Suus: The Rescued Dachshund Who Found Her True Home

Guest post by Nadia Hermans from Belgium in which she tells the story of her dachshund Suus, a former mill dog who is doing great at the age of 17. When I saw Nadia’s photo of Suus in her custom stroller, I had to know more! Nadia kindly shared Suus’ story–Eileen Anderson

wire haired dachshund in the woods in Belgium

How Suzanne (aka Suus) Came To Us

When our dachshund Didi died ( adopted from a nice woman who couldn’t take care for her anymore due to ALS disease), due to liver failure some four years ago – she was only 7 years old but she had a great life. She had Cushing’s Disease and the tumor was located in the adrenal glands and in this case dogs who have the disease live less longer,  We knew, as fond as we both were about this breed (my wife and I)–we knew we would adopt another dachshund, no matter how old but definitely adopting.

Since we had adopted our Lili, an ex-Spanish street dog, we knew that we would never buy a dog again, there were so many dogs waiting in shelters for a new home. ( Lili passed away about 5 weeks ago due to a mast cell tumor which was inoperable, she was 16 and also a great dog.) We looked on shelter pages on the internet and found on the general internet a strange advertisement, 4 dogs for sale and one of them was a dachshund, for only 100 euros [about $117 American dollars]. The price was strange for a dog of only 6 years old and we were suspicious. My wife phoned the owner and when we got the address we knew it was a former big puppy farm on the other side of our little country.

We went to see her 2 days later and when the owner, a too friendly lady (we later called her Cruella De Ville) showed her to us we were internally angry and very astonished. She was completely unattended, her fur looked long and filthy but from the first time we looked into those gentle eyes we knew that she was going home with us. We went for a little walk so we could take a closer look at this poor girl who looked much older than 6. She was so gentle, so shy but not really fearful for a mill dog but rather submissive and you could see she liked our gentle voices and pushed us to pet her. The love of the whole world was in those eyes and we were in love.

She Needed Our Help

I saw a little bald place on her back and a hump on one of her breasts and she had a terrible smell coming from her mouth and what we could see of her teeth—they were infected and brown. We didn’t discuss this with the owner; we paid 50 euro ’cause she gave a 50 euro discount for the vet and a European passport and we went home. In the worst case scenario, she would have Cushing’s, and a lot of teeth would have to be pulled. But no matter what she was our girl now and she was safe. At home, 3 dogs were waiting for us, Lili, Jitse a mixed breed, and Bela-Bartok,  a Cairn terrier female ( She passed away due to heart failure two years ago and was nearly 17.)

Because we both were for years volunteers in different dog shelters we had met and cared for a lot of ex-mill dogs and knew what we could expect, thinking about non socialization, not being used to live in a house, not used to live with other dogs and cats not to mention the severe behavior problems that could occur. We knew we were taking a risk taking her home.

On our way home I phoned our vet Lieselot to tell her we were on our way home with a dachshund and to make an appointment as soon as possible. We could go the next day. We named her Suzanne, which became Suus and when we got home the meet and greet with the other dogs went very well, she sniffed at them and vice versa and then we gave her a bath. Later on she fell asleep for the first time in a warm basket in her first house covered by a warm fleece. We adored her from the first minute. She got a complete medical checkup by our vet and her rotten teeth were pulled out first… The hump was a breast tumor so she had two more major operations to remove all her nipples and was sterilized at the same time… Her bloodwork showed that she was positive for Cushing’s disease and soon we started with Vetoryl. She recovered very well from surgery twice. She also had a heart murmur and got medication for that too.

Suus surprised us having no severe behavior problems such as being fearful or aggressive but acted quite happy in her all new environment and she followed us all around the house and bit by bit she got very fond of walking around in the garden. The other dogs accepted her and Bela-Bartok became her special friend; they slept together on our bed. We taught Suus to walk on a leash and taught her the most important skill ‘the recall’ and she did well. So she could run free too without a leash. Due to the heart murmur, we could only do small walks in the beginning but after some time she could come for an hour or more.

