From the day they enter our lives we know it’s coming. We know that we will have to watch them grow old, gradually slowing down, sleeping more, becoming less aware of their surroundings. We know this will happen sooner than we expect or want but when it comes, it’s a shock.
This has weighed on my mind for the last 12 years and now, with two dogs approaching thirteen, here we are, at the unimaginable. At first the changes are subtle and it’s easier to think they have been imagined. But, faced with routine checks that lead us to specialist referrals, cancerous lumps removed with the warning that they will be back, close relationships with physios, daily medication and an app to monitor breathing rate (yes, there truly is an app for everything) it’s hard to avoid that we have arrived. My dogs are old, and our time together no longer stretches ahead luxuriously.
Now that we are here, at this place that has been chasing us since the day they arrived, one question is always on my mind – am I doing enough? In a perfect world they could use more training, more enrichment, more physio, more time spent together...there is always more I could do. These old dogs sleep a lot now though and it’s tempting to pour my energy into the younger ones, always eager to train, to run, to play. It's an easy routine to slip into.
But a few years ago I came across a study looking at quality of life in our pet dogs and I read something that made my heart ache for old dogs everywhere.
‘...as the length of the relationship increases, owner attention to the dog’s needs decreases while dog attachment to the owner gets stronger...’
Let that statement sink in. And now make a promise to your dog that this will not happen to them.
So I’ve made a conscious decision not to loose focus on my old dogs. They may not leap up every time I head out the door like they used to, but with some gentle encouragement they are so willing to join in on anything I offer – be it a training game, a massage, exploring the old barn, a car ride or just sitting in a paddock sniffing all those good smells. We can’t stop this path we are on, but perhaps we can slow it down....fill it with quality interactions to enhance our old dog’s physical and mental well being.
Go new places together, sit and watch the world go by, sniff!, play, train, use lots of treats, do all of their favorite things. Make sure they stay comfortable, try new foods, work on their strength and balance, keep them active but use massage and touch when growing old makes their bodies ache.
Savor these moments, give them your attention and let your attachment to them grow stronger - as theirs does for you.
For a great article on using platforms to increase strength click here.