Caring for an old dog

Is there any difference when caring for an old dog? We haven’t been lucky enough to have a senior dog in the house for a long time. With luck, we’re about to embark on that journey.

Tango is officially our old dog

This month Tango, Fran’s Brussels Griffon boy, will turn 12 years old. We’re not going to say he’ll “celebrate” it. That’s not because Tango doesn’t enjoy a good party. It’s because on the day of his birthday, we’ll probably have forgotten about it. 

We’re just not good at remembering actual dates. So April is going to be Tango month! If we do something special for him every day, we’ll be sure to catch the actual date at some point.

What’s different for an old dog?

Aging changes dogs in similar ways to people. They’re a little slower, may need more sleep, joints can be a little achy, metabolism can slow. And, just like with people, there are things we can do to keep them in the best possible physical condition.

One of the most important ways we can help our dogs is to keep up with their oral health. If you notice your dog eats less eagerly, or if he/she has bad breath, it may be an indicator of a tooth or gum problem. Like many small and toy dogs, Tango never had all that many teeth. But regular brushing has let him keep the ones he does have in good shape. He also makes a practice of playing “bitey face” with Simon, so we have to make sure his defensive lineup is working! 

Since an older dog should get more regular checkups at the veterinarian, be sure your vet checks your dog’s mouth and teeth. And, if you haven’t already, start routine dental care. All you need to do is rub with a soft cloth and gentle dog toothpaste.

Keep them moving!

Tango is an extremely flexible dog. The way he flops, you could swear the dog has no bones. It also means he has an adorable loose-legged gait (and his ears flop adorably when he runs). But we discovered that his flexibility didn’t mean he was toned or in good shape. His limb and core strength was deteriorating. 

Part of caring for an old dog is to make sure he’s in as good condition as possible. To build back his muscle tone, we started a series of balance exercises on an inflatable disc. Because we’re hard-core dog-sport nerds, it was something we already had on hand. You don’t need one. A couch cushion large enough for your dog to stand on will work just fine. 

At first, just stand up/sit down was all Tango could handle. Just a few repetitions, each move rewarded with a treat, was enough to tire him out. Now he’s added turning in a circle one way then the other, going in a circle with just his back legs on the cushion and fronts on the floor, and the opposite with front legs on the cushion and back legs on the floor.

It’s made a tremendous difference in his leg and core strength. And it takes less than five minutes a day. And, probably because of the treats, Tango loves it. If you are worried about your older dog gaining weight, you can use his/her food as the rewards and have your dog exercise for breakfast!

Mind/body connection

In addition to the physical, it’s just as important to keep an older dog’s mind engaged and bright. It’s a complete falsehood that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Older dogs love learning new things, and may even be better at it than their younger counterparts. Their bond with you is more developed and their trust in you complete. 

If you haven’t signed up for our training site newsletter, you’ve missed Tango learning to “bowl” over the last couple of months. The dog training game sessions are only two minutes long, so it’s always fast and fun. And involves more treats! Tango so adores these games that he’s completely ignoring Fran’s command to “stay” or “wait” – he can’t help himself. His Rally Obedience Excellent title means nothing – he’s so eager to play!

Still those unavoidable signals

As much as we try, we know we can’t keep time at bay. It’s harder to wake Tango up, he’s sleeping deeper. He doesn’t see particularly well anymore – bright sunshine is particularly difficult. It breaks your heart a little when your dog can’t seem to find you in his own backyard. He’s also gaining weight more easily – we can completely identify with that part of getting older.

The best thing we can all do when caring for an old dog is pay attention. Notice what’s changing. The one thing that never changes is how much unconditional love our dogs give.

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