Treasuring The Time I Have With My Older Dog Otto

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When I take longer or harder hikes now, I have to leave my senior dog, Otto, at home. It’s for his own good; he just gets too sore on the day after – or even later that day – following the longer walks that my younger dog and his even younger friends need to tire them out. Knowing that I’m preventing him from getting too sore to get up easily doesn’t make it any easier for me, though: As soon as Otto sees the signs that a walk is impending (leashes gathered, treat bag getting filled, sneakers getting put on) he will station himself in front of the door. If he’s outside, he will stand behind my car, with a determined “I’m coming with you!” look on his face. And he knows the difference between me getting ready to go for a walk and me getting ready to go grocery shopping; he doesn’t stand in the way of my departure for the store!

Otto is still very capable of joining me and my friends for a walk of a mile or two in cool weather. This last interminable, hot, dry summer was hard on him, as he doesn’t tolerate the heat well; I’d take him only for very short walks where there was water available for wading and swimming.

The catch-22: He needs to keep moving to stay fit; he just can’t go as far or as fast as the younger dogs. So I’ve taken to taking him for his own walks, just him and me. And I have to say that it’s a delight.

The places where I usually walk with my dogs are all off-leash areas. I almost never see anyone else on my local trails, and when I do, I can easily call my dogs to me and leash them for the minute or two it will take to pass by whomever else might be out there. So I don’t often have to walk my dogs on leash, but for Otto’s safety, when we walk around our own rural neighborhood, he has to be on leash – especially because he can no longer hear oncoming cars well, or me calling him back to me. But around here, as we walk alongside our country roads, walking Otto on leash is a pure pleasure; he’s got amazing on-leash skills.

When I adopted Otto, way back in the summer of 2008, I hadn’t yet discovered the wonderful off-leash areas and trails that I drive to for most of my longer walks; I mostly walked Otto in and around my small town. And I’m not bragging, but we walked so much that first summer (as I was trying to get him tired enough to not stay awake all night barking at the stars), that we really perfected Otto’s polite leash-walking skills. He doesn’t pull and he doesn’t lag. He might walk a little bit ahead of me – but so what? I don’t need him to stay right at my side, and I don’t mind if he wants to stop and sniff something every so often. His hearing has gotten very bad, but his vision is still very good, and he often spots a squirrel going up a tree or a stray cat crossing the road ahead of us before I do. He’ll raise his tail and prick his ears, and then look back at me with shining eyes: “Mom, did you see that?” Though he “checks in” with me occasionally when we are on an off-leash walk with other dogs, when it’s him and me, connected by a leash, he stays much more tuned into me, communicating more with me about what he’s seeing and smelling.

It’s a hassle to find the time to take two walks on our dog-walking days, and to make extra food-stuffed Kongs to bribe Otto into not looking sad when I’m loading up Woody for the drive to one of our off-leash trails for a long walk, but the extra time alone with Otto is sweet – and absolutely worth it. 

23 COMMENTS

  1. Good for you Nancy! As someone who has recently lost a beloved senior, my soul mate and constant companion of twelve short years, everything you said resonated with me. I too continued to foster younger, energetic dogs that needed to be walked separately just to tire them out.
    Our one-on-one walks became my most treasured moments and more than a year on, continue to be my fondest memories of our time together.

    This is a very special time, make every moment count!

  2. The joy of having a senior dog that you have had for many years is a privilege. We had one that was 18 1/2 before she passed. Knowing you could give them a good and loving home all those years Almost….that’s almost salves the pain of losing them. Although losing one that is younger is also sad cause it’s usually so unexpected. I now have a young four year old that I have had since he was six months. I pray every day he stays healthy.

  3. I remember when you got Otto. Has it really been 13 years? I recently lost my last Yorkie to bone cancer, she was also 13 years old. I have had a dog every day for the last 20 years, and now I have none. Really struggling with getting another puppy since I am gone from home for 10 hours a day, and not a fan of kenneling that long. I live about 10 miles from work – not exactly a hop to go home at lunch. But I miss the companionship and unconditional love a dog gives you, since I live alone. I know I am a good pet owner, and there are so many rescues in need of a good home. But dogs are not like a roll of tissue, you cannot just replace one when they are gone. I have always enjoyed reading your stories about your experiences with your fur babies. Thank you Nancy for all of your advice and good information. And your struggles. God bless….

