Watching Your Dog Age Is Hard


Barbara Dobbins, my friend and frequent contributor to WDJ, once wrote a post for this space that described how her senior Border Collie, Daisy, had earned a “permanent hall pass” for jumping up on the counter to help herself to any food that had been left out. Two years into cancer treatment, Dobbins was happy that Daisy had an appetite! She also described other dogs she knew whose owners had decided to look the other way when the dogs did naughty things.

Otto is definitely showing some signs of aging

At 12 ½ years, my senior dog, Otto, has seemingly decided he should get a pass, too. My husband and I are not sure whether he’s getting a little senile, or simply emboldened by the plethora of as-yet uneducated foster puppies that have been trampling the landscaping and chewing drip-irrigation lines (or, alternatively, whining in a crate), or some combination of these things. Whatever the cause, the fact is that his behavior has begun to deteriorate just a bit.

Don’t get me wrong; he’s still a very, very good dog! But, adolescent misadventures aside, he’s always been near perfect – like the kid who sits in the front row and always – ALWAYS – has his hand up in class. If he hears me telling any other dog to “sit” or “down” or “come here,” he’ll pop up out of a dead sleep and run over to prove that he can perform those behaviors better and faster than the other dog can. So it’s a bit of a shock to have him completely blow me off when I call him after hearing him roar his terrible roar at the FedEx truck that’s passing by our house, and see him go tearing down the fence line, determined to chase the truck to the very edge of our property. How do I know he actually heard me and decided not to leave the chase? Because I could see him look over his shoulder and hesitate just a moment, and then decide, “Oh forget it, she’s too far away.”

Otto’s sudden interest in playing fetch

He’s also apparently decided that enough is enough when it comes to the relentless fetching of our younger dog, Woody – one of those dogs who would likely fetch until his feet turn bloody or until he passes out from heat exhaustion. If Otto is by himself, he will fetch a time or two, and then, chase the ball or other fetch item a third time, but just as he’s about to reach the fetch item, seemingly catch a whiff of some mystery aroma he just HAS to check out! “Excuse me, Mom, I think there was a raccoon on our lawn four nights ago, I should investigate.” In other words, he’s never been all that into fetching. But suddenly, he’s started to get very competitive when Woody is fetching.

He’s not nearly as fast or as coordinated as Woody, but he’s started to insert himself into any session of fetch, trying to beat Woody to any throw where that seems likely – which, because Woody never watches the ball, but just takes off running in the most likely direction, and Otto actually visually tracks the ball, Otto can get to more of the throws than he ought to be able to at his age. He also will try to intercept Woody on his way back to me with the ball and forcibly take the ball from him! Thank goodness, even though Woody is 4 ½ years old, he is still very submissive in the face of Otto’s “attacks.” He doesn’t quite give in, but he has not yet once tried to retaliate, either; he either tries to outmaneuver the older dog, or will stop and hunker down in a submissive pose, holding the ball tightly in his mouth and squinting his eyes tightly shut as Otto bites his face, trying to get the ball. “Sorry, man, I just can’t let go!”

Does Otto actually want to play fetch himself? Is he jealous of the attention that Woody gets for fetching? It seems that he just wants the ball; if he gets it, he just leaves with it! “Ha! That stupid game is over!” he seems to say. And, yes, I’ve tried having two balls on site when we are playing, so if Otto steals one, Woody and I can play on . . . Otto will drop whichever one we let him have and come in pursuit of the “active” ball in the game, so lately I’ve been putting him in the house when Woody needs a good, long session to work off some energy. I don’t want him to get hurt trying to overdo the fetching heroics!

It’s just weird, because he used to just watch Woody fetching like, “Yuck! What an idiot!” And now he’s like, “I have to STOP this!”

