Joan Merriam: Fun with your older dog
Just like humans, dogs become senior citizens at different points in their lives. Experts tell us that a dog enters the “geriatric” stage when about 75% of its lifespan is over, but that varies from breed to breed and is also dependent on size. (Larger dogs generally age faster.)
But geriatric doesn’t have to mean over the hill! Recent decades have brought significant advances in veterinary care, enabling our dogs to live happy and healthy lives well into their senior years. While your sugar-faced pup may no longer be able to run marathons or excel at agility games, there are plenty of activities he and you can still enjoy together.
I just “met”— virtually — a big 12-year-old black lab named Calhoun and his dog-sitter, who asked what kinds of things she could do to keep him entertained while his doggie-mom was gone for several days. The first thing I mentioned was that she needed to keep in mind Calhoun’s age: he probably has some arthritis, which means he should avoid activities that have to do with jumping or anything that could put stress on his joints. He may also be getting hard of hearing, and his eyesight may not be what it used to be. Apart from that, here are a few of the activities I suggested:
Cut some treats into 52 bite-sized pieces, and scatter them all around your yard. Do it while your dog is around, so she knows that it’s a game, and try to cover a large enough space so she can get in some exercise as well. One variation on this is to make a winding trail of treats the dog can follow around to give her nose a workout. Another option is to place treats or toys at a site away from your home and take your pup out for a hunt. When you get close, have her try to locate the toy or treat, and celebrate with claps and “Good girl!” when she does.
We all know how this game is played, but be sure you keep it light, and skip it if your dog has jaw or dental issues. And because older dogs don’t have the same stamina as younger pups, keep the game short.
Hide and Seek
This game is an excellent activity that will let your dog use his nose and innate tracking skills. Hide a handful of treats around the house, preferably in familiar places like next to his toys or water bowl, then let your pup find them. (You may need to lead him to the first few treats until he gets the idea.) Again, make a big deal out of it when he locates the goodies. Afterward, make sure you double-check to see that he’s found all the treats — nobody wants ants in the house!
You can play fetch with just about anything: a ball, a stick, anything that’s handy. Just make sure not to throw it too far, since you don’t want your dog to run and risk injuries, and keep in mind any mobility restrictions.
A Car Ride or Day Trip
Most dogs love to ride in the car, even if they’re just sitting there! Be sure to put him in the back seat, and if possible, secure him with a dog safety-belt or harness. Remember that if you take a long ride, you’ll need to stop for potty-breaks: like people, many older dogs’ bladders aren’t what they were when they were younger!
Even older dogs love to go for walks! Unless your dog is accustomed to 2- or 3-mile jaunts — and some older pups are perfectly fine with this distance — you’ll want to keep it shorter. Just keep in mind your dog’s overall health and endurance capability before you head out for a hike in the hills. If your pup is accustomed to public places, take him to dog-friendly spots like hardware stores, pet stores, or downtowns where he can sniff around and meet people.
Whatever you do, don’t assume that your senior dog needs to be relegated to the couch or dog bed to snooze the day away. Keep him as active as possible, and you’ll be rewarded with a dog who’s happier and healthier for years longer.
Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Casey (hence, “Casey’s Corner”). You can reach Joan at email@example.com. And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue.
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