Our Bond

There was a bond from the moment we saw her. We took her home because we wanted to give her a life no matter how old she was. We never think about losing them, a senior when we adopt one, no, we think about what we can give them no matter how long their life will be. We knew that mill dogs didn’t have a life and although our Suus wasn’t completely unsocialized she knew not much more than her kennel and its environment. She is so gentle, so friendly and likes her treats, her raw meat food and she likes to puzzle or search for treats in her Snuffle Mat or in the woods or our yard. Her hunting dog instincts were still there and she tried to catch a rabbit now and then but wasn’t fast enough.

Additional Health Problems

One day in the morning I think about two years ago there was something terribly wrong with her. She fell over, head tilt, no balance anymore and so tired… but she wanted still to eat so I hand-fed her and after that, she fell asleep. Our vet told us after she examined her that it was the old dog vestibular syndrome—we had never heard about it. The only thing that mattered was “is it treatable?”. It wasn’t but normally it resolves itself after a week or longer. Two weeks later she was better, everything was ok again. Months later she had it for the second time but it resolved itself again after a week but a slight head tilt stayed and also a little loss of coordination.

But Suus kept going like she has always done, no matter what comes on her path she wants to go on and she does: our hero. It’s like she embraces life. She couldn’t join us on our long walks and walking her alone was no option, she wanted to be with her friends. She rushed almost falling to the car port to go with the gang and even tried to jump into the car which was impossible but she jumped anyway so I had to catch her. So there was the thought of designing another stroller. I had designed one for our Bela-Bartok when she got too old to do long walks so the idea was not new. The one from Bela was ruined completely after walking the woods, the Ardennes, traveling abroad, uphill and downhill.

dachshund in a custom stroller in the woods

Suus in her custom stroller

I saw on the internet that one could buy a stroller especially for dogs. So we bought a second-hand Innopet brand but the Princess didn’t like it, she wanted to jump out of it, it was too high above the ground I thought. So I searched for a children’s stroller and removed the seat and build a seat low to the ground and yay she liked it and stayed in it until she had rested enough so she could do some walking again. Because of the stroller, she can come with us everywhere—we went for 2 weeks to France last month, an 11-hour drive but we drove only at night so the dogs could sleep. This stroller is her second pair of legs…. She is with us, with the gang and sees what is happening being comfortable at the same time and smells the grass beneath her feet. Suus is a very nice and gentle dog and she likes everyone who enters our house and she has a lot of fans on my Facebook and in real life.

She still sleeps on our bed with our two male cats, Walter and Woodstock, and when she has to do potty she wakes me up by pushing her nose in my ear or licks my face so I have to carry her down the stairs into the yard and back. The other dogs sleep downstairs cause they don’t like cats and our living room is upstairs and they have their own entrance so they are separated and everyone is happy. There is also Luis, a mix Jack Russell/Podenco, an only male adopted and reactive to bikers, people he doesn’t know, cars, horses etc. But he likes his older dog sisters.

We go to a behavior therapist and take courses in tricks and agility with him. Last year we adopted a Cairn terrier, Ruby-Mae, a 12-year-old lovely girl but for more than 5 years left unattended. That is another story of mistreatment. They all get along very well. Every day we go for walks in the woods, in the country ’cause I’m fond of nature and trees. I work as an educator-nurse ( in a home for disabled people due to trauma, degenerative diseases– like for example Huntington’s chorea, and other muscle diseases and people who had acquired brain injury) and work only night shifts for 60%. This means only 2 or max 3 nights a week do I have time for the gang. My wife does the same job but with mentally disabled people during the day. Suus doesn’t have signs of dementia yet, or not that it is known or visible to us. She is deaf for more than a year now but still has some of her sight and knows some hand signals. She was never a barker but she has a great bark which she only uses when she doesn’t find us or is locked into a room by accident….

Mill dogs… We saw lots of mill dogs ending up in the shelters, some of them in very very bad shape, some couldn’t walk, had never seen grass or the sun, completely unsocialized… very sad. It is the government that allows the major dog breeders and though there were protest marches, petitions to stop this criminal and inhumane behaviour there still are a lot of puppy mills in our country. I could write a book about what I’ve seen in shelters in those 15 years. Nothing will ever stop us from adopting dogs or it has to be that we get too old ourselves… Every dog deserves a happy life !!

front view of dachshund in her custom dog stroller

Suus looking like a biker in her stroller

Photos and text copyright 2017 Nadia Hermans

Is There Such a Thing As Doggie Alzheimer’s?

