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Changes In Dog Play Behaviour As They Age: How To Help Older Dogs Play

Watching dogs play is heartwarming.  Seeing your pooch chasing a ball or frisbee, playing tug-of-war with a rope or chasing and playing with other dogs is a sight for sore eyes - but the importance of continuing playtime with your dog when they get older cannot be underestimated.

Not only is it good exercise, play provides mental, physical and social benefits for dogs.  It’s a great way to release any tension they may have and will enforce the bond between you.

If dogs don’t get regular exercise, they could become anxious or frustrated, their physical and mental condition could deteriorate and they may get destructive at home out of boredom.

Always keep your dog’s health front of mind as the years pass.  However, like humans, all dogs are individuals and some dogs can still be very lively as they grow older, whereas others may be prone to signs of old age earlier.  Energy levels might reduce,  theirs eyesight might deteriorate and they may suffer some hearing loss.  You may even see signs of muscle weakness or joint pain.


We are used to playing with puppies and helping them to understand their new environment through training and constructive play.  But we also need to be aware that a dog’s behavior changes as they get older, and although you should continue to exercise and play with them, you will need to adjust the form of play accordingly in order to keep your best friend mentally and physically stimulated.

How to help senior dogs play

If you have played with your pooch since they were a puppy, it will continue to be something they enjoy as they get older, but you may need to adapt playtime games to make them more gentle but just as stimulating.  Two important things to keep in mind:

  • Physical and mental stimulation are just as important for more senior pooches
  • Exercise must be gentle and regular

Continue to walk your dog regularly, but consider taking them for more frequent, shorter walks instead of a long, strenuous walk.  

You may find that if their eyesight or hearing is impaired, you need to keep them on a long leash so that they don’t wander off and cannot hear you recall them.  Keeping them on a leash will also help you control their interaction with other younger dogs who want to play chase.  It’s worth bearing in mind that older dogs may have sore spots that they want to protect, or get tired quicker than younger playmates, and can show signs that they want some space such as growling at other dogs.

Games for senior dogs

  1. What dog doesn’t like a treat!  Dogs like to sniff things out and although their sense of smell may also deteriorate as they age, try hiding treats around the house and garden for them to sniff out.  If their eyesight is impaired, make sure there are not too many obstacles in their way, and put the treats in obvious places.

    Remember that giving too many treats might not be a good idea, as being overweight can put extra pressure on their joints, so swap some treats with some of their kibble - they will be just as pleased when they make the find!

  2. Just as puzzle feeder toys are a good way of keeping your puppy stimulated, they will continue to help your senior dog stay mentally stimulated, and also help keep their teeth and jaws exercised.  

    Some Kong toys can be used when they are younger too;  throwing a bouncy Kong for your pooch to chase and catch is great exercise both mentally and physically, but when they get older, just rolling the Kong across the floor or garden will give the same excitement but less stress on their body.Games for senior dogs
  3. Playing Fetch can still be a great game for senior dogs - modified of course to take their age into account.  Instead of throwing a ball or frisbee a long way for them to chase and find, try rolling it along the ground and encourage your pooch to fetch it back to you.  They will still get the satisfaction of catching the ball/frisbee and enjoy the praise and fuss when they bring it back to you, and it will be gentle exercise.
  4. Just as for humans, swimming is a great gentle exercise for senior dogs, as it has low impact on joints.  If you are able to swim alongside them in the water that is great, but only do this if you are confident that your dog will not panic and try to jump on you in the water.

    If your pooch likes the water, consider allowing them to swim in a shallow lake or river, but on a long leash so that you can pull them to safety if required.  Chasing a floating ball in the water can provide excellent low impact exercise.
  5. Even if you’ve never tried agility games when your dog was younger, a modified agility course with low obstacles could provide both mental and light physical exercise for your pooch.

    Lead them through the course using a treat in your hand and reward and praise them when they get to the end.  If necessary, make the course shorter and easier if you feel your dog is struggling.  

Never force your dog to play games.  Be aware of their energy levels, or any medical issues they may have, and only play games that your dog enjoys and is capable of playing both mentally and physically.

If your senior dog shows no interest in playing or stops wanting to play their favorite game, get them checked out by a vet for any underlying medical issues that you may not be aware of, such as sight deterioration, hearing changes, joint pain or sore teeth and gums.

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