I currently share my life with two senior dogs. Mr. Barbo, turned 13 last week and BooBoo will be 13 in October. And I’m here to say, it can be heartbreaking going through this aging process. Barbo has been with us since he was about a year and half old and BooBoo came to us at age 3 so watching them both slow down and age has been hard. I’ve never adopted an already senior dog and I’ve never had a dog live to be this old before, so this whole process has been humbling, especially for someone who has makes a living working with thousands of dogs.
In their youth, we’d do regular 7 or 8 mile hikes, and Barbo would think of it as a nice warm-up. For dogs their age, they’re very healthy. Neither of them has major health concerns but in the last year or two, we noticed their stamina lowering. Barbo started taking twice daily pain meds for some joint issues and shoulder pain, which helped but he’d still struggle with longer hikes. And after a longer walk, they’d both be pretty wiped out and wouldn’t rebound quite as quickly. Late last year we noticed Barbo sleeping very soundly and then we realized that was because he was going deaf. BooBoo would get stiff in her hips after longer walks, so we started giving her pain meds preventatively before walks.
These slow, but obvious signs of decline are hard to watch. The hardest day so far was about a month ago when we were on vacation at the beach – their most favorite place. They love to chase the seagulls and sandpipers. And Barbo really wanted to, but after a few short gallops, he’d do his classic border collie plop down. HIs heart wanted to chase but his body just couldn’t. Honestly, this broke my heart but he was still happy and we had some nice family time sitting watching the birds and the waves and meeting people and their dogs.
My husband and I have also had conversations about life after the dogs, what we might want to do and I think in some way, that helps prepare us both for the inevitable. And we’ve promised the dogs that we will not let them suffer at all. I’ve always been in the camp that it’s better to say good-bye a week early than an hour too late. We’re thankfully, not quite at that point, yet. But if there were to be cancer or some terminal issue, quality over quantity is the goal. We wouldn’t put their aging bodies through a major surgery for a few months of life extra or do something like chemo that would be so hard on them (and us).
So for those of you living with and loving seniors, I know it’s hard on your hearts. I wanted to share what I do to keep them happy and healthy.
Here are 7 of the things I’m doing to help my seniors have the best life possible:
- Mental enrichment. Since their stamina for long hikes has decreased, I make sure they have daily mental enrichment activity.
- Pain medication. We work closely with our vet (she’s been our family’s for over 20 years) to ensure they’ve got medication to help their aging joints and and keep them comfortable. Even if your dog isn’t obviously limping or crying out, if they’re senior, chances are very good there’s some underlying pain. I had an 11 year old client recently that contacted me for sep anx training but after working through some things with them, I recommended a pain consult with their vet. Sure enough, once she started pain meds, the behavior issues went away. I encourage you to speak with your vet.
- Time. Spending time with them when they ask for it, whether it’s cuddling, ear rubs or just hanging on the couch. If they solicit attention, I try to give it.
- Sniffaris and low impact walks. Walks don’t need to be high impact. Letting them follow their nose and decide when they’re done is how we walk. We don’t plan long hikes like we used to but these sniffing walks are what they enjoy most.
- Reducing stress. After living with us for so long, we know what stresses them out so I make a very concerted effort to protect them. For example, when I have board and train puppies, I use a lot of management and don’t let rambunctious, obnoxious, super social puppies jump all over them and bite their faces. I’ve also trained lots of cooperative care with them for grooming and vet procedures so those visits are low stress for them.
- Snackies. At 13 I’m focused on giving them quality over quantity. Free snackies for being cute is an everyday occurrence here. That doesn’t mean training doesn’t happen but they aren’t expected to work for everything.
- Training. Nothing rigorous but keeping their brains sharp is important. And they love training. Why wouldn’t they? When you train with positive reinforcement training is fun. And yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks. So we keep practicing easy things and with Barbo being deaf, I’ve tried to freshen up his hand signal response.
If you’d like some training or enrichment ideas, or are struggling with behavior issues with your senior, I’d love to help you. You can schedule a session here.
Lastly, I’ll leave you with this poem (get the tissues):
Walk With An Old Dog by Gayl Jokiel
Love to all the seniors and their caretakers,