So this month we are not going to talk about puppies or training or discipline. This article is about allowing ourselves to enjoy the fruits of our labors and about rewarding our long time companions for their years of service!
Our dogs these days are living longer… with the advent of better care and more attention to our dogs’ general good health, we are able to hang out with our pals for many more years than ever before.
This gives us much more time to spend with them in their “prime time”. Some of the cute but silly puppy behavior has passed and they are accustomed to our ways and have found a rhythm within the “pack”. This is most frequently when we begin to refer to our canine pals as “such a good boy” and “a great family member” And these are the years we will remember when we speak about him in the future.
So, he has put up with all of our demands and oddities. He has waited patiently for the time when the kids are not toddlers and we have time to take him for longer walks. He has watched them go off to college and is finally allowed in the living room to snooze when we are out.
He has earned the right to watch a grandchild and can be trusted not to chew your shoes or have a quick snack from the table. In fact, these are my very favorite years!!
Unfortunately, though, once he starts to settle he also begins to be taken more for granted. He is not making loud demands or grabbing your attention and this is where we have to start paying a little more attention to this patient soul.
Dogs do not usually tell you when they are feeling uncomfortable unless they are in extreme distress. They are not whiners and complainers and don’t really have the ability to tell us when their bones are feeling achy or their ears are sore. The first time we usually see problems with our dogs are when they become acute and need some serious remedial care.
So, on behalf of some of our more elder statesmen, I would like to remind you all of some simple things to watch for that can help your loyal friend have an easier time in his later years.
• Check ears regularly, especially floppy ones, they hide all kinds of stuff down in there and if left unchecked, ears can harbor horrible, smelly consequences
• Look into your dog’s eyes. Notice if they lack the clarity they used to have and be aware of cloudiness…
• Smell your dog’s breathe. Gum disease can cause systemic infections and at best can drive you out of the room with the smell. A little dentistry will make your older dog MUCH more pleasant to be around.
• WATCH him moving around, especially when he first gets up from a reclining position. We are all a bit creaky as we age and sometimes a daily dose of a joint supplement or an occasional anti-inflammatory can just make the day better!
• Make sure he has a quiet, comfy and clean place to retire to…An extra layer of quilt will do, it doesn’t have to be a fancy dog bed. Remember that the longer the dog spends lying around, the more likely he is to develop sore spots. His bed should be regularly washed to help with dander and residual dirt that can become very uncomfortable to lie on…imagine if you have sand on your sheets!
• Monitor his food and try to make sure he eats the correct diet for his time in life. Too much food can help him carry more weight than his structure will support. There are dog foods designed for the older dog and your dog’s diet should reflect his needs.
• Because he is not causing trouble anymore does not mean that you can’t go through some of his early training routines with him. He will get a lot out of the occasional session of heel, sit, stay and down. It will make him feel like he has a job still and may remind you of the special bond you developed when you were first working together…
• And last but not least…exercise, exercise, exercise. And I don’t mean chase the Frisbee or do windsprints after a tennis ball. That kind of exercise will only aggravate joints and muscles and although your older guy may believe he can leap tall buildings, he is just a dog and does not have the information you do about the morning after consequences!!! No, I mean a long, leisurely walk in the woods or on the river trail. Keep those muscles moving but not stressed. Really, use it or lose it. If he keeps moving along he will keep moving along…
So honor your friend by paying attention to the things he cannot express. Because he is lying quietly in the living room does not always mean that all is well and he will need you to notice when there is a “hitch in his step” or he is having difficulty with those really crunchy biscuits.
He has managed to negotiate our weird world this far, now it is our turn to help him out a bit during his “prime time” and help him enjoy his well-earned later years!! You may find that these are your favorite years too…