Fran’s Brussels Griffon Tango recently celebrated his 11th birthday. For some reason, in our minds, passing a decade moved him from the “middle-aged” category to “old dog.”
We know that small dogs (Tango weighs a smidge over 14 pounds) generally have a longer lifespan than big ones, but our history with dogs, unfortunately, hasn’t reflected that. Our longest-lived dog was our Boston Terrier Daemon, who lived to be 16. Golly and Roc made it to 13, but we’ve lost dogs as young as eight. It’s never long enough, but we admit to feeling cheated more than once.
Nowadays we’re more conscious of what it takes to keep our old dog feeling young. Even though he’s retired from all competition, Tango still gets play-training sessions every day. Fran is careful that he “warms up” before doing any of the tricks he knows.
Creaky old dog
Over the winter we noticed that Tango was having some trouble moving – getting going was an issue for him and he wasn’t holding himself up. Although he’s never been good at holding himself together. You know how some dogs, when they’re held, hold themselves up so their people just have to give some support? Tango flops. It’s like he pretends he has no bones when you’re holding him. So Tango gets to do some simple, fun exercises to help him stay in shape.
We use an inflatable balance disc for the exercises- but anyone can easily use a couch cushion to try it out. It “works” his legs and core, the most important bits to make sure this fuzzy creature can keep moving.
The first sit and stand. That’s it. We tell him to sit, he does it, he gets a treat. Stand. Treat. Sit-treat. Stand-treat. About five to 10 times. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but just doing it on an unstable surface like the inflatable disc or couch cushion makes it a workout for the dog’s core muscles. We were surprised that he seemed sore the day after we started. But we’ve seen a noticeable improvement in how fast he can get moving after a nap. Just the smallest thing can make a difference.
We’ve added some other little exercises on the disc; circling it with all four feet on, front feet, back feet. That’s a good warm-up for Tango. And he loves it so much that, when it’s another dog’s turn, he complains about it from his crate. He thinks all the turns should belong to him!
We’ve heard two schools of thought on introducing a puppy into a household with an old dog. One side says to leave the oldster to enjoy the peace and quiet. The other, which we dove into, says that puppies/young dogs keep them young.In all honesty, since Tango had let Fran know he was no longer interested in participating in dog sports, and really wanted no part of training classes, either, we thought he was setting himself up for a comfy retirement rocking on the porch. She even wrote a book about him: Tango: Transforming My Hellhound
Then Fran brought Boston Terrier puppy Simon home. And Tango loves him. Simon torments Tango endlessly, batting at his face, bouncing at him, nipping at his beard, even, at times, barrelling into him and knocking him over. We thought Tango would hate the little hooligan, who weighs four pounds more.
Not so! Tango adores Simon. He seeks him out to sleep by him. He initiates the bouncing! We didn’t know Tango as a young puppy, since he was 11 months old when Fran got him. He’s never played with any of the other dogs. He never even seemed interested in the other dogs. Simon, he loves! Go figure.
Live long and prosper
All of the mental and physical exertion is, of course, in addition to seeing to his medical well-being. Fortunately, aside from occasional fold dermatitis and tendency to form crystals, Tango’s healthy as well as happy. At-home grooming regimen includes:
- Brushing, which also lets us check for bumps and sensitivities
- Tooth-brushing, which lets us check his teeth and gums
- Fuzzy dog maintenance, trimming his “fuzzy slippers” until he can see a groomer again
Keeping our old dog young at heart is a privilege and a joy. His joie de vivre makes us happy every day. We hope your life is enriched with an old dog. And that all your dogs live to be creaky old complainers.