Six Fun Enrichment Activities for a Dog with Dementia

My rat terrier Cricket lived to be about 17 and had dementia since she was 14 or 15. As her cognitive abilities decreased, I was still able to find things she enjoyed. Enrichment activities are important at any age. Our activities just got simpler and simpler as we went along.

I had taken Cricket on a walk virtually every day of her life until her dementia got too advanced to do that. Our walks got shorter and shorter, and then she just couldn’t do it anymore. She didn’t have the marbles to be able to walk more-or-less next to me on a leash. But we morphed the walk into a wander in my front yard. I figured out how to do some other enrichment activities she enjoyed as well. Here are six of them.

• Nosework. When Cricket’s dementia was not yet advanced, I taught her to search for treats in cardboard boxes. She enjoyed this and it was a real workout for her brain! If you try this, be sure to make it super easy for your dog. The idea is not to “challenge” your dog. It’s just to give him something interesting and fun to do.

• Sniff sessions. Cricket enjoyed sniffing things until the very end. Even when she didn’t have the ability to walk on leash, we still went out into the front yard, where she wandered around and sniffed things.

• Simple food toys. If you use very simple ones, like the toys made for puppies, even dogs with moderate dementia can enjoy food toys. Note: only introduce food toys if your dog has a good appetite and still enjoys food. Food toys do make eating more of a challenge, which you don’t want to do with a dog who has appetite problems.

• Trips to a safe, familiar place. I know I was extra fortunate to be able to take Cricket to work with me. I work in a two-person office that is not open to the public, and Cricket had gone there on and off for years. She had familiar beds she could get into and knew where the water bowl was (until very late in her life). I actually started taking her every day as her dementia got more advanced. I was able to keep an eye on here that way. Plus I think even this mild change of scenery was good for her, as was riding in the car (since it didn’t scare her).

• Sunning. This sounds pretty trivial but all of my older animals have enjoyed the sun. I always make them comfortable beds in the house where the sun comes in. Cricket and I spent time on my back porch all year around when the sun was out to catch some rays.

• Cuddling. I feel very lucky that Cricket solicited attention from me until the very end. I know that some dogs get more withdrawn. Her favorite thing was to come and wipe her face up and down my pant legs. Sounds a little weird, but it was very cute. The most important thing to keep in mind is that some dogs don’t want to be petted or cuddled, or want to be touched only a certain way. For instance, my dog Zani doesn’t particularly like to be petted or stroked, but she likes to sleep in my lap or curled up close to me. It’s worth it to learn what your dog enjoys and doesn’t enjoy.

I have a lot more information on enrichment for dogs with dementia in my book on canine cognitive dysfunction.

What do you do with your senior dog that he or she enjoys?

Copyright 2018 Eileen Anderson

2 thoughts on “Six Fun Enrichment Activities for a Dog with Dementia

  1. Stumbled upon your site and blog today while doing some research about my precious old boy Beasley! Purchased your book on my kindle, very much looking forward to learning more about how I can help my dog and how to cope with having a dog with dementia!

    • Thanks for letting me know! Good luck. Hugs for you and a special treat for Beasley!

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