Watching Your Dog Age Is Hard
Got the ball and the game is over…

Other changes in Otto’s behavior

Also new: For most of his life, even if he didn’t want to do something, like, suffer through a bath in the yard with a hose, he would come when I called him. Slowly, sadly, but he would come (and he would get thanked, rewarded, and fussed over). Now, if he sees a hose and thinks a bath might be in the works, he just leaves, even if I’m calling him. “Nope! Just… nope!” He thinks – actually, he knows – I’m just not going to make him suffer through a hose bath anymore if he doesn’t want one.

But the biggest surprise came a few days ago, when my husband left his dinner unattended on the coffee table for a minute, and Otto just started helping himself to the food. WHAT?! He’s NEVER been a counter-surfer or helped himself to food like that before, which made both my husband and I wonder if this is a bit of dementia creeping in. He actually looked a bit surprised when both my husband and I, shocked at the same time, yelled “Hey!” I told my husband, we have to treat him more like a puppy again; we can’t take it for granted anymore that he knows all the house rules and will follow them. While I’m happy to issue him that “permanent hall pass,” and will likely just go ahead and let him have the rest of any burrito he manages to steal from now on, part of me is a little sad at these age-related behavior changes. Dogs just don’t live long enough! We’ll cherish all the time we have together, a little more now.


  1. We have two rescued hounds. Before we had Scotties. I’ve been shocked at how quickly our Redbone Coonhound is aging. Bigger dogs seem to age twice as fast as small ones. I don’t know if she’s starting to get a “I don’t give a care” attitude or if she’s loosing her hearing, but these days she doesn’t come for the lunch snack call but then shows up in her own time if she decides she’s hungry. Our other dog, Scout, a Black and Tan Coonhound, is two years younger and full of energy. She’s forcing Aggie to stop being a couch potato and get involved in exercise. In fact, she’s taught her some wrestling moves. That’s a good thing. Still, it’s so sad to see Aggie aging. They are with us for such a short while. We really do have to treasure every moment.

  2. My elderly Briard, Cheyenne, is 13. I let her get away with a heck of a lot that I didn’t tolerate when she was a puppy. It’s just not so important anymore. She knows when I mean business, and that’s all I care about. She’s an old lady – clearly thinking that she has earned the right to make some decisions on her own. I let her. Safety aside, she is going to get her way. She HAS earned it!

  3. This is both reassuring as we have seen the same thing. Our senior Chinook, who just turned 13 was always the “Independent” puppy. We trained and had fun a lot so she was great at following commands. Now she is doing things that I haven’t seen in a long time. The most startling has been her escape attempts from the yard. Its hard but my husband and I have gone back to our puppy routine with her and she is such a wonderful dog.

  4. Start feeding him one of the doggy dementia foods now! There is both an over-the-counter version of Purina One Bright Minds and a prescription version and I have anecdotal evidence (presumably Purina has testing evidence) that it really helps! But it takes a bit to kick in.

  5. Enjoyed your observations of some new behaviors from our senior pups. Kindness and patience-gifts they have instilled in us -are now to be returned lovingly. My sugar-faced 12y/o Golden has developed a minimal proteinurea. Can you please direct me to medical and nutritional information for her continued care. ?
    Thank you. Sharon

    • Has she had her kidney function checked? I have a 14 1/2 y.o Brittany mix that is in stage III kidney disease, but still running/having a good life so far. I’m not a vet, but my understanding is that doing an SDMA is a very sensitive test to pick up kidney disease, as well as doing a routine blood chemistry (which would show some kidney values). Hopefully your vet is on top of this?

    • now that my boy is 14 1/2yo (55lb) I lightly cook his food, he has never had any kibble type food since the day I brought him home from a shelter (he was 7mths old). He has mostly been on a raw food diet but in the past couple years have been lightly cooking and he loves it. He has different meats (plus organ meats) rotated and I add fresh organic veggies and some organic rolled oats. I use dried egg shells for calcium or raw chicken necks. I recommend making a bone broth as they age, he gets a cup daily. He also enjoys some goat kefir daily for probiotics.

      • I was watching a reality show on TV a few years ago in which a vet scolded a dog owner for feeding the dog a diet of cooked chicken, rice and vegetables. There are specific amino acids and mineral nutrients that dogs and cats need that can’t always be duplicated even with the best of intentions and apparently this human-inspired diet wasn’t cutting it per the vet.