Dog owners sometimes refer to their senior dogs as having “doggie Alzheimer’s” but it’s more accurate than most people know.

Veterinarians have known about a similar condition, canine cognitive dysfunction, for several decades. A study in 1996 established a relationship between certain behavioral changes in senior dogs with physical brain changes.

Some of the behavioral changes include

  • disorientation
  • changes in social interactions (usually getting shy with or forgetting their humans, or drawing away from their former animal friends)
  • sleep disorders
  • loss of house training
  • changes in activity level
  • memory loss, and more.

Some of the more common observable behaviors are

  • the dog forgets how to go through doors
  • stands around seeming dazed
  • goes to the bathroom just after coming inside the house
  • wanders haphazardly
  • walks in circles (see the video at the bottom of this post)
  • faces walls
  • or gets stuck in corners.

But is canine cognitive dysfunction really doggie Alzheimer’s? Is it the same as Alzheimer’s in humans? The answer is a cautious “yes.”

dogs with cognitive dysfunction and humans with Alzheimer's both get beta amyloid plaques in the brain

Beta amyloid plaques in the brain–image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Human Alzheimer’s and Doggie Alzheimer’s

The image above is beautiful but the subject is not. It is an image of the microscopic “plaques” that form in the brains of humans with Alzheimer’s and dogs with cognitive dysfunction. That’s right. The same thing happens in the brains of both our species. This particular image is from a human brain. Plaques are not a good thing. They mix up normal cognition.

Cognitive dysfunction in dogs is so close to human Alzheimer’s that dogs are used as test subjects to learn more about the disease. This is a double-edged sword. Most of us don’t want dogs to be experimented on. But because the conditions are so similar, the advances in research on human Alzheimer’s may help us learn more about canine cognitive dysfunction and work towards a cure.

And much of the research isn’t so bad. There are many survey-type studies and studies with pet dogs to gather data. And there is the hopeful work at the University of Sydney that may actually be reversing the symptoms of dementia in dogs using stem cell transplants. This is coming from a joint research team on both dog dementia and Alzheimer’s. The subjects are beloved pet dogs who are healthy enough for anesthesia and get a second chance through the stem cell transplant.

Humans with Alzheimer’s get another common brain abnormality: neurofibrillary tangles. It was formerly thought that dogs with cognitive dysfunction didn’t get these. But they are now being found in some autopsies of dogs. They are less common than the plaques. Some scientists believe that the disease doesn’t get as advanced in dogs as it does in humans because they don’t live as long as we do. That would be an explanation for their not getting the full range of physical brain changes that humans get.

dog with Alzheimers resting on a bed

Luckily, Cricket never had severe sleep disturbances. That can be one of the hardest things for dogs, people with Alzheimer’s, and caregivers to deal with.

So yes, our dogs do get something like Alzheimer’s. But we can’t diagnose it ourselves. Too many other conditions can share the same symptoms. If you notice changes in your senior dog’s behavior, please take her to your vet for a checkup. And keep in mind the actual name of the condition: canine cognitive dysfunction.

Wandering: A Symptom Humans and Dogs Have in Common

In this video, my dog Cricket has moderate cognitive dysfunction. She still shows a little bit of intent when she walks. She stops to sniff things and she comes back to me for a treat and when she is startled. So it’s not completely aimless, but it’s getting there.  You can see her do some circling and wandering. (A year later when she was in the yard she would just always go downhill, where gravity took her.) She had severe hearing loss at the time of this video. This is probably why Zani’s barking startled her. She was used to a fairly silent world, but she could hear that sudden bark. She came to me and I carried her up the steps into the house. She had lost the ability to navigate steps, and mine are steep.

Link to the video for e-mail subscribers.

New Facebook page! Follow Dog Dementia: Help and Support on Facebook!

