Silver Muzzles: An Enrichment Class for Senior Dogs (and their people)

By: Dot Williams

I recently decided to sign up my senior dog, Pepper, for the Silver Muzzles class. I have always been a big fan of enrichment for animals of all ages, and this class, offered by Jenny White, CPDT-KA (certified trainer and owner of Dog-Ed) at the Animal Hospital of North Asheville, was promoting mental and physical enrichment for senior dogs. The class planned to include scent games, trick training, puzzle toys, low level obstacles, and bodywork to help keep a senior dog’s mind and body active and happy.

It sounded fun to me but I was a little unsure if it was “right” for Pepper. Pepper is the type of dog that is not comfortable with other dogs in her space. She is also kind of the “fun police,” a dog that likes to control the situation. Pepper is a great dog who loves to learn and can be around other dogs, but I have to obey the rules of her life. I contacted Jenny explaining about Pepper and she thought it would work. So we headed off to class with the hopes that it would work out but with the realization that we may not fit into this class. From the start Jenny made everyone feel at ease. Pepper was not the only dog that was a little unsure of the new setting in the beginning. Other classmates came in the door with a big doggie “woof” hello!   

During the first class, Jenny mixed teaching with hands on activities. She introduced different types of puzzle toys, TTouch (a method based on circular movements of the fingers and hands all over the body), use of clickers, ways to teach our dogs to target with their paw, and some movement work.  As the class went along the dogs started to relax and enjoy the class. Jenny took time to customize the activities if there were any limitations in a dog’s ability to do them. We left the first session excited about trying out what we had learned in class. It was an awesome feeling to be able to take Pepper to a class and be able to actually enjoy the class without the worries of any mishaps with other dogs.

It has been great to see Pepper and her classmates Penny, Tiko  and Albie and their families come into class and share what they have done over the week and the progress they have made in their new activities. Each week, Jenny builds on what we have learned the week before and adds new activities that can be carried on at home.

When it is time for TTouch, the dogs just melt. When you look around the room, it looks like puddles of pooches. The TTouch helps relax the dogs (and us too!). Tiko is a huge fan!

The photo above shows Richard practicing an ear rub technique. 

Jenny is showing different body wrap techniques that can with help with relieving stress and helping dogs be more aware of their bodies.

Movement activities help build confidence and awareness of the body, and strengthen bonds between the family and the dog. Adding different surfaces and things to step over or around creates new experiences for the dog. Albie and Linda cruised through the course:

     

Jenny has created a different movement course for each class. She showed that dogs with limited physical issues such as arthritis, decreased sensory perception, or anxiety can do these activities too. It was wonderful to watch Penny, who has decreased vision, do great on the course too. Jenny showed Cheryl how to adjust and guide Penny through the course to help build confidence. Everyday walks can be turned into movement courses. In the photo on the lefthand side of the page, Penny is showing off the weave poles in front of AHNA.

My older rescue dog, Penny, has always had some vision problems but now she is almost totally blind. She tends to spend a lot of time sleeping in my closet and I began to wonder how I could interact with her more. When Dr. Plankenhorn recommended the Silver Muzzles class we signed up. Jenny has helped me learn about and explore ways to play with Penny by encouraging her to use her sense of smell.  Rather than handing her a dog biscuit to eat, I put pieces of biscuits in an assortment of boxes and Penny enjoys finding the boxes and her treats inside.  The touching exercises are calming for both Penny and me and I feel we are forming a more special bond. The instructor, Jenny, is very observant and sensitive to our dogs’ fears and needs and is able to help us individually to respond in the best way for our dogs’ needs.  I feel I have a much better understanding of how to engage my blind Penny. --- Cheryl Byron

One of the best take away lessons from class is to give your furry friend, no matter the age, things to look forward to everyday.  My household consists of two dogs and one cat who all practice the enrichment ideas from class.  When I practice the trick training or scent games (hiding treats and having the dog look for them by using their sense of smell) at home, I now have to do it three different times since all of them (even the cat) love it!

This class was a lot of fun. It is a great way to keep your senior dog active. They may not be able to go for the long hikes or play as long as before but they still have the ability to surprise you.  As for Pep and me, the bonding experience between us and the support in class from Jenny and our classmates could not be beat. Watching Penny manage the movement course, Tiko show off his new tricks and Albie melt with TTouch was amazing. A big thank you to Jenny for teaching an old dog new tricks! --- Dot Williams

See the attached flyer below for information on when the next Silver Muzzles classes begin.

      

From left to right: Tiko and Richard ---- Albie, Dr. Linda and Ken ----- Penny and Cheryl

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