Brain Health in Senior Poodles: Techniques for Cognitive Stimulation

Nov 3, 2023by Suzie Cyrenne

While this may sound surprising, failing to provide mental stimulation for your senior Poodle can drastically affect his overall quality of life. Keeping your dog's mind active does not just help him remain mentally sharp, but also has a lot of other benefits.

A lot of senior dog parents mistakenly think that regular mental exercise is only for puppies and canine juvenile adults.

But the thing is older dogs also need to be routinely engaged in mentally stimulating activities to stay healthy and happy.


Regular mental stimulation in senior dogs is essential

If you've got a much older Poodle and want to keep his mental wellness (not just physical health) in tiptop shape, this post is definitely for you.

We're going to walk you through useful and practical information on how to provide the right cognitive stimulation for your senior dog's mind as we go along.

How about we start things off by having a quick overview of the importance of mental stimulation in senior dogs, particularly Poodles?


Why Mental Stimulation is Crucial for Senior Dogs (Especially Poodles!)

Senior Poodles getting ready for a game.

The Poodle is considered as one of the most active and intelligent dog breeds. Compared to other dogs, these canines exhibit advanced mental abilities and enjoy playing games that get their mind going, such as hide and seek, fiddling with puzzle toys, as well as nose training sessions.


Mental health is closely linked with the well-being of your older dog

Although you may have heard the maxim "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" lots of times already, this doesn't apply to older dogs of the Poodle breed because they remain very curious even during their golden years.

It's not just physical exercise that will keep your senior dog happy. While establishing a regular workout routine to keep your dog moving does have its benefits, your dog's brain health needs proper attention, too.


Frequent cognitive stimulation helps prevent wellness problems

Did you know that providing your older pooch with regular mental stimulation plays a key role in keeping health issues in check?

This pertains to problems like canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome and related illnesses that can affect a dog's behavior and sleep patterns, among other negative consequences.

For the next part of our discussion, we will get you in on the drawbacks of not giving senior dogs the right amount of mental stimulation that they need.


Downsides of the Lack of Mental Stimulation in Your Senior Dog

senior poodle in the kitchen

You can think of cognitive function in old dogs as something that needs to be sustained each and every day. As a dog ages, the need to be mentally stimulated becomes more important because your pet will go through a lot of physiological changes that can potentially result in cognitive decline.

This is the reason why you need to provide mental stimulation for your senior pooch during his golden years.

Or else both you and your canine best friend will be faced with the following problems before you know it:


Tendency to become extremely bored

A Poodle will remain inquisitive even during his golden years. He will still be captivated by interactive toys and games, such as when you're hiding treats and chew toys for him to find.

If your older dog feels that his mind isn't getting stimulated enough, he will eventually become extremely bored.

Senior dogs tend to look for other ways to "entertain" themselves when this happens.

Apart from messing with the trash can or furniture, they can also resort to destructive activities like biting the drapes and even defecating in the oddest of places.


Susceptibility to stress and anxiety

Your much older dog's brain requires regular stimulation since the lack of the same can make him feel neglected and abandoned sooner or later. This will encourage a significant increase in levels of cortisol in his body, which is a hormone associated with extreme stress and anxiety.

Keeping a senior dog engaged mentally, such as in the case of trick training, helps reduce excessive cortisol with other feel-good hormones.

These include oxytocin, which is linked with social interaction, contentment as well as a dog's safety, calmness, and peace of mind.


Increased dependency on pet parents

Another negative effect on your senior dog's cognitive health in the absence of frequent mental stimulation is a drastic surge in dependency. Many dogs going through this issue will tend to rely on their pet parents more often than they should.

You can even call this a sort of "reversion" to that of a younger dog in some cases.

Besides needing help with even the most trivial things like choosing a chew toy to play with, this can also involve more difficult situations like your old dog suddenly playing with his food or an unexpected change in his bathroom habits.

Other possible scenarios include excessive weight gain or weight loss, which may already be indicators of underlying health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, or kidney issues.


Drastic changes in behavior and mood

Senior dogs of the Poodle breed will stay playful, friendly, and gentle. Even as these dogs age, they will appreciate spending quality time with their pet parents and will be always up for a fun game or two. These attributes make them an all-around canine companion.

However, these older dogs are prone to unexpected changes in mood and behavior if they are not sufficiently stimulated mentally.

Your senior dog may suddenly become sulky and introverted. He may also unexpectedly become rather self-assertive.

In extreme situations, your senior dog may exhibit unnecessary aggression without warning.


Vulnerability to cognitive decline

"Cognitive decline" basically refers to the progressive loss of the ability of your senior dog's brain to retain information and use his mental capabilities. While this condition can also target younger dogs due to an underlying health condition or genetics, it is more prevalent among old dogs in their golden years.

Here's a quick example to make things clearer: a much older dog suffering from cognitive function decline will have a very difficult time learning new tricks, regardless of how easy they are.

Additionally, your senior pooch will also tend to "forget" things that he has been doing for a long time like where his toys are kept or suddenly lose interest in his favorite games.

Can you imagine your older dog suddenly forgetting how to play catch or hide and seek?


Negative impact on overall quality of life

A senior dog that lacks ideal mental stimulation is definitely not a happy dog. His overall health and wellness will be eventually affected by issues like anxiety and depression.