Copyright 2017 Eileen Anderson

Preparing Your Old Dog for Fireworks and Other Scary Noises

My little Cricket was afraid of the sounds of fireworks and thunder in her middle age, but she went so deaf that in her last years she couldn’t hear them at all. Thankfully, she lost her fear. That may be true of your senior dog as well, but plenty of dogs retain their hearing, and some are scared of what they hear this time of year.

Canada Day and U.S. Independence day are both coming up. There are some things you can do to make it easier for your senior dog.  I have a fireworks preparation page on my other blog that has tips for keeping dogs as safe and calm as possible. Check it out and make your preparations!

You can access the page below. Feel free to share!

6 Ways to Prepare your Dog for Fireworks Starting TODAY

Summer cheese 2

Summer gets spray cheese with each thunder clap

© Eileen Anderson 2017

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Book Wins Maxwell Award

My book won!

I’m proud to announce that Remember Me? Loving and Caring for a Dog with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction has won a Maxwell Award for 2016. The Maxwells are awarded yearly by the  Dog Writers Association of America.  My book won best book in 2016 in the category of Behavior, Health or General Care.

The winners in all categories were announced at a banquet in New York City on February 12. I didn’t get to go, but a friend texted me as soon as it happened. I’ve been on Cloud Nine!

I thank the Dog Writers Association of America for this recognition and honor.

DISCOUNTS

I’m running a celebration discount on the PDF version. The PDF is available for purchase on this website, and I’ve marked it down from $12.95 to $9.99.

Click here or the “Add To Cart” button to purchase the PDF.

Add to Cart

The PDF is designed for both pleasant online viewing and a nice print copy, so it’s like getting two versions in one. The print is large, at 14 points, and the photos are in color.  Here’s a sample page. The discount will run through midnight on March 21, 2017.

In addition, Amazon and Barnes and Noble seem to be having a price war and have marked the paper book down from $15.99 to $11.48.

Book: Remember Me: Loving and Caring for a Dog with Canine Cognitive DysfunctionMy book is also available in Kindle, Apple iBook, Nook, and Google digital formats. You can purchase all the formats here.

Please feel free to share this announcement with anyone who has a senior dog. My book can help!

Copyright Eileen Anderson 2017

 

 

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Book Nominated for Maxwell Award

 

Book: Remember Me: Loving and Caring for a Dog with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

I am proud to announce that my book, Remember Me? Loving and Caring for a Dog with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, has been nominated for a Dog Writers Association of America’s Maxwell Award 2016.  My book is one of three nominees in the category of Behavior, Health or General Care.

The winners in all categories will be announced at a banquet in New York City in February.

How About a Discount?

I’ve been thinking about discounting the PDF version anyway, and this seems like a good time to do it. The PDF is available for purchase on my website, and I’ve marked it down from $12.95 to $8.95.

Click this line or the little “Add To Cart” button to purchase the PDF.

Add to Cart

This version is designed for both pleasant online viewing and a nice print copy. The print is large, at 14 points, and the photos are in color. It’s a version that can be used two ways, and right now it costs less than all the others. Here’s a sample page. The discount will run through midnight on January 1, 2017.

My book is also available as a print book and in Kindle, Apple iBook, Barnes & Noble, and Google digital formats. You can purchase all the formats here.

Please feel free to share this announcement with anyone who has a senior dog. My book can help!

Copyright Eileen Anderson 2016

 

 

Stem Cell Procedure Tested as Treatment for Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

An elderly golden retriever gazing into the distance. Senior dogs with dementia may be candidates for canine cognitive dysfunction treatment

Research at the University of Sydney has already helped two senior dogs with dementia and may eventually aid humans with Alzheimer’s disease as well. This novel approach is not based on medication, supplements, or activities. It consists of the following steps:

  • Assessing the dog as a good candidate and pre-testing the dog’s cognition;
  • Taking a skin sample from the dog in a surgical procedure;
  • Converting the retrieved adult skin stem cells to neural stem cells;
  • Injecting them into the dog’s brain;
  • Performing medical follow-up and retesting the dog’s cognition.

