Having a dog classified as a senior, I am well aware that the activity level must change to accommodate age-related health issues. However, it is important to keep your aging pet stimulated both mentally and physically in order for the dog to remain as close to his normal, younger self as possible.
The larger the dog, the more quickly it will age — usually. However, I have a friend who keeps her mid- to large-size dogs active until they are15 or older. She choked telling me that her oldest had to be euthanized and exclaimed that he was eating, sleeping and his coat was gorgeous, but he lost the use of his legs.
My elderly golden retriever had to be put to sleep after he lost the use of all four of his legs in just 24 hours. Earlier that week, my dog was out in the yard playing ball, so I figure he was happy up to the end.
Dogs are more than just ornaments. They are not status symbols, either. They are pack-oriented and if they end up in a home with no other pets, they look to the human family as their pack. Many times when I was teaching dog obedience, I would hear the complaint, “My dog doesn’t like me, he doesn’t do anything I ask him to do.” My answer was a question: “Does your dog sleep in your bedroom on his own bed?” Usually the answer was “No,” to which I would say, “Fix up his bed in a corner of your bedroom, you may have to fasten a lead at first to keep him off your bed, but he will start to bond with you as you treat him as a family member.”
Now, what happens to those who work their young dogs in various competitions, or in therapy work and they start to show stiffness or tiring. Liz Palika wrote “Enrich your Dog’s Retirement” in the September 2012 issue of Dog World magazine, that it may not be necessary to stop or change an activity, but you may want to slow the speed or shorten the amount of time spent at each session.
However, if the dog shows real desire to perform as usual, yet exhibits pain or stiffness the next day, you may need to change to a different activity, and Palika mentions Rally obedience as a possibility. Or, for even quieter activities, you might need to train your pet as a therapy dog and take him to places with small groups so you stay only a short time.
Another possibility Palika mentions, though you would have to check with the librarian or school counselor, is to train your dog as a literary companion, helping youngsters learning to read gain confidence.
Stimulating the older dog both mentally and physically at the same time can be as easy as going for a walk, selecting different places so there are new sights and smells. Just remember to keep the walks short so you make it back home!