        My late shepherd-chow mix was mostly on a kibble diet — Costco brand. However, we never gave her a single rawhide bone or any of the “mystery treats” from China (which spared her the melamine contamination crisis of 2007). She received the Costco equivalent of milkbones as treats and never shared in any “people food”.

        As she got older we began adding pumpkin to her food for fiber at the vet’s recommendation — but I had my doubts about the safety of that given that most canned food contains BPA (even canned food that claim not to have it often do, at least in cases where human varieties of canned food have been tested). She never received Purina anything until the last five years of her life when we began buying the packets of wet food to soften up her kibble along with the pumpkin. (It was mostly our effort to try to spoil her after years on the same old Costco kibble.)

        Our dog ultimately lived to 17 years. At about 14 years, around the time she developed some hearing loss, she stopped barking entirely. (She never was much for barking to begin with — but even when other dogs barked continually in her face she took to ignoring them.) She also became more stubborn with age. Playing along with “sit”, “stay” or “heel” wasn’t a priority in the last years of her life. She didn’t forget or misunderstand those commands but she was more selective about hearing them.

        Right up until the last week of her life, in February, she still did her “happy dance” at feeding time. In the last three years of her life, she preferred to spend most of her day sleeping — which wasn’t entirely unusual as she had always a “cat napping” sort of dog. Just the same, she had not outgrown her urge or capacity to take off running after a small critter. (Although last year at this time she very kindly pointed out to me a “nest” of baby rabbits in the yard!)

        She did exhibit some puzzling elderly behavior in the last six months of her life. Around Thanksgiving she took to chasing my spouse around the house as if it were always time to go out for a walk. One afternoon in January we observed her stop, turn her head and do an unmistakable “double take”. She sped around a piece of furniture seemingly drawn by something only she could hear or see. Even after we redirected her attention she turned back around and returned to where she could take a second look. She had her head raised toward a window, which had held no interest for her in the past (far off the floor and with only a view of a neighbor’s roof). There was nothing to see there.

        Normally the only place she wanted to be in the house was wherever we were, but about 2-3x a week during the last six weeks of her life she would exhibit “I have to go” behavior. I would call her name, thinking she just became confused about where we were in the house, and she would look at me/us with a very serious gaze as she walked out the door — as if to say “I can’t ignore this” (almost a sad look). She would go to a specific (empty) room and then reappear a couple of minutes later. Looking back, I think she knew her time was nearing and this was her way of conveying that.

        I credit her long life with the fact that she had an unflappable temperament, never prone to anxiety or fear — friendly to a fault (terrible guard dog). I also credit her longevity to the fact that she looked forward to regular walks. It also helped that she was not so frenetic that she wore down her joints jumping up and down as so many high-energy dogs do (she wasn’t allowed to jump on beds or furniture and never took to trying to jump fences, which spared her the mobility problems of advanced age). Lastly, I credit her longer-than-average life span for size (medium) to the fact that she spent most of her time outdoors.

        Years ago it was not uncommon for pet owners to keep dogs outside in better weather but my sense is that increasingly people frown on this practice. (To be clear, however, if a dog is chained up outside and neglected it IS a bad practice.) While any kind of pollution can harm the health of people and pets, what many pet owners underestimate is the poor —even dangerous — quality of indoor air. Studies have shown that pollution indoors is often worse than outdoor air pollution (and that’s bad enough!). There are fire retardants in furnishings, VOCs emitted for years following the installation of new carpet and flooring; chemicals in household cleaners that end up on pet paws (that they ingest by licking and grooming). There is a significant amount of off-gassing (formaldehyde) emitted by inexpensive household furnishings and engineered wood products. Additionally, a dog that spends most of the day indoors won’t get as much exercise and vitamin D (sunshine) as a dog that is outside in a securely-fenced yard. Our dog was outside in all but extremely hot or cold weather. Had she not been allowed to spend most of her time outside in fresh air in an “organic” setting that was not treated with any garden chemicals, I don’t think she would have made it past the average life expectancy for a Chow or German Shepherd (~12 years).