The procedure is not to be undertaken lightly since it involves anesthetizing the dog twice and, well, brain surgery. Anesthesia can be tricky in senior dogs, but blood work can help determine its safety. The good news is that two dogs with dementia have successfully undergone the procedure. Researchers accepted these dogs into the trial because they had clinically demonstrated dementia but were otherwise in good physical health. Laboratory measures of their cognitive skills before and after the procedure show greatly improved cognition. The owners are pleased with the results as well.

I think the best way to learn about this is from the mouths of the researchers involved. The following video is a TV interview with two of the team members at the University of Sydney. Timmy, one of the dogs who underwent the procedure, and his owner are there as well. You can’t get a real sense of Timmy under the bright lights of a television set, though. A little farther down is a link to a video that shows Timmy active in his own yard.

Link to the TV interview for email subscribers. 

The following article features a video of Timmy. He underwent the procedure in late 2015:  The Unlikely Symbol of Hope for Dementia Sufferers.

Here is another article that tells more about how Timmy’s owners made the decision to try the surgery: Dementia Researchers Look to Dogs for Breakthroughs.

Another dog had the procedure in March 2016 and is also doing well. The research team and the dogs’ owners are very excited about the results so far.

Finally, here is more technical information about the procedure. It includes the researchers’ contact information for folks who want to investigate enrolling their dog in the clinical trial: Dogs + Cells Trial: Cell Therapy for the Reversal of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. If you are in the Sydney area and are at all interested, don’t hesitate to contact the researchers through the form on the page. Through my interest in dementia in dogs, I have gotten long-distance acquainted with team members. I’m impressed with their sincerity and careful work.

It’s rare that dog lovers can get behind any form of clinical study that involves animals. And of course, anyone considering it for their dog would have complex decisions to make. But this is potentially a triple-win situation. The procedure has a chance of helping the dog who undergoes it. As the research yields more data, it will advance the knowledge of canine cognitive dysfunction besides being an available treatment for more dogs. Finally, scientists’ work may eventually help humans in the fight against Alzheimer’s.

When I first published my book in 2015, I wrote that there was no cure for canine cognitive dysfunction. That is still the case, but this fascinating research offers some hope.

Loving Enrichment for a Dog with Dementia

Jennifer and Yoda

Jennifer Fearing and Yoda

Enrichment is a win/win situation. Studies say that we **may** be able to slow the onset and progress of canine cognitive dysfunction by enriching our dogs’ lives. But even if we don’t, we certainly are helping them in the moment.

I have gotten to know Jennifer Fearing and her lovely dog Yoda through my book and this page. She read my book and prompted the Sacramento Bee to mention it in an feature article about aging pets. I’ve linked the article below.

What I want to highlight from the article is the movie Sue Morrow of the Sacramento Bee created of Jennifer and Yoda. It is a beautiful example of caring for a dog with cognitive dysfunction and keeping him active and engaged. It shows the power of enrichment.

Our pets are living longer than ever before–Sue Morrow, The Sacramento Bee

Jennifer has loved and cared for Yoda since he was an abandoned pup, four weeks old. Even with the slight standoffishness that has accompanied his dementia, you can see how strong the bond is between them. The movie gives me goosebumps. Jennifer speaks so frankly of their relationship, the ways she helps him. Jennifer is working with board certified veterinary behaviorists at U.C. Davis to give Yoda the best life possible for his remaining time, and speaks about the importance of recordkeeping to track his condition and quality of life.

Jennifer told me that Yoda has had no small part in shaping the person she has become., and that she feels it is her privilege to care for Yoda. We should all be so lucky as he.

Related Articles

Keeping a Wandering Dog Safe and Happy at Night

Beetle, a brown and white Jack Russell Terrier

Beetle


 

My friend Jane Jackson has graciously agreed to share her story about her wandering senior dog Beetle and how she kept him safe at night. These are her words.

