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What to Do When Your Old Dog Suddenly Becomes Playful

As our loyal companions age, they embark on a journey that, much like our own, is filled with changes and transformations.

This is a normal part of life and can be hardest for dog owners who have to watch their dog’s mental as well as physical well-being change.

One of the most heartwarming shifts is when our senior dogs suddenly become playful.

This positive twist can leave us pleasantly surprised and wondering about the reasons behind this newfound liveliness.

In this article, we delve into the connection between playfulness and well-being in older dogs, with a specific focus on providing appropriate exercise and activities to support their aging bodies.

6 Reasons for Sudden Playfulness in Older Dogs

As our dogs develop white muzzles, they might exhibit noticeable shifts in their behavior and temperament.

This can range from increased sensitivity to memory loss and anxiety.

While these are all expectable, seeing your senior dog acting like a puppy again definitely confuses some owners.

Recognizing behavioral changes in older dogs is the first step to addressing them, especially more subtle signs that can be easily missed by unattentive pet owners.

If you wonder if your senior dog has become more playful, watch out for these signs:

  • Renewed curiosity in old toys or engaging in playful behavior with them
  • More play bows and lively movements during interactions with you and other pets
  • More vocalization (joyful barks, playful growls) and wagging tails
Senior Boxer dog outdoors looking directly into the camera.
Photo by Holly Michele on Shutterstock

Behavior Cycles

Everyone goes through different phases in their lives where they may feel more productive, depressed, happy, sad, etc.

You can’t feel the exact same every single day and it’s totally normal to have “off” or “weird” days.

Dogs can also go through these behavior cycles with episodes of increased well-being and decreased energy.

This can be greatly affected by their environment and even you.

For example, pets can be more sleepy during wintertime and more active during summer.

This can also be influenced by the fact that you are engaging in more activities during certain periods of your life.

When you are feeling down, on the other hand, it can also affect your dog’s behavior.

Pain and Pain Relief

Pain and discomfort are often blamed for sudden behavioral changes in dogs at any stage of life.

Your dog may be in pain due to various age-related diseases such as arthritis, dental diseases, and cancer.

Since your dog cannot vocally communicate with you, he can only show you that something is wrong through behaviors.

If your dog suffers from joint pain and arthritis, he may become more active and playful in an attempt to soothe his aching joints with exercise.

In humans with arthritis exercises such as aerobics, walking, progressive resistance training, and aquatic exercises have been found to decrease pain and help with weight loss.

I will talk more about the right exercise for senior dogs below.

If your dog has recently received medication or treatment, he might appear more playful due to increased well-being and decreased discomfort.

Mental Stimulation

When a dog’s body gets older, the mind also goes beyond its golden years.

Senior Great Dane side profile.
Photo by anetapics on Shutterstock

However, this does not mean that your senior doesn’t require mental stimulation.

Many older dogs have decreased physical needs which oftentimes leads owners to neglect mental exercise.

In that case, your dog may be trying to compensate for this lack by being more playful and active.

Bored dogs have a tendency to get into trouble which can lead to many behavior problems such as destructive chewing, digging, excessive barking, etc.

Environmental Changes

Any change in routine or environment can bring forth behavioral changes.

Routine and consistency provide dogs with comfort, safety, and predictability.

Any changes in that routine or environment, be it moving houses, a new baby/pet, death of a family member, switching working shifts, or anything else, can cause behavioral changes in your dog.

Young dogs usually handle changes better than older dogs and can adapt more quickly to a new lifestyle.

If your dog is feeling overwhelmed, he can definitely display hyperactive or anxious behaviors.

Increased Sensitivity

Elderly dogs can become more emotionally sensitive with age.

They may also respond more agitated and irritable to previously known triggers.

As a result, your dog may feel certain emotions stronger than he had before including excitement and stress.

Rescue Dog

If you have recently adopted a rescue dog, you can get yourself ready for some pretty significant behavioral changes.

With rescue dogs, there are usually three different phases you will be going through until your dog finally feels comfortable at his new home.

Depending on this dog’s prior life experiences this can involve a drastic change in lifestyle and well-being.

At your home, he has access to regular exercise, attentive care, love, and a healthy diet that wasn’t accessible to him before.

This contributes to improved overall well-being, leading to a happier and more playful disposition.

Many owners report online about their experiences and how their dogs have transformed from fearful and listless to affectionate and playful companions.

Appropriate Exercise and Activities for Older Dogs

While your dog’s newfound spurts of energy are a happy sight, it’s important to ensure that our older dogs partake in suitable exercises tailored to their specific needs.

Contrary to popular belief, most senior dogs should not limit their activity.

Especially when it comes to arthritis, owners and vets often lean towards exercise restrictions which can actually be quite harmful and can contribute to stiff joints, weight gain, and decreased muscle mass.

For humans with arthritis, exercise is highly important and can even reduce joint pain.

So instead of restricting exercise, it’s important to modify it so it fits your dog’s age and special needs.

One key component is low-impact exercises and on top of that list is swimming.

Swimming is an amazing exercise for senior dogs that need to get out some energy without putting strain on the joints.

Therapeutic exercises and underwater treadmill therapy are often used for dogs that suffer from arthritis or are recovering from surgery.

Exercise sessions should be more frequent and shorter rather than one long walk every couple of days.

Incorporate walks on varying terrains as well as nosework or scent detection to keep your dog’s mind active and alert.

To curb your dog’s playful needs, opt for gentle tug of war, rolled fetch, puzzle toys, and light agility.

Types of exercises that are not suitable for senior dogs are anything that involves sudden and high-impact exercises such as flyball, agility, or running.

Navigating Playtime with an Older Dog

Navigating playtime with senior dogs requires a delicate balance between nurturing their playful side and ensuring their safety and comfort.

The first thing you need to do is ensure a safe and enjoyable play environment.

Remove any potential hazard from the area such as sharp objects or anything that can be swallowed.

If possible cover slippery surfaces with mats to make it easier on the joints.

The play area should have a comfortable temperature so avoid playing outside when it’s too hot, humid, or cold.

Opt for toys that are more suitable for senior dogs which are often made of softer materials.

Pick ones that are easy to hold and manipulate, with textures that provide tactile enjoyment without causing discomfort.

Interactive and puzzle toys are a great way to tire your dog out mentally without much physical strain.

If your dog has physical limitations, gentle play activities are the way to go such as gentle tug of war or soft fetch.

When you keep the play sessions shorter but more frequent, you avoid the risk of overexerting your dog.

In conclusion, the key to navigating play time with a senior dog is being mindful of the exercise.

Keeping your dog physically fit and at a healthy weight reduces the risk of injuries and joint pains.

Disclaimer: This blog post does not substitute veterinary attention and does not intend to do so. I am not a veterinarian or pet nutritionist. If your dog shows any sign of illness, call your vet.

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