January 10, 2015 – I was thinking about the vast array of dogs we’ve had here the past few weeks – big and small, excitable and quiet, standoffish and cuddlish (is that a word?), younger dogs and older dogs, too. They each had their own distinct personalities, but they all, at day’s end, liked to be praised for doing well.
Everyone likes to feel they’ve succeeded…gone out and done their best and their best was more than good enough. If you’re getting on in age yourself (or perhaps your parents or grandparents are), you’ll know that this feeling of success doesn’t happen as often as it used to. This decrease happens to dogs too. The new pup reaches the ball first no matter how hard the older one lopes for it…smile on his face…and while he is now “still adorable” the puppy is “such a smart dog.” It has to sting.
That’s why it’s extra important when visiting older dogs to have a plan for success in mind. Make your visit not just another dog walk to the park. Tune-into your elderly buddy and take your mind off the rest of your day.
Take Great Notes with the Family
Start by learning everything you can. During your meet and greet, make extra notes about the older dog. Ask questions and watch his movements during the time you’re there.
Recognize Their Limitations
Older dogs naturally have greater limitations than they used to. We all do as we get older. His hearing and eyesight might be going. His teeth or gums might be sore. He might have arthritis or just a wonky back or hip that bothers him occasionally. Don’t treat him like an invalid for being less fit and able than the family’s three-year-old dog.
Learn About Their Strengths
Maybe Miss Elly has a sore hip area, but likes her walks and can still go a fair distance at a slower pace. She might still love to play ball, but the rules have changed…spend a little time learning how to make it fun so she can still win (most of the time.) I’ve found playing with two balls (one each if there’s a second dog) helps encourage a different type of game. Each dog wants your attention so part of this new game is rousing you, and not the actual chase.
Plan Your Visit to Maximize Those Strengths
By the time you leave, you want Miss Elly to feel refreshed and happy and ready for a nap. That’s not the same as over-extended from trying to keep up with a younger dog on a walk or under-exercised because you’ve let her go out to pee and put her back inside again. She might have a lot of staying-power for a good walk.
If she’s an only-dog in the household, you’ll soon learn her likes and dislikes and staying power. If you’re attentive you’ll know when she’s got more energy and wants to explore and when she’s sore and would like to just stroll around the yard with you at her side. You’ll learn how to approach her without alarming her with sudden movements and what kind of treats are delicious and don’t hurt her mouth. And you can lavish all kinds of praise for just being a great asset to the family over the years.
Success in a Multi-Dog Household
What if the family has another younger dog also? Most likely you’ll be asked to exercise them both. What do you do? First of all – you discuss it with the family, and this might be a topic for a post-meet-and-greet phone call. They’ll tell you the pair are fine out together…but you’ve seen otherwise after a few days on the job.
And then it’s up to them. They might tell you to do your best taking them both out. They might give you extra time, so you can walk them separately…but perfect worlds don’t often happen! Or you’ll just find a way to give both dogs some individual attention after a short walk. You’ll mix things up from day-to-day.
The temptation is to add more time in so you can give each a proper share…and we’ve all done it…but of course this is a poor business decision and when you’re busier and can’t afford the extra time, the dogs are the ones who wonder why you’ve given up on them.
We’ve found a little of everything works well when we have young and old with us. We’ll walk slower together one day and another it’s playtime for both and then a fast jaunt around the block for the younger one.
The important point to remember is to keep the older dog’s feelings in mind all the time. If you’re putting her back inside a little sooner one day – or you’re throwing the ball to the younger dog more often, spend a few minutes to let her know you’re giving her tired bones a rest, just like you plan to do when you get home.
When you say goodbye at the end of your visit, and you can look the older dog in the eye and know you respected her for who she is today, and let her be herself – then you’ve done a good job.
As for day 10 of 365… The weather cleared cold and crisp and the five dogs we had here went home. We had just one outside sit to do, for an elderly cat who usually doesn’t show his face but who lately comes out for a pat and scratch. It only took three years of vacation sits to get him to that point! So tonight we’re sitting home with our Canary and enjoying his company out in the living room for a change.
Until next time, have fun out there!