“I have a Jack Russell Terrier who will be 16 the day after Christmas.  In the last year, he had started to pace and wander at night and eliminate in the house. I had never crate trained him beyond the early puppy stage although I had tried a couple times. He hated confinement (this was before I had trained at the Karen Pryor Academy, so I didn’t know how to help him feel better about it). My husband was really tired of cleaning up the house or the alternative when he got up in the morning (he got up long before I did) though, so something had to be done. I put a wire crate in my bedroom, right next to my bed, put Beetle’s favorite blankets in it and when I went to bed, I put him in it with a treat or two and then dangled my hand through the wire in an effort to help him feel comfortable as I tried to go to sleep. Before long, I could feel and hear him start to shake, pant, and then whine, and so I opened the crate door. He walked a couple steps and pooped on the floor. That obviously wasn’t going to work. 

A brown and white terrier sleeps in his bed inside an exercise pen that prevents wandering

Beetle, cozy in his bed in his ex-pen, with night light nearby

Next I thought I’d try an ex-pen setup as I had seen another trainer do for her elderly beagles. I was afraid he’d howl and panic being confined but I gave it a try hoping he wouldn’t soil his bed. I put the ex-pen around his favorite bed in his favorite corner and made it about the size of two crates, putting pee pads on the bare floor. I waited until he was asleep and then closed it up. I turned a night light on right next to it, crossed my fingers and went to bed. Lo and behold, he was sleeping peacefully in the morning and the pee pads were clean and dry. The same thing happened the next night, and the next and so on. In the approximately nine months since we’ve been doing this, I’d say he has peed on the pads maybe once a month. I’ve never heard a peep from him (our bedroom is close enough I would) and my husband says Beetle is sound asleep when he gets up in the morning. He opens the pen so that when Beetle does wake up, he can get out on his own.

It is astonishing to me that this works and I can justify it in various human ways but I just wanted to share it in case someone else has a dog who can’t tolerate a crate and assumes that an ex pen won’t work. 

I got this particular ex-pen because it is plastic and I didn’t want a wire one scratching up our wooden floors. The thing I dislike about it is that it is REALLY loud when you move the panels. They don’t slide open and closed, but POP, POP, POP. I find it annoying but it scares the bananas out of Beetle. I open it all up during the day (as seen in the photo below) so I have to remind myself to get it set up for nighttime before he drifts off. I do always sit with him (the dining room table is right next to this) until he goes to sleep. I don’t know if it’s necessary but I prefer it to feeling like I’m locking him up and leaving. 

A brown and white terrier is in his bed inside an open exercise pen

The open pen during the day

My human best guess is that being confined reassured him rather than panicked him because it limited his options. Rather than wandering around the dark house looking for me or a way out, getting more and more anxious, he just went back to sleep. I didn’t use a webcam so I don’t know how much he paced in there but nothing was disturbed and as I said, I never heard a peep even though he was always one to squeak or howl if he got locked somewhere behind a closed door by accident.”

This is Eileen writing again. What works for individual dogs really varies. But Jane and I wanted to share this method because it’s worth a try for others who are dealing with night wandering and incontinence issues in their dogs. Beetle doesn’t normally like being confined, but he felt safe and comfortable in the ex-pen setup. Some of the rest of you may be so lucky with your dogs as well!

Jane Jackson is certified by the Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training & Behavior (KPA CTP), is a Certified Level 2 TAGteacher, and a member of Alexandra Kurland’s coaching guild.

You can contact her and read more of her work at The Dog Chapter

Webinar: Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Is your old dog starting to act a little…different? Or do you have a mentally healthy senior dog and you hope to keep him or her that way?

Join me in my webinar on canine cognitive dysfunction and dog dementia through the Pet Professional Guild on Monday, December 14, at 1:00 PM U.S. Eastern Standard Time.

Small black and white terrier stands in a corner with her head in a corner close to the wallI’ll be covering the definition and prevalence of the disease (much more prevalent than most of us knew!), common symptoms (including on unpublished videos), the treatments that show promise, and questions to ask your vet. I’ll also discuss the commonalities with human Alzheimer’s, and most important, how to keep a dog with dementia safe and enriched. I’ll include the subjects of euthanasia and quality of life. Euthanasia seems to be an even more difficult decision for owners of dogs with dementia than with a dog with most other infirmities.

Even though the behavioral symptoms that arise with cognitive dysfunction mostly can’t be modified with training, I’ll talk about how trainers can help their clients with dogs afflicted with this condition.

