Caring for Old Dogs

OLDDOGSRULE…  that is one thing you’ll always hear me say.  I love dogs, but I REALLY love old dogs!  Nothing better: sincere, dedicated, loyal, wise, I could go on and on.  They paid their dues, they went with you through thick and thin.  Now what?  A puppy? Uggg.  All that same stuff over and over again?  Your old dog knows this stuff like the back of his paw.  But as you begin anew with a puppy, don’t forget the old guy or gal sitting on the couch who looks up at you without lifting his or her head as if to say, “I’ll be here when you get back, I know where you’re going!”

In this very meaningful article I’d like to share with you some ideas of how to keep that veteran dog fit and happy, and most importantly how to repay him for all those years of service.  

Let’s start with walking.  I read somewhere that Steve Jobs said that when he needed to think, he would walk, and I’m sure he did a lot of walking.  I like to walk too, and love to walk with my old dogs Goofy and Maya.  There’s no cell phone in my hand when I’m walking, I’m taking in the sights and sounds as Goofy and Maya take in the smells.  When I really want to connect I take them one at a time and we’ll chat.  Just the meandering thoughts of my mind interpreted as pure gibberish by my dog.  But occasionally they’ll throw a look my way and then head off again.  Walking with an old dog is a very zenlike experience…  pure zen.  Walking is more than exercise, it is a connection with our surroundings as well as those with us, even if they’re at the end of a leash.

Another thing I do with my older dogs (and all my dogs actually ) is using a treadmill, not any treadmill, but a self powered slatmill.  That means, the dog controls the speed and can even stop for a while and then start again.  This is a great exercise because there’s consistent exercise as long as the dog wants and no risk of cars, other dogs, twisted ankles or even rain.  I only use a slatmill because I don’t ever want to force a dog to run on a powered treadmill because of the damage it could cause a dog that refuses to go.  My dogs wear a harness that puts pressure on the chest and puts no strain on their necks or throat, also the slat is made of a shock absorbent rubber.

Remember all the fun things you taught your dog over the years so they could get all those ribbons, well there are several they can still do.  I break them apart from the routine and do them in the backyard a few times a day.

  1. Using your nose.  If you ever trained in AKC Utility, you remember the scent discrimination exercise.  I do this almost every day with Goofy.  I can use the articles we have or even just 5 or so 1/2” dowels cut to around 5” long.  I put my scent on one, then mix it with 4 others about 8 feet away and send him.  When he finds mine, I throw a party.  (be sure to mark them with numbers or letters so you know which one is yours)
  2. Heeling!  Heeling is healing because it really connects you.  That beautiful prance, side by side, your dog looking up.  We do a few minutes of heeling in the backyard or at the park.  I’ll add in some signals or positions like STAND, DOWN of SIT, the old guys and gals still love that stuff!  Plus you can do the SUPER SLOW heel to mix it up.

***I like to use plenty of treats in my training, but we have to remember that our older dogs aren’t burning the calories like they used to, so be sure to deduct those calories from the next meal.

  1. Find the treat is another fun game.  Keep some of those old boxes from your Amazon orders and put 4 or 5 high value treats in one, close it up and mix it together with 4 or 5 other boxes and see how quickly your dog will find that box.  Just like a US Navy SEAL dog!
  2. Stretching..  Older muscles need a little more attention, so giving your dog a good stretch or massage can go a long way in maintaining optimum health and function, plus it feels so good.  Stretching is a way to keep blood flow to the muscles and keep them engaged, so do it before or after walking or just while you’re sitting on the couch watching Netflix.
  3. Swimming.  If you have the luxury of a pool at home, get yourself and your older dog in there for a swim whenever you can, weather permitting.  Swimming really is a great exercise that is non-impact and you cango at your own pace.  If your dog isn’t a very good  swimmer, keep a vigilant eye on them especially if they’re older or a few pounds too heavy.  A life vest isn’t a bad idea and can help you stabilize your pup in the water and keep them moving.  WIth older dogs, I’d stay away from lakes, rivers or the ocean because of the unknown.  Keep them close enough so you can be there if they need you.


As we, and our dogs, get older we generally burn less calories mainly because we’re doing less.  So reducing our caloric intake is a good consideration. Most of us (me included) will eat and pick out of boredom, and then share a treat or two with our dog.  This can seem harmless, but those calories add up and the extra weight we ALL carry can cause stress on our joints and our organs.  So I urge you to consider this when you feed your dog treats.  Also, consider it in your dog’s food and overall portion size.  

There are treats you can give that won’t add extra pounds like broccoli, green beans and such, just stay away from the hotdogs, cheese and mainly those CARBOHYDRATES!

Consider smaller portions when feeding your dog and using a food that is lower in starches and carbohydrates, as those add up quickly!  Having your dog work for food will make it more fun, but also burn a few calories more.

Everyone should look their best and our older dogs are no exception. I still have my weekly grooming ritual with all the dogs from the oldest to the youngest.  This includes brushing (with hands on to check for lumps), toenail trims, occasional baths and occasional tooth brushing.  It always saddens me to see an older dog that is unkept.  Dog’s don’t lose their dignity until we strip them of it.  So take the time to make them feel very special as often as you can.  Wipe away that eye crud, brush them out, clip those nails and let them walk tall and proud and shout out “I may be old, but DAMN and I ever LOVED!”

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