        In conclusion, although there was no doubt our dog slowed down between age 14-17, it’s possible she could have lived even longer — except that she very suddenly developed gastric bloat. It was tough to lose our family member to any cause — but knowing she didn’t suffer from cancer, kidney or liver failure as so many pets do helped ease our grief.

  6. What a GREAT article that captures a lot of nuances in dog behavior-made me smile in recognition.
    I’d love to read anything Nancy or anybody else from WDJ has written about dogs going through chemotherapy, as my 10 year old pit/pointer has just started. Two days in and it’s already worrisome. Is it supposed to be worrisome so soon?

  7. My Vienna, and husky/GSD mix, is 13 (14 in July). She’s slowed down a bit and her eyesight isn’t as sharp as it used to be. As far as her hearing, as part husky, she does ignore me a lot, but now I think she’s also losing her hearing. Like Otto, there were times she would stop for a second, but then continue what she was doing. Now, she could be standing 3 feet away from me and can’t hear me. She still loves going for her walks and, most days, would walk until she dropped. I usually allow her to decide the route we take until I think we’ve gone far enough and need to start heading home. There are some days, though, that she only goes around the block. I don’t push her because I figure she isn’t up to a longer walk. My screen saver is a slide show of pictures of her throughout the years (I adopted her from rescue when she was 11-weeks-old) and I look back on those pictures and wonder where the time went. It is sad to watch them get older and they don’t live long enough 🙁

  8. I have one Airedale now. This little lady was raised with her sister who recently passed. We were a package deal and it was a hard process re-bonding after the triad was broken. Gracie Lu is closer to me than she has ever been, but without her sister it seems like life just isn’t as fun as it used to be. She is 11 and I see her aging and slowing down. Sleeping more and running less. I love her like the baby puppy I brought home and give her all the walks she desires. 100 kisses are dispensed to her each day and I know that every day we have together is a blessing. Gracie is the Queen of the house now and she gets what she wants. in spite of my dotting she is still good to the bone and is ever present by my side. I have learned that there is something sacred about our senior dogs and the rhythm they bring to the day.

  9. Sorry, none of my veterans get a “hall pass” that allows unwanted behaviors. I do not tolerate jealousy either and I have had my share of hounds that thought “mom” was their sole property. Just as with children, there are rules and consequences for my hounds behaviors. I do not use physical punishment but do have a time – out area and a horse size spray bottle with 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water that I will use for excessive barking.
    A wonderful woman with a special gift as a dog trainer helped me with my first adopted hound who was extremely dog reactive after being attacked several times before I took him into my home. Her patience and guiding lessons were life changing for him and me. His training and the methods Carol taught me helped him become a therapy dog. The reason I mention this is because one of the first and most important aspects of dog ownership that Carol taught is to have a reliable recall. She told me that if I give my dog a call to “Come”, then he should drop every distraction and return to me. If he doesn’t, then I must go to him and gently bring him back to where I was when I made the call. She stressed that no matter how angry you are that the dog has ignored you, you must remain calm and lead them back while saying the command “come” to help reinforce the message with the action. For every time they get it right and Come when called I get a small treat and lots of praise.
    Sometimes, even with my adult hounds, there are moments of hesitation or a flipping me off with the paw because something is more interesting, especially with my veteran. So, I keep an extra lead by the back door and will go to the dog and tell him, I said “Come” wrap the lead around his neck and lead him to the back door. No treats, no praise, just a thank you – that is what I wanted.
    The only time I allow a bit of laxation in the behaviors I expect from my hounds is during the final illness that I know in a short 6 weeks if we’re lucky will take their life and my heart (Osteo). During that time, many special privileges are granted and some forbidden foods are now treats. Until that time – no slackers – everyone obeys the house rules!