There will be resources galore for further information including links to videos, product descriptions, and assessment and decision-making tools. There will also be time allotted for questions.

The webinar will be recorded and all participants will receive the URL for access. This is a great option if you can’t come at the scheduled time.

Cricket with advanced cognitive dysfunction late in her life

Cricket with advanced cognitive dysfunction late in her life

Hope to see you there!

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction: What Dog Trainers and Owners Need to Know

 

Teaching an Old Dog How to Play with a Food Toy

A brown and white rat terrier is nudging a purple oval food toy with holes in it, to get the food to come out.

15-year-old Kaci learning to roll a food toy around and access the goodies inside

You can teach an old dog a new trick, and you might be surprised how much she enjoys it!

Research studies suggest that one thing that can slow the course of dementia is for senior dogs to have a lot of enrichment in their lives. In the laboratory studies, the enrichment consisted of getting exercise, social time with another dog, toys to play with (they were rotated every week or two), and training. The training was done with positive reinforcement (food rewards for correct actions), and was actually quite a challenging task.

Dogs with early stage dementia who got these forms of enrichment had less cognitive decline than those who didn’t.

Do Try This At Home

Most of us would want to stave off dementia in our dogs if at all possible. One thing you can do that combines two of the above interventions, toys and food, is to teach your old dog to play with food toys.

Food toys are specially made objects, usually made from wood, rubber, or food-safe plastic, that hold food for dogs. They are designed so that the dog has to move the toy in certain ways to get the food to come out. They range from extremely easy to very complex.

I have a selection of easy toys on the Enrichment Toys for Senior Dogs page with links where you can purchase the toys.

You might think it’s unkind to ask a dog to work for some of his or her food. But you would be surprised at the enjoyment dogs usually get out of these types of toys. It certainly appears that they get a sense of accomplishment out of solving the puzzle and getting the goodies that are inside.

The key, though, is to start slow. Otherwise the dog can get frustrated or lose interest very quickly.

How to Start

Choose a toy that they dog will need to barely nudge to get the food out. Put good treats in there: something your dog really likes and that also will readily fall out of the toy. I.e., not anything too wet or sticky.

(If you leave food out for your dog all the time, it will be harder to get him interested in a food toy. If you want to try it, start feeding your dog meals instead of free feeding, and/or put more exciting food in the toy. That’s a good idea anyway; some pieces of cheese or beef jerky for example will generally serve to get your dog very interested in the toy.)

Cricket with foot on Kong

Cricket knew how to roll around a food toy too!

Put the toy where your dog can see or find it (the dog in my movie is almost blind, but has been taught to seek out goodies with her nose). When the dog starts to interact with the toy, refrain from “helping” or even talking to her very much. The goal is for her to discover for herself that she can get food out of the toy.

You can see in the movie that the first toy I chose for Kaci was just a little too hard. Rather than sitting down and doing it “for” her, we quit with that one and I found an easier toy so she could do every step by herself.

Once your dog gets the hang of one toy, the next one will be a little easier even if it’s a little harder, if you get my meaning. Your dog will understand the concept better and be ready to try things. She learned some persistence and different behaviors to get the food out of the first toy; she can do more this time.

The Movie

The star of the movie, Kaci, is 15 years old, diabetic, and almost completely blind. She has a very small amount of early stage canine cognitive dysfunction. Yet she is currently learning how to get food out of different toys and also how to find hidden food by smell (nosework).

The movie shows how I introduced a couple different food toys.

Keep in mind: the idea at this stage is not to “challenge” your dog. Make it fun: use tasty food and make sure it’s easy to get out. That way your dog will be thrilled next time you get a toy out. You have plenty of time to add difficulty later.

Link to the movie for email subscribers.

No Down Side

As I say on the treatment page, there is no cure for canine cognitive dysfunction. There are no silver bullets. The beneficial effects shown by some interventions have not been dramatic, including the effects of enrichment. However, there is no down side to enriching your dog’s life with food toys and other stimulation, as long as the activities are safe and supervised. Even if they don’t slow down dementia one bit, your dog is getting to do something interesting and fun in the moment.

Related Resources

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Other movies starring Kaci when she was younger (just because she’s so cute):