The whole thing can also accelerate his aging process, which can drastically reduce his life expectancy.


Mental Health Issues Become More Prevalent as a Dog Ages

sick senior poodle

A much older dog will go through a lot of physiological changes as he reaches his senior years. Besides not being as agile and active compared to his younger counterparts, your pooch may also be prone to hearing and vision problems as well as the presence of grey hairs here and there.


These changes will affect your aging dog's mental wellness, too.

Your senior dog's brain is also going to be vulnerable to the effects of these physiological changes. His ability to maximize his thinking and problem-solving capabilities may be compromised if there is a lack of mental stimulation.

While it is true that not all dogs are easy targets for cognitive decline, there is still a big possibility that your old dog will become one. Are you willing to take the risk?

Now we've got that covered, let's tackle a question that I'm sure you've probably wondered about during the course of our discussion: is there a possibility that you could give your much older Poodle an excessive amount of mental stimulation?


Is It Possible to Give Aging Dogs Too Much Mental Stimulation?

happy senior poodle

Although this may sound surprising, the answer to this one is yes. You can potentially provide mental stimulation in an excessive manner to your senior pooch and it can become counterproductive in the long run.

This can take place if you engage your aging dog in mentally stimulating activities several times a day. Say you let your pet play with Kong toys or be immersed in interactive games the whole day without having definite breaks or rest periods.

It will just result in a cognitive stimulation overload before you know it.

Alternatively, this can also happen if you stick with a monotonous activity for a very long time before switching to another. Sure your dog likes the activity or game he's engaged in, but the whole thing can get pretty boring for your pet (not to mention for you as well) sooner or later.

Having at least thirty (30) minutes to one (1) hour of mental health stimulation will already get the job done.


How to Give Proper Cognitive Stimulation for Senior Poodles

senior poodle smiling at the camera

Below you will find useful and practical tips on how to properly give your aging Poodle mental stimulation. They're really easy to pull off, too! These pointers are applicable to other dogs belonging to different breeds as well.


Keep your senior dog active with a low-impact exercise routine.

While much older dogs still need regular physical stimulation, it is important to go for low-impact exercises to avoid untoward incidents like sudden bouts of joint pain and injury. You can then integrate cognitively stimulating activities (or which dog's toys to use) in the mix.

Examples of low-impact exercises include swimming, playing fetch, and catch, brisk walks and light training sessions. However, it is crucial that you have regular vet visits before actually realizing your low-impact workout routine to properly establish factors like the length and intensity of the same.


A balanced diet is crucial for an older dog's cognitive health.

Getting your hands on the right senior-specific dog food to give your pooch a balanced diet is very important. Apart from providing your pet with the right brain-boosting nutrients, it can also help him manage weight.

Underlying health problems like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heart issues can have an indirect effect on your pet's cognitive health. These are usually triggered by excessive weight and the wrong choice of dog food.


Explore new places together.

One straightforward way to excite aging dogs mentally is by putting them in an environment that they've never been in before. They will be exposed to new sights, scents, sounds, and sensations that will surely give them positive feelings.

Make sure you guide and protect your senior dog all throughout when you do this, though. New surroundings will always have new risk factors to consider like the weather, the terrain, bugs, and similar aspects that can potentially ruin the experience for your pet.


Teach your aging dog new tricks.

As we've emphasized earlier, the saying "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" certainly does not apply to senior Poodles since they will remain very curious and eager to learn even during their senior years.

Apart from expanding your canine companion's ensemble of tricks by teaching how to do a bow, a handshake, or perhaps a spin, you can also engage him in light training sessions that will help improve his overall patience and concentration.


Get your hands on puzzle toys.

Puzzle toys will give your aging Poodle the best of worlds at once. They're a must-have when it comes to mental stimulation.

Besides motivating your pet to use his analytical and problem-solving skills, these toys will also encourage him to physically move around at the same time. How's that for a win-win situation?


Engage your aging furry friend in nose work.

The dogs in the Poodle breed are very easy to train. This is why they are ideal candidates for scent training or nose work, which also doubles as a mental stimulation activity. Always remember to allow your pet to get the hang of things at his own pace.


Make socialization a regular activity for your senior dog.

Socialization with other dogs and humans is a no-fuss way to stimulate your senior Poodle mentally. Akin to visiting new places, your dog will be able to experience new sights, scents, sounds, and sensations that will get his mind going.

Just make sure you ease him into it so he won't feel pressured in the process.


About the author

Suzie Cyrenne
Suzie Cyrenne


Suzie Cyrenne has dedicated more than 20 years of her life in making and improving natural animal health solutions in the global setting.

Being the co-founder of Zumalka, Suzie is a forerunner in enhancing the lives of pets through natural and homeopathic options using the knowledge she has gained from the Classical Homeopathy School in Quebec.

Through the guidance of her mother-in-law and fellow natural health expert, Denyse Lessard, Suzie constantly devotes herself to create premium pet products that are aimed at dealing with the root causes of wellness problems and not just their symptoms.

Besides immersing herself in books, personal development and visiting new places, Suzie also enjoys keeping herself in tiptop shape by snowboarding and taking daily hikes with her husband and Zumalka co-founder, Matt Lessard, and their Golden-Doodle, Westin.

Find out more about Suzie when you click HERE.

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