  4. I have a 12 yo senior who is also mostly deaf, although he can hear a higher pitched voice. He has gotten a bit clumsy, and no longer ranges around on hikes, preferring to stay on the trail with me. He is generally in good health, otherwise, so hopefully he’ll still be around for awhile. We’ve only had one dog make it past 12 so far so crossing our fingers.
    I hear you on the dual walks; we have a female who has decided to attack another female, so doing everything twice is a fact of life around here. Luckily for us the instigator is not super determined to get to the other girl. I hope you have lots more time with Otto!

  5. I adopted my mini schnauzer the summer of 2008 also..He is now hard of hearing (I use a clicker to get his attention) and our walks are shorter..This summer was tough on him, instead of the normal 2 long walks and short late night pee walk , the day was broken up with 4 short walks, the longest was about a half hour..

  6. What about a stroller or wagon? I did this with older dogs that wanted to come and could not keep up. and I had big dogs. They make a stroller type that hooks to a bicycle to carry a kid or big dog and it is easy to use by pushing it. And then of course you can still take a walk later so he gets exercise.
    -epnine Pet Dog Bike Trailer
    -Giantex Child Trailer Bicycle Double Foldable Bike Carrier Jogger Stroller Outdoor Weather Resistant Deluxe Seat for 2 Kids Portable Baby Bike Trailer W/Canopy Cover, Safety Belt & Hand Brake

  7. Oh do I know that mournful look of the older dog left behind when the younguns get to go to an agility trial. I’ve started alone-walks with him too, but he still misses the excitement of a trial. I retired him before he got ouchy–he’s a little front-heavy (a male corgi), was never the most effortless jumper, and I wanted a dog who could go gently into old age.

  8. Yes, I have done the younger dog/older dog walks. I, too, felt that when I walked my older dog that it was such a special and sweet time. It is an honor to care for the older dogs. They seem to just get sweeter and sweeter when they are old.

  9. I adopted my poodle, Lahsa, Shitzu, Border Collie mix (according to a DNA test) when she was about 4 months old in Corning CA. At 11.5 years old, she has not lost any of her energy and people cannot believe she is not a puppy! So far she is very healthy, no hearing loss, great eyesight. The only thing I have noticed is she sleeps just a little bit more. I am dreading the day she starts slowing down. It is the absolute only “negative” thing about having pets…they are not with us long enough! Enjoy your one on one time with Otto!

  10. I have four older dogs, two of whom are not likely to make it beyond the end of the year. One of my 14-year-olds has lung cancer and my 12-year-old shih tzu has pancreatic cancer. I can’t walk them anymore; I have walkers for that, but I treasure my time with each and all of them. Even the healthy ones are not young. But I look at them all and tell them they each hold my whole heart because a heart can hold what it needs to. I will be torn with grief when I lose my dogs, but I know I and the others will survive. That’s what memory is for; to hold them all in my heart.

  11. My Ramses was about Otto’s age when he passed on but was in much worse condition. Yes, he couldn’t hear as well as he used to and likely couldn’t see as well either, but he struggled for walks and we stopped doing them mostly his last year. He had arthritis and I later learned he had almost no discs between about four vertebrae in his back which must have been agonizing for him. I did have him on pain meds his last year which did help. Even though he had slowed way down, slept a lot and stiff much of the time he had his best walk the night before Thanksgiving. It was like he knew this was a chance to say goodbye to all of the neighbors on the walk, his last chance to walk with his best friend Candy, who was also getting on in years and having her own difficulties. The next day he didn’t feel well so I begged off dinner with family to stay home with him. It was the best decision. He spent most of the day with me in bed, sleeping next to me and resting his head on my lap. I stayed up with him and he passed away in his sleep that night. The last 24 hours were the best he had in many months.

