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Old Dog, Good Dog

Check Your Assumptions
Another thing to remember is that you need to observe your dog closely, scrutinize your own assumptions about aging (some of us think getting old is the end of the world) and act accordingly. “The most crushing thing is this sense I’m sure it’s not intentional but it’s almost like the worth of the dog isn’t the same anymore,” Haug says. “People will stop giving heartworm prevention or shots; they say, ‘Oh well, he’s old, we’re just going to feed him until he dies.’” She pauses, then says quietly, “They deserve better than that.”

Ted Kerasote, author of the acclaimed memoir Merle’s Door, is a superb athlete; when his dog Merle couldn’t do the ski runs anymore, it broke Kerasote’s heart. Then it made him examine his own impulses. “The first thing to be clear about is whom you’re indulging. Very often, because we want to run or mountain bike, we delude ourselves into thinking, “The dog loves this,” and we push the dog far beyond where he needs to go. The problem is, dogs age much more quickly than we do. Say you get a dog when you’re 30, you’re now 38 and in fine shape, and the dog is possibly geriatric.”

Kerasote is currently working on a new book, titled Why Dogs Die Young and What We Can Do about It. “Most of the people I’ve spoken with who have really long-lived dogs change their dog’s food periodically, seasonally,” he remarks, “just the way a wild wolf would have different food seasonally, and the way we would.”

The biggest factor of all, though, is real engagement. “We are very self-serving: Many of us live busy urban lives, so we buy a whole passel of toys and leave the dog alone all day,” Kerasote says. “The older the dog gets, and the more he’s been left at home, the more he spirals into this kind of depression. People may need to think about budgeting for a dog walker. Or your dog might even be happier driving to work with you, enjoying the ride, sleeping in the car, going for a few short walks and driving home with you. We tend to think, “Oh, that’s just an old dog, he loves just lying around.” Well, have you given the dog a choice?

“You need to find ways to perk up your dog,” he continues. “I’ve never seen a dog who preferred playing with a toy to two or three friendly peers.” Of course, as the dog gets older, the key is finding other dogs who won’t be rough or over-exuberant. But the results are worth the search.

McCullough has one final reminder: Don’t write everything off to aging. A single imperious diva bark to summon you might not be a sign of reduced mobility or altered brain chemistry; it might just be a single imperious diva bark because it’s fun to summon you. Refusal to eat or mobility issues could be signs of other problems, not age-related at all.

The Bark is the award-winning magazine of modern dog culture—it speaks to the committed dog enthusiast—and is the indispensable guide to life with dogs, showing readers how to live smartly and rewardingly with their canine companions. Bark is the recognized expert on the social/cultural world of dogs in America, and what they mean to us. Click here for your FREE issue.

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10:23PM PDT on Oct 19, 2012

WE have a rescue dog that seems to be around 9 or 10 years old, he is partially toothless and seems to be partially blind too, in some angles he can't focus; seems like he had a bad hit on his face that made him blind and knocked the teeth off, he was scared of all even to be cared, so needed long time to adjust and now he loves to get belly rubs and jumps happily to greet us, no more fear of noises or strange things, he seems to be so happy that has a nice smile in is face, we love him bunches and his furry buddies does too.

10:50PM PDT on Aug 26, 2011

i walked my dog every day and kept teaching her new tricks, even when she got old and gray. she was really happy and never lost her excitement to go have fun. she got a walk in her favorite park the day she died, even though i had to carry her most of the way.

3:42PM PDT on May 29, 2011

Our little man just turned 13 years old. The vet said he has the heart of a puppy. Thanks for sharing this wonderful article.

7:03AM PDT on May 2, 2011


12:01PM PDT on Apr 5, 2011

My Cavaliers are 12 and 15 respectively. The younger, a female, is under the care of a canine cardiologist for the heart disease often found in the breed and is on four daily medications.. The older suffers only from deafness and poor eyesight. They both have soreness and weakness in their legs. Now here's the thing - I'm the one who needs therapy. i find myself loathe to leave them as "something" may happen in my absence. I watch them like a hawk as they sleep (which they do alot) to be sure they are still breathing. I can't imagine life without them and I know they can't last much longer, It's feels like premature mourning. Does anyone else suffer from this phenomonen? Appreciate any good advice. Thanks.

8:00PM PST on Feb 20, 2011

Good article. My senior dachshund developed Cushing's Disease at age 10. He's now almost 12 1/2. He's on oral chemo drugs which compromise his immune system so I stopped his boosters and only gave him the rabies vaccine. Because he got no shots, I can't take him to many public places anymore. He recently lost his hearing. I had the vet check to see if he had impacted wax in his ears, but they are fine. He looks so depressed and sleeps most of the day & night. I decided to teach him hand signals and he seems much happier now. He also has a few good games of catch in him. I will see what new tricks I can teach him as suggested. Keep your fingers crossed it works!

6:23PM PDT on Oct 19, 2010

It is a great article.
I have had many older dogs.
It's so hard when the end is near.
I took my dogs with me on car trips and errands.
I love spending time and spoiling my animals.
They deserve our time and love.
They give us so unconditional love.

7:50AM PDT on Sep 14, 2010

Really good, pertinent article. And so so true. We had/have ramps all over the house and outside for the deck. When my Max developed doggie Alzheimer's and partial blindness, we put rectangular planters all along the deck to "guide" him to the ramp and even put side-barriers on the ramp top so he wouldn't fall. And a zillion rugs all over the hardwood floors, especially in front of the water and food bowls. Luckily, he had his buddy Rocky to follow around and he'd listen for Rocky to bark to join in and "protect" his home. When Rocky died much too quickly of liver cancer, poor 17-yr old Max didn’t last a month, howling and crying, wandering all around the yard looking for Rocky and wanting to be held. I was grieving along with him and thought of rescuing another dog to keep him company but then he was diagnosed with another painful hernia, this time too unstable to survive the operation - and we lost him just 30 days after Rocky.

But this article really focuses on what needs to be done for them, and that they are bored alone and sleep (or chew, etc) to adjust to that loneliness. We are their family and family needs to comfort, spend time not money on them and "play" together......They are pack animals, after all.

Now we have four rescues, our home is complete again and they interact so well. The oldest, at 12 or 13, is like a puppy again!

1:50AM PDT on Jun 27, 2010

good article!

10:17AM PDT on Jun 5, 2010

what a great article. its so important to keep your older dog engaged and happy, just as you would want to still be involved with family and friends and enjoyable activities... just with more naps and resting and a slower pace.

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Beautiful art but not on me. Thank you for the article.

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