Tag Archives: old dogs

Picture of an old dog carrying a toy toward a box

Adventures with an old dog

Every day can be an adventure when you have an old dog. Tango, Fran’s 14.5-year-old Brussels Griffon, has us on a bit of a roller coaster lately. 

It’s not that we mind cleaning up when he doesn’t quite make it outside. Or the loads of laundry on the days nothing stays down. The distressing part is that he’s not comfortable, can’t seem to get warm, and on some days, doesn’t want to play his special games

Making choices

Picture of an old dog carrying a toy toward a box

All this came on rather suddenly, so Fran’s working with his veterinarian to figure out how to make him happy and comfortable again. We’ve known the vet for many years, and when she took a look at him, asked Fran if they had to have “the talk.” It’s not the same talk parents have with their pre-teens. It’s the tough choices talk.

And we’re there. At Tango’s age and state of decay (arthritis, vision and hearing loss, etc.) we’re not going to subject him to invasive or painful diagnostic tests. If we did, and discovered something, we also wouldn’t subject him to invasive or painful treatment. So there would be no point.

Comfortable is the goal

So we’re treating the symptoms for now. Hoping our vet’s familiarity with Tango, knowledge, and experience, will keep Tango comfortable most days. As long as the good days outnumber the not-so-good ones, we’ll keep going.

Ironically, with Tango, the one diagnosis we thought was a sure bet, kidney disease/failure, isn’t. His kidney function is just dandy. It’s ironic because he’s been eating prescription kidney diet food most of his life. He had crystals when we was about two, so he’s been on a special diet ever since. He’ll be thrilled now that he can have whatever food he likes. He’s happy beyond belief to get unlimited Chicken Heart Treats. Even the vet says we don’t have to care about crystals any more.

Free to indulge

In a way, it’s going to be a good time with Tango, however long it is. When you don’t have to worry about long-term consequences, you can indulge him. He’ll get the extra squirt of whipped cream or spoon of ice cream. And we’ll turn up the heated throw an extra notch, just for Tango.

We’ve had dogs for lots of years and we’ve had all kinds of end-of-life experiences with them. People, especially first-time dog owners, will ask when you know it’s time. In our experience, your dog will let you know when they’re done. By the same token, they’ll also do their best to stay with you if that’s what you need. Dogs’ love for their people is unconditional throughout their lives.

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Old dogs are scary

Tango, Fran’s 13-year-old Brussels Griffon, had a tough week. It’s not unexpected. Old dogs are scary. It’s not that he’s gotten mean or hostile. It’s that things you take for granted are harder, slower, more difficult. 

Even though he lives in air-conditioned comfort, the extreme heat this summer is taking a toll. The humidity doesn’t help, either. This week it’s more moderate and he’s feeling better. But it’s been a frightening time lately..

Slowing down

When you’re lucky enough to have an old dog, some things are little “hold your breath” moments. Like the times you go to wake him for a walk and he doesn’t wake right away. And you jiggle him a little bit and he’s limp and doesn’t respond. How you finally exhale when he stretches a bit and you know he was just deeply asleep.

A black, rough Brussels Griffon dog with a gray beardlying down to illustrate old dogs are scary

There are the almost-funny moments when this dog, absolute macho boy that he’s always been, absolutely refuses to squat while peeing and teeters on the brink of disaster every time he lifts his leg. It’s okay. The worst that can happen is he’ll need a wipe-down (okay, bath) when we get back in the house.

Yesterday was bad

It’s a little heartbreaking when he can’t do the things he used to do. Can’t manage a flight of stairs anymore, but jumps up on the couch. Doesn’t see well enough to find us in the yard in bright sunshine. So we move to cover him with our shadows so he can find the treat we’re holding out for him. There are lots of little accommodations you make for an old dog. Because he’s dear.

It can’t help but change your mood. When he has difficulty playing his favorite training games, lying down in the middle like it’s just too much. Our voices are sometimes sharper talking to him – it’s a tinge of fear. The things that were so easy a few months ago, now seem beyond his ability.

One thing that’s changed for the better as Tango’s mellowed with age. He’s become the perfect host. He loves having people over and charms even non-dog people with his gentle manners and slowly-wagging nub of a tail. This from the dog who, 12 years ago, would have happily attacked anyone but Fran. Although he was never much of a threat – the half-dozen teeth he used to have are almost all gone.

Good days for old dogs

Today is a good day. He happily played a dozen-plus “Put your Toys Away.” And did his stretching and bending exercises like a champ. But he didn’t complain bitterly from his crate when it was the other dogs’ turns. We miss that a bit, even if it always aggravates us into saying “Tango, quiet!” It’s the little, habitual things that pile up into a lifetime of precious memories.

If it sounds like we’re getting ready for the inevitable, it’s partially true. To the best of our knowledge, there’s nothing wrong, aside from natural aging. When you have a senior dog, especially one into their teens, there’s a niggle in the back of your mind. So you watch especially closely, storing up the memories. 

Because it’s a good day, we’re going to revert to our #1 lesson from last week’s post about things we can learn from dogs. We’re going to enjoy this moment, this good day.

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Graying dogs in the house

Booker, our “special” Boston Terrier, seems to be aging all of a sudden. We took a good look at him and realized he’s in the senior category now. And he’s showing it. We have two graying dogs starting to feel their age, and it’s an adjustment.

The other day Fran, after having some trouble waking Booker up, said “I don’t think I’m ready for two old dogs.”

But we agreed that it’s better than the alternative. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Reasons dogs go gray

In all honesty, Booker’s “specialness” is probably one of the reasons he could be considered a prematurely graying dog. Just like people, age is a factor. Dogs, like people, produce less pigment as they age. That’s why Tango, at 12 (almost 13), is showing some gray, but not as substantially as you’d expect.

The difference in graying dogs is clear with a picture of young Boston Terrier Booker on the left and 9-year-old Booker on the right.
Booker then and now

Other reasons for graying dogs include stress and anxiety.. People often joke that stress is making their hair turn white, but it’s been proven to be true in dogs. And Booker’s personality is pretty much always anxious. Routine helps a lot, but his temperament doesn’t really allow him to relax and just “chill.” Boston Terriers are known for their exuberance, but Booker goes beyond. We worry that this boy is burning the candle at both ends. 

Genetics is another reason dogs can gray, either in time or prematurely. If you had the opportunity to see your dog’s parents, they may have shown similar tendencies. 

Illness can also cause dogs’ fur to change color. Apparently kidney disease is particularly prone to cause graying, so if the other factors don’t figure in, it may be time to see the vet.

Cherish the oldies

Most of the time we don’t really notice how age is creeping up on our dogs. It’s the occasional incidences where they’re sleeping really soundly, or seem a bit creaky when they get moving. Over the winter, Tango seemed to have trouble with his regular exercise routine, so we made some changes. It’s important with older dogs to pay attention. We think he may have slipped on the ice and had some soft tissue damage. Just like us, it took our old dog quite a while to recover. But he’s back to his normal routine now. 

We also pay particular attention to their teeth and breath. Part of it is monitoring if they’re eating comfortably. If your graying dog is suddenly off his food, it’s time to check their teeth. One of the reasons we advocate using a cloth or gauze to brush our dog’s teeth is to physically check them. So far, Booker’s still sporting a full set of pearly whites. Tango, not so much. But he only had about a dozen to start with. 

Graying dogs aren’t done

Both of our senior dogs are still expected to play their daily training games, abide by the rules of the house, and participate in all their normal activities. Everything may take a little longer, but that’s okay. Just like people, keeping active and engaged keeps us younger, longer. Even if we’re all going gray.

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.