’s not busy. My dogs have sat outside at many Subway restaurants across the country!

So those are my 10 ideas. I’m sure there are many other ideas, and I’d like to hear your suggestions in the comments.


P.S. Please consider supporting That Mutt on Patreon. You can contribute any dollar amount on a monthly basis and I’ve also set up several monthly “rewards” levels. Check them out HERE.

Ana @ HappyJRT

Thursday 10th of August 2017

Great article! Ace seems like a very lucky pensioner.


Tuesday 25th of July 2017

Some training clubs offer senior dog enrichment, and those sound like a lot of fun. They're designed to help keep the dogs' minds sharp and for owners to do something enjoyable with their dogs that might gradually replace some of the vigorous exercise the dogs were able to do when young but no longer. (Not trying to imply that physical exercise doesn't remain important, because it does!) Heck, the games sound like fun to me, and my dog is young!

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 25th of July 2017

I like that idea!

Barbara Rivers

Sunday 23rd of July 2017

I now have a visual of Ace finding you in a box and can't help but grin from one ear to the other ;-) I use a lot of boxes with Buzz because he loves to open them and is great at shredding them, but I've never considered getting in one to have the pups find me there. Next time I'll order something large enough, I'll totally do that!!

Shannon Adams

Thursday 20th of July 2017

I have a senior dog currently and she really benefits from these things. She loves puzzle toys and walking. She's still a very strong walker. Love the seniors. <3

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 20th of July 2017

Awww. Your dogs seem so sweet from what I've seen on Instagram!

Sandy Weinstein

Sunday 16th of July 2017

i wish that was all that was wrong with my little gal, she also has dementia. i still try to get her to exercise some and i will massage her and work her legs, etc. she also has terminal cancer, which the blood work has not been good lately. she is on her 4th type of chemo. i know the time is coming soon, but as long as she is not in any pain, will still show life, run, walk, etc. i will do everything in my power to keep her safe and with me. almost 16 yrs is not enough. it takes work, i have baby food all over my walls, floors, and me. i try to get her to do things, and every now and then i see a spark where she will recognize the balls she loved to play with.

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 17th of July 2017

I'm so sorry your older dog has dementia and cancer. I hope she's having a good day today.