How the years speed past us!
I have lost count of the times in the last year that I have said the following:
Thank goodness that when we were younger we really didn’t understand what it was to be old!
Now being old is to a great extent as much as a thing of the mind as it is of the body. As the saying goes: “One is only as old as you feel!” (Or as many men know it: One is only as old as the woman you feel.)
Moving swiftly on!
Dogs offer us many lessons including what it is to become old, then old and infirm, and then pass away. Which is why so many owners of their beloved dogs spend as much time and care on keeping their elderly dogs as fit as possible as they do on themselves; probably in many cases spending more care and attention on their dogs than on themselves.
By: Lisa Spector December 10, 2016
Those of us who love and have dogs know that senior years always approach too fast. Sanchez, my 13 1/2 year old yellow Lab, has had his health challenges this year, but now that he’s gained back his strength and has recovered from E. coli, he’s acting younger than he has in years. I’ve noticed this not only in his energy level, but also in his cognitive abilities and in his engagement with dogs and people around him. I cherish his golden years and am always looking for ways to keep his mind active and alert, and keep him connected with life.
Admittedly, I’ve been a single dog person my entire life… up until five years ago. When it felt like I was agonizing on the decision to expand my canine household, my vet said to me, “Bringing a younger dog into your household will help keep Sanchez younger as he ages.” Sanchez was only seven at the time, and that perspective had never occurred to me. It’s shown itself to be true.
2. Give daily spoonfuls of coconut oil.
I’ve written about the benefits of coconut oil for pets, everything from fur conditioner to paw protection. But, I hadn’t realized that coconut oil helps with canine cognition until I read this Cambridge study. I’ve been giving both Sanchez and Gina a tablespoon of coconut oil nightly for a couple of months. Not only do they love the taste, but I have definitely noticed an improvement in Sanchez’s cognitive abilities.
3. Train him often.
An old dog not only can learn new tricks, but also loves the attention and benefits from the mental stimulation as much as any age dog. Dogs love to learn, no matter their age. I still spend time training every night with Sanchez. As you can see in the video above, I’ve come up with ways to make his training less physical. But, he still gets rewarded for being involved and staying still. If it gets late, he starts whining and begging for his training time with me. The bonding time is precious and it stimulates him to keep learning and being challenged. He has no complaints about his yummy rewards either.
Although dogs love consistency and build confidence through their routines, it’s sometimes good to mix up that routine as well. I recently was staying with friends and their three Golden Retrievers. While there, Sanchez loved the new smells in their backyard, neglected all of his daily naps and really enjoyed their multi-pet household, including the cats. Our routine completely changed as my friends generally rise much earlier than me and their dogs are fed right away. I decided to allow my dogs the same privilege while we were there. Of course, Sanchez just loved it. I was surprised how quickly he reverted back to our normal routine when we got home. While he’s making up for his missed naps now, he really enjoyed the change of scenery, people, pets, and general surroundings.
5. Add variety to diet, and consider nutritional needs.
I also add variety to Sanchez’s dog food. While the base is the same (organic meat), the variety comes in the extras. Sometimes I add in canned sardines, other times it’s salmon oil. I alter between any of the following additions: sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, green beans, spinach, kale, apples, and bananas. He’s a Lab and LOVES his food. Surprising him adds to his olfactory delight as well.
6. Add environmental enrichment.
Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine defines environmental or behavior enrichment as “the process of manipulating an animal’s environment to increase physical activity & normal species typical behavior that satisfies the animal’s physical and psychological needs.” Music created for senior dogs, with their hearing sensitivities in mind, is a great way to provide auditory stimulation that engages their senses.
7. Incorporate nose work.
Dogs often lose hearing and sight in their senior years. But, as long as they can still smell, they can still find their way around. I’ve honestly met blind and deaf dogs that were still retrieving balls, and I barely noticed any impairment to their sight or hearing. Engage a dog’s nose, and you’ll keep him stimulated.
K9 Nose Work defines this sport as “the fun search and scenting activity for virtually all dogs and people. This easy to learn activity and sport builds confidence and focus in many dogs, and provides a safe way to keep dogs fit and healthy through mental and physical exercise.” I enrolled Sanchez in classes a couple of years ago, and now we play “find” games at home. I hide pieces of liver in boxes spread throughout the living room. He searches for the piece of liver and is rewarded with more liver in the box when he finds it. He LOVES this search game.
8. Play often.
No matter the age, dogs enjoy and benefit from playtime. Even if they don’t have the same physical abilities as their younger canine friends, they can still engage in play. Try a game of hide and seek. Actually, all training and nose-work games should also feel like play to them. Pretend you’re a kid again, and they’ll pick up on your energy and thank you for it.
9. Walk them in new areas.
Again, engaging their nose helps keep them stimulated and interested in their surroundings. Bringing them to a new area for a walk is another way to do that. Sanchez is still often with me in the car. So, once a week, I try and stop in a new area for him to explore.
10. Take time to smell the roses.
Walks may no longer be about physical activity. Move at his pace. Allow him to use his nose as much as he chooses. I’ve learned that it’s not only good for Sanchez, but it’s good for me. He’s teaching me the importance of taking time to slow down and enjoy nature. Honestly, does it ever get any better?
Our wonderful Pharaoh is getting pretty old now; he was 13 1/2 years-old on December 3rd which is a grand age for a German Shepherd. When he was a young puppy I was advised to get a younger playmate for him when his years were building up. For two reasons. The first being that the younger dog keeps the elderly dog playing and interested in the world. The second reason being that the elder dog will teach the younger dog all the owner’s commands.
Cleo has proved both points. Pharaoh in living with so many dogs around him is most definitely kept engaged and despite his rear hips being so very fragile and weak he still doesn’t miss a turn in going out with the other dogs.
Just to underline how fantastic Pharaoh is doing, his age at the conversion ratio of 1 dog year to 8 human years makes him 108! Or 36 years my senior!