    • Spoken like an intolerant control freak with very little compassion for your poor canine “veterans.” Maybe you’ll be treated with the same lack of compassion with no “hall passes” in your senior years.

        • What’s sad to me, also, is that she seems so proud of her intolerance/no “hall pass” attitude towards her senior dogs. BTW, Mike, I can relate to your post about doing whatever you can for Bear and cleaning up his messes. Wish we were still cleaning up our lab/shepherd Kelly’s messes because that would mean she was still with us – she passed about two years ago and we miss her terribly. We adored her. I hope Bear hangs in there as long as possible and is comfortable as can be. I know it’s difficult to see them go through this. My best wishes to you, Bear, and Lulu.

    • This is so very sad to read you would treat your aging dogs this way. Would you treat your aging parents with the same lack of compassion? Shame on you Sherry.

    • I used to subscribe to WDJ years ago when my pups were small and I was raw feeding and an avid trainer. I enjoyed the support and guidance and felt part of a group of compassionate, dedicated dog owners. I recently started up my subscription again, looking for that same gentle guidance and heath articles as my dogs advance in age. Then, as now, I frequently think the whole journal is “preaching to the choir,” believing its audience to have a similar mindset of loving, compassionate, tolerant dog ownership. After reading your comment, I realize I have assumed too much.

  10. I have a fifteen year old scruffy Terrier mix. I have had many rescues and he has always been one of the brightest and the most active. He is still very independent but now he also follows me from room to room and just wants to be where I am. I think this is because his hearing and vision are fading but when he’s with me he knows he’s good. He starts out fast on walks but a block is good enough for him now.
    A minor issue is that my usually very relaxed and tolerant chowchow Ruby now tries to boss Griffin around as he is almost too old to defend himself. No teeth are gnashed or blood is spilled and I don’t put up with it; sharply calling her lets her know to leave him alone. I guess I am artificially Keeping him at the top of the pecking order but he’s Always been the boss and if it just takes a gentle to keep him there I am going to continue to do it. I really like old dogs. Oldest dog I’ve rescued was a nine year old Chow but she only lived three years.

  11. I have rescued older Alaskan malamutes for 18 years and it is heartbreaking to watch them go from quite well to aging and final moments. Sometimes they had diseases or pain but I was able to keep them comfortable with a combination of pain control and herbs.
    Last year I was given a different dog breed; a 10 year old Finnish Lapphund. He has advanced obedience, rally titles as well as being a therapy dog. When he came here he was almost like a puppy and I thought a smaller dog would live a lot longer than a big malamute.
    He turned 11 in November and around that time suddenly he slowed down. I watched for some time and became concerned when he exhibited very low thyroid signs. I took him to the vet last week and his blood work is perfect. He is just aging. He also has decided what commands he will obey and which he won’t. He only chases toys in the house, not outside where he has to run further.
    After watching 13 malamutes go through the aging and death process, this dog will get a pass on most behaviours. It is not that important to me that he be obedient all the time. I’m a pet owner, not a trial dog owner. His happiness is what is important to me.

  12. My almost 14 yr old Chihuahua, Petunia, doesn’t exactly fit in with the size group in this discussion, but I see some similar behaviors. She doesn’t always respond to my command not to bark now, bc she has lost some of her hearing ability. This is also a blessing in disguise bc she used to be a nervous blubbering wreck when she heard thunder…she blissfully sleeps through it now. Loss of hearing is also “helping” her to not be a “challenge” dog. I recently adopted a 10 yr old Chi/Pom, Molly, who had always lived alone, and was worried that Petunia would be a little aggressive with Molly. Hasn’t happened, and I think a part of that is due to the fact that she can’t hear Molly growl at her if she gets too close; she just doesn’t hear the warning, but Molly also hasn’t carried through with bad behavior, partially, I think, bc Petunia doesn’t react. Another new behavior for Petunia is that she has become a “ball dog.” She will retrieve a small cat ball many many times before quitting. In other words, has become a little more playful than I ever expected. She has some health issues—high liver enzymes, possible EPI—and I thought at one time several weeks ago that we would have to say goodbye. But she has responded to a good food (I’m now feeding her Just Food For Dogs low fat hepatic diet) and pancreatic enzymes on her food. It IS tough watching our best pals grow older. My goal for her is a contented, pain-free life, so we’re taking her new, sometimes odd, behaviors in stride….happily 😊

  13. Aging dogs are a lot easier than aging dogs with CCD!
    They forget their house breaking training, change in appetite and attitude toward owners, don’t know which side of door to go out, etc. Not to mention mobility issues. We started CBD and it has really helped.