    It’s great Otto is still enthusiastic for walks and that he can still do a gentle mile or two around the neighborhood. This is a special time for just you and Otto to enjoy time together. I hope it lasts for a long time. I’m sure he cherishes this special time with you.

  12. In case it helps anyone: If your dog is deaf but vision is still good, you can train a “checking-in” behavior, which Nancy referenced. My precious 15 y.o. that I lost almost a year ago I trained to check in with me when she still had her hearing. I also taught her a hand signal for come, which was very reliable. My fondest memories are when she could be off leash in a fenced, very large cemetery. She would run off and explore, but turn around and make eye contact almost always within 1-2 minutes. I would give her the hand signal and she would come racing to me. I always gave her a high value treat and then released her to go explore again. I remember what that looked and felt like every time I drive by that cemetery. What a treasure she was!

  13. I wish I’d had more opportunities to join you on walks with dignified, friendly, well-mannered Otto and his delightfully silly younger brother. And, I understand, Otto. I can’t go as far as I once did on those super hot days and it takes longer to recover when I try. Here’s to many more pleasant walks you me – and for you.

  14. When my older Jacks couldn’t hike as far I pushed them in an all terrain pet stroller as it would’ve killed them to be left at home and they loved riding in their ‘coach’.

  15. I also remember when you got Otto. How did time pass so quickly. I am glad you and he are enjoying this special and very precious time together. ♥️

  16. I can relate so much to this. I have a group of ageing dogs. I often go for two walks or ‘hikes.’ The time with the slower moving ones is so special. I notice so much more. When my elder girl (14.5 years old) passed in July, I kept walking at ‘her’ pace for quite a while afterwards – I kept expecting to see her sniffing and stopping to air scent with a blissful look on her face. I would fall behind my group of current dogs. I have another ‘oldest dog’ now (13) and he is livelier but has some laryngeal Paralysis so I still have to put limits on the walks. I’m enjoying all the moments with him as I did with my older girl.

  17. My 13 year old Susie, choc.lab mix, was put to sleep last September – my cat & I only lasted about 3 weeks without her, then adopted an 8 year old “lab mix” – whose family had surrendered him due to a flea infestation that they couldnt afford to treat. He is such a sweet loving boy – very very well behaved & we walk two or three times a day here at home. I have to believe he was a city dog – his first views of deer were – to him – amazing – he now is very accepting when we see them. The first time he saw a snake (I think) was beyond amazing – he just couldnt get his head around it. He is so funny and so loving. I saw his intake picture online with much missing hair & went to meet him – brought him home a couple days later. I think the best move ever is to bring home an older dog who has lost their home for whatever reason – NOT their fault! They bring so much joy into your life.

  18. Why don’t you consider a doggy stroller one that is for running and use that for your senior when you take the younger dogs out and still do his special outings with yourself?

  19. My girl turned 14 in September. Her brother died at 12 1/4. I try to do special things with her. Since her brother is gone she spends more time with me and I am enjoying it! Plan on just her and me until…..

  20. I also have a senior dog; a 12 year old Labradoodle. I have read your article about your aging dog and it’s as if your talking about Harvey instead of Otto.

    He pants most of the time, even now when we have crisp fall weather. He wakes up so very stiff, and I have to allow at least 30 minutes for his Gabapentin to kick in before I even think of walking him.

    Our walks are shorter and painfully slower, but we do walk. I am retired, and I am lucky enough to block out my day based upon his increasingly longer walking time. I have been told I am mourning his passing before he goes, however the person who said that has never had a dog. I know my time is limited with him and I treasure every minute with him.

  21. Thank you for sharing, Nancy. I’ve got 3 seniors: 16, 14 & 12 years old. The 16th can’t walk much. Has lost muscle mass in the rear legs. Part, lack of exercise. Part, the result of old untreated injuries. The other two are Yorkies but we used to walk about an hour every day. The 12th is still up to it. The 14th, no. He mostly needs rest and company, although sometimes he prefers solitude. He has had a difficult year. His liver and kidney are not working that well. I also appreciate the time I have with them.

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