The old dog may no longer run as fast, jump as high or walk as far as he used to,
His carriage be not held as proud,
And instead of a strut he may stutter and falter,
But that is of little matter as it is his unwavering devotion to one so hopelessly flawed
That shall forever bind him to my heart.
Last week I worked in shifts over a period of three days to strip Frank's coat down since he no longer can stand comfortably for the time it takes to maintain it. And as I sighed in reflection that with the demise of his stunningly gorgeous coat I was acknowledging my acceptance of the fact that he was getting old, I received an email that jolted me even farther into the way-back machine. It was from The Californian's Publisher and Chairman of the Board Ginger Moorhouse, who reminded me that it has been 13 years since I trained her dogs Mark and Luke. What? How could those perennially rambunctious scoundrels be 13?
One great thing about training other peoples' dogs as puppies or young adults is that they become frozen in time at the age I work with them. In my mind, they never grow old, slow down from arthritis or develop hearing loss, and the picture I carried in my mind of Mark and Luke was that of two handsomely identical, athletic dogs that were extremely devoted to each other and who never met a mud puddle they didn't love.
But according to Ginger, the twins were slowing down and she wanted to know if I had any tips to make their senior years more comfortable (as well as my thoughts on adding a new puppy or older dog to the household, which is another column). So here goes:
* Regular check-ups with your vet. The importance of having another pair of eyes to monitor your senior's health cannot be overstated. Most veterinarians recommend yearly blood panels to make sure that your pet's body systems are functioning properly. Although they may seem pricey if your dog appears healthy, blood tests are an invaluable tool in spotting problems before they become serious. This is also an excellent opportunity to bring your vet's attention to any lumps or bumps on your dog's body and report any new or strange behaviors that might be related to aging.
* Tooth care. It is estimated that 85 percent of dogs and cats over 3 years of age suffer pain from periodontal disease, and if your older pet suffers from dental disease it is in chronic pain. A veterinary cleaning and the extraction of diseased or broken teeth may be necessary to bring the problem under control, which should be followed by a regular maintenance program at home.
* Pain management. If your dog suffers from arthritis or decreased mobility due to its age, your vet may recommend the use of medication for his or her pain, but there are also steps you can take in your home environment to make life easier for your four-legged friend.
Prevent unsupervised access to stairs or slippery tile or wood floors that could result in painful slips or falls by using pet gates or puppy pens to confine seniors to safer areas.
Keep nails short! Overly long nails provide poor traction on floors and throw a dog's structural alignment off balance.
Use pet ramps or carpeted steps to assist with getting into and out of cars and on and off of furniture, and provide non-slip raised feeding dishes so your dog does not have to reach down to eat.
There are many comfortable bedding options to help aging pets rest easier, but use caution when using a pet bed that contains a heating element since elderly or paralyzed pets may become burned if they are unable to move away from the heat source.
* Incontinence in elderly dogs can occur in pets that leak only during sleep or those that leak consistently. The first step is to find out if there is any medical reason for the leaking. Once that is ruled out you can deal with the problem of controlling the damage to your home. Obviously, the dog's access to carpeted areas should be prohibited unless they are covered by waterproof or protective pads. A better option may be to gate the dog in areas with washable floors and provide comfortable and washable bedding and/or diaper the pet to allow access in the house.
Extreme caution should be taken to keep the hair and skin of dogs with incontinence problems clean and dry to avoid irritation or burns from their urine.
* Loss of hearing or vision in a senior dog is best handled by keeping to the dog's familiar routines. If the loss of function develops over time most dogs are able to manage the adjustment as long as their surroundings remain predictable. Their nose is still their strongest sense and will help them negotiate their environment. Common sense should be used to gate off stairways or similar areas to blind dogs, and never leave a blind or deaf dog off-leash alone when outside of its own yard as it can become disoriented and wander into danger.
While regular veterinary care, pain management and environmental adjustments are all necessary to make sure your pet enjoys the best quality of life as it ages, equally important is his emotional wellbeing. So treat every day with the old dog like it is his last. Hug him, pet him and say everything you want to say before it's too late.
Last week's column, "Dogs require correction, not punishment" provoked an annoyed response from Steve E. Swenson who wrote "You provide good topics without providing good advice." He went on to say, "You said you gave the owner specific instructions on how to correct the problem, but you didn't describe them. That would have been the most important part of the column. Please keep this in mind for future columns"
Steve, are you sure you don't have my column confused with Bob Price's Sound Off?
First of all, the topic was Correction vs. Punishment and how owners can create problems by punishing their dogs; it was not about how to teach your dog where to pee and poop.
Next, I didn't detail the instructions I gave the owner on purpose. This was a psychological problem created by punishing a dog with a solution specifically tailored to suit its previous training and temperament. If you want generic, try "Dog Training for Dummies."
Sherry Davis is a dog trainer/owner of CSI 4 K9s. Email her at csi4k9s@ yahoo.com. These are her opinions, not necessarily The Californian's.