  14. The changes are very interesting, and challenging at times. What is reasonable to expect? What is really going on? (Avoiding labels etc). I feel blessed to have my 13 yo snoozing next to my chair while I work from home, I cherish every minute with him.

  15. My Cairn is 12 1/2 – and “STUBORN” episodes have also set in. He is well trained, but does respond “elective” now as per his choosing. The walks have become a big ordeal (“I sniff every leaf, thank you very much”) – the recalls are “If I feel like it I will come” – otherwise I just sit down and look at you. Medically he is o.k. – just had a major check up… hearing is FINE, he hears everything outside. And our senior Lab (12 years) and the Cairn, seem to both observe and copy the “bad manners”. I have decided to put effort into reinforcing good behavior and correct/re-train very bad behavior that is new. (Example: Excessive barking when someone walks past the fence or if there is a Squirrel in the tree …) other than that, they get the “senior “get out of jail free card …

  16. My Lab/pit mix Bear has been on the decline for over a year now. His hips just barely get him there on our short walks. I’ve tried several things to aid him and have found Osteo BiFlex helps the most. His cognition has slowed and I give him coconut oil that helps. Because he couldn’t get in bed with me and his sister Lulu I took my bed off the frame so he is able to. He can’t control his bowels anymore so I just clean him and the mess and go back to sleep. If he COULD control any of this he would. But he’s my faithful companion of 13 1/2 years and I’m blessed to repay all the love and devotion he’s given me. I praise God daily for another day shared with my Bear. It certainly is no fun to watch but we take it one day at a time. Peace

  17. Nancy, I don’t usually read or leave comments because the blow back from some of your readers drives me nuts…but please know that your article on older dogs is spot on. Over the last 3 years, I’ve lost three senior dogs (I obviously wasn’t thinking ahead when I brought three young dogs into my life!) at ages 13, 15 and 14. The golden at 13 was the first and the hardest – she slowly stopped enjoying our pet therapy visits so we stopped. Physical issues crept up on her as did the infamous thousand yard stare and getting lost in the fenced in yard – hall pass, no qualms. The English setter at 15 was next – her activity level remained high until she passed in her sleep but she became a grumpy old lady, Queen of the couch. Again, hall pass, no qualms. The failed foster was the last to go at 14. Despite medical and behavioral intervention from the age of 7 mos, she was never able to overcome her lack of early socialization – no hall pass necessary when cancer claimed her. I believe if we’re lucky enough to have a dog live to a ripe old age, a “hall pass” is a small price to pay. I am counting on my kids to feel the same about me when the time comes!

  18. I can so identify with this article. I have watched 6 of my babies age over the past many years, and it is indeed hard. I’ve been relatively lucky in that I’ve had the time to adjust to their aging and infirmities, and yes they most definitely got a lot of “passes”.

  19. We just lost our 18 1/2 year old mix that we rescued 17 years ago. she was great up to the end but did have a bit of doggy dementia. She would go into the middle of the yard and then stop, look around like why did I go here. she would be in a deep sleep and suddenly get up, look around to see where we were and then just go back to sleep. She ate well, could see well, hear well. Maggie was perfect all those years until her back end finally gave out and she could not get up. She was part of our family for so long, she is sorely missed.

  20. Has she had her kidney function checked? I have a 14 1/2 y.o Brittany mix that is in stage III kidney disease, but still running/having a good life so far. I’m not a vet, but my understanding is that doing an SDMA is a very sensitive test to pick up kