8 Brain Games That Help Keep Your Senior Dog's Mind Sharp

Nicole Etolen
September 7 2022

Keeping a senior dog's mind stimulated can be a little tricky. After all, these older pups aren't too enthusiastic about learning new things. So many owners wonder how they can keep these senior dogs engaged in their advanced age. But these owners will no longer have to wonder as I'll show you several games to keep their brains stimulated. First, however, I must discuss health considerations before you can select the perfect one for your pup.

Senior Dog Health Considerations

Senior dogs will have more health issues than younger pups. It's an issue everyone will have to deal with as their dog gets older. Therefore, teaching them a new game without accounting for these issues wouldn't make much sense. 

For instance, my senior Pitbull, who suffers from hip dysplasia, shouldn't be playing a game of fetch. It'll only aggravate her condition and cause severe discomfort. Another example would be some older dogs have more sensitive digestive systems. So games focusing on retrieving treats may not be a good idea. 

Given this info, it's clear that dog owners must be mindful of their dog's health status when teaching them new games or tricks. So I recommend talking with your vet to better understand the dog's situation before choosing one. 

You can then play a fun, entertaining one without worrying about how it might affect your dog's health. Trust me; a quick vet consultation can take a massive weight off your mind. 

Importance of Keeping a Senior Dog's Mind Stimulated

Giving a senior dog mental stimulation is crucial to helping them age gracefully. In fact, it has been shown to help keep older pups young and live longer. So owners will need to do whatever they can to provide their senior dog with a constant, regular source of mental stimulation. 

I didn't even mention the consequences of not providing it. For instance, lacking mental stimulation has shown an increase in destructive behaviors and depression in dogs. It comes from their boredom and not having a proper outlet for all their pent-up energy. 

8 Games to Keep Your Senior Dog's Mind Stimulated

Since we've now got a handle on the health considerations and mental stimulation benefits, let's move on to a more fun topic. It's time to dive into some games to help keep your older dog's mind sharp. I'm pretty confident that every senior dog owner will find a suitable option for their situation. 

1. Treasure Hunt

Our first game, treasure hunt, is a known classic within the dog community. It tests your dog's nose to see whether it can sniff where a smelly treat is hidden. Honestly, it ends up being an activity both owner and pup can thoroughly enjoy. 

I'd recommend starting by finding an extra smelly treat or toy that your dog loves. For example, my Pitbull loves this toy rocket, which has been inside her crate for years. So it's a natural choice for a game of treasure hunt (a Kong filled with peanuts also works well.)

Once you've chosen the treasure, show it to your pup and let them sniff it. They must get a solid sniff before moving to hide it. Otherwise, they might not understand what's going on or what has been hidden. 

You should then tell them to "sit" and make sure they stay while you hide it. Some people find it helpful to use a second person to keep the dog's attention. In any case, the game can't begin if your dog isn't staying put.

After the toy's hidden, say "Find it" and watch your dog's attempts to sniff for it. A senior pup might need help if the treasure is hidden too well. But you'll soon learn how easy or challenging to make your hiding spot after a few hunts. 

Check out the video below for more tips on this doggy brain game:

2. Hide and Seek

Hide-and-seek is another variation of a treasure hunt, but they don't find a toy or treat. Instead, they use their senses to locate you out of a hiding spot. It's an excellent way to stimulate a senior pup's mind while furthering the owner/pup bond. 

The game starts by putting your dog in the "stay" command. You then find a place to hide within your home or backyard that's out of your dog's sight. I'd avoid cluttered or crowded areas where a senior dog could accidentally bump into something dangerous.

After finding a safe hiding space, yell "Find it" or "Find me ."Your dog may need some encouragement if they aren't familiar with the game. So a few encouraging commands or calling their name can help them understand. 

In most cases, it won't take them long to find you. Proceed to reward them with cuddles or treats once they've uncovered your spot. 

