Our dogs give us so much throughout their lives, including love, companionship, loyalty and protection. As dogs age, they rely on us to provide a little extra patience, attention and care to accommodate their changing needs.
By letting your senior dog set its own limits, they will help you understand their new needs for care. Avoid pampering them, and allow them to maintain their independence and dignity wherever they can.
Have your veterinarian examine your dog to rule out any age-related underlying health problems. Ask your vet about what to expect with your aging dog and how you can help your dog continue to feel relaxed and comfortable.
Below are some tips for understanding and managing the changing needs of your senior companion:
Loss of hearing
- Age-related deafness in dogs is relatively common and is often one of the first changes owners often recognize in their senior dog.
- Tune in to their other senses, like sight and smell, to communicate with them. Introduce hand signals to convey simple commands. Be sure they are always consistent, obviously different from other signals, and visible from a distance.
- Try to get your dog’s attention with a high-pitched whistle or a handclap.
- If your dog is totally deaf, try using light to communicate with them, such as flicking a lamp on/off or using a flashlight.
Loss of sight
- As dogs age they can develop sight-related issues, such as cataracts.
- Dogs with poor or no vision can learn to adjust quickly if they continue living in familiar surroundings. Avoid rearranging your furniture so your dog can continue to navigate in your home.
- Use your voice to guide your dog to you.
- Realize that your senior dog will likely sleep longer and more deeply.
- A senior dog may startle more easily if its hearing and sight aren’t what they used to be.
Less able to cope with stress or changes to their routine
- All dogs, but especially older dogs, thrive on structure and routine. Keep your senior dog’s routine in place as much as possible to keep them stress free.
- Separation anxiety, aggression, noise phobias, and increased vocalization can develop or worsen in older dogs.
Visitors and household activity
- Elderly dogs may not enjoy the extra hustle and bustle around the holidays or if workpeople come to your home.
- If your aging dog is cranky around visitors, lead them to a quiet place in your home where they won’t be bothered and can feel secure.
- Remind children to be respectful of your older dog. Because of their achy joints and loss of hearing or sight, older dogs are sometimes more wary of children and their high-energy activities.
- Always provide supervision when dogs (of any age) and kids are together.
Avoid discipline for aging-related behaviors
- Your aging dog can’t help themselves if they accidentally soil in the house or is crabby around children.
- If they make a mistake, just tend to the situation-i.e., take them outside to toilet more frequently or guide them to their quiet place in the house-and take steps to avoid such occurrences in the future.
Barriers for safety and protection
- A secured baby gate will prevent your unsteady older dog from risking a fall on stairways and will protect areas of your home from toileting accidents.
Keep their mind, body and spirit sharp
- Take time to work with your dog on basic obedience a few times a week to help keep them in shape both physically and mentally.
- Never push your dog to exert themselves more than they are able. Watch their body language and breathing patterns for signs that they may be getting tired.
Your aging dog deserves your unflagging affection, understanding and love. As you continue to care for them, remember that you are giving back to them as much as they have been giving you.
Vicki and Richard Horowitz are dog behavioral therapists and trainers with Bark Busters, the world’s largest dog training company. For more information, call 1-877-500-BARK (2275) or visit www.dog-training-new-haven-ct.com.