Watch the video below for more tips:

3. Fetch (Shorter Version)

Senior dogs who've loved fetch in their younger days shouldn't stop playing unless it's necessary for medical reasons. Owners only need to account for their older age.

In other words, throw it for shorter distances and use softer toys. It'll allow them to retrieve and bring the item back more frequently. It's a great way to keep their recall techniques sharp even when a dog's reaching their teen years. Meanwhile, the softer toys will be easier on their gums and teeth than Kong or bone. 

brain games to keep your senior dog's mind engaged

4. Swimming and Water Games

Dog owners shouldn't underestimate how valuable a swim can be for an older dog. It can give them good exercise without putting as much wear and tear on their joints. Due to this, it's a perfect situation for dogs with inflammation, pains, or aches. 

It also doesn't hurt that swimming can be a lot of fun. Many dogs will love to join their families in the pool whenever possible. But, of course, some pups will find the experience terrifying, so it's wise to approach the idea cautiously. 

I'd also recommend trying to play some other games when in the water. For example, playing fetch with a water toy when swimming around the pool could be an excellent way to keep their minds sharp. You can even toss it outside the pool and have them retrieve it if they're agile enough. 

Check out this adorable senior dog swimming video for inspiration:

5. Three Cups and a Treat

One of my favorite pet games is three cups and a treat. It's similar to the game cons often run in city parks called "three card monte." The game requires three plastic cups with small holes on their sides and your pup's favorite treats in this variation. 

You then place some treats inside one of the cups and shuffle them around your dog's nose. After mixing them a couple of times, let your dog guess which cup has their treats. Then, proceed to give them the treats when they guess correctly.

See how it's done below:

6. Round Robin

Round Robin is the perfect game for a treat-motivated dog. You set it up by having two or three people with treats calling your dog to them, providing treats whenever he arrives at a person. It's an easy way to provide exercise while reinforcing recall techniques. 

However, I'd suggest keeping the distance between each person small. This restriction will help limit the space your older dog has to cover. It'll also help keep them motivated to continue the game rather than simply lying down when they get tired. 

Watch Woody do it below:

7. Blanket Sniffing

One of the simpler games on this list is called blanket sniffing. The entire purpose of this activity is outlined right in its name. You start by picking out a blanket or beach towel. From there, spread it out on the ground and place a few treats on top of it.

Fold or bunch up the blanket/towel to create a makeshift puzzle toy. Your senior dog can now sniff it and figure out how to retrieve the treats. I'd recommend folding or bunching it differently each time to keep it challenging. 

Overall, it is a simple and effective way to provide your dog with much-needed mental stimulation. It's also quite fun to watch them try and figure out how to get their rewards. 

8. Learning a New Trick

Our last option isn't really a game, but teaching a new trick is a great way to keep your senior dog's mind turning. It could be a simple command, such as sit or paw, or a little more advanced, like rollover. You can teach them anything, as old dogs can learn new tricks with some patience and effort.

For example, I just taught my 11-year-old Pitbull how to give a paw for the first time recently. It took a little extra time than usual, but we got the trick down in about a day or two. The next step is teaching her to lay down on command (I don't have much faith). 

In Closing,

It shouldn't be too difficult to provide a senior dog with mental stimulation, especially with these games at your disposal. Let us know what one has helped your dog in our comment section. I'd love to hear about your experiences playing these games!

What are some of your favorite brain games to engage your senior dog's mind? Share below!


Nicole Etolen
Hi there! I'm Nicole, the editor-in-chief and one of the writers here at DogVills. I've been a dog owner for most of my adult life and a dog lover for much longer than that. I grew up with a wonderful German Shepherd named Jake, who I loved SO much that I named my son after him. When I'm not writing for DogVills or my own site, Pretty Opinionated , I love spending time with my teenager (when he actually lets me) and my Pharaoh Hound, Freya. I'm also an avid reader AND a total TV fanatic. If you'd like to learn more about me, feel free to check out my Linked In profile.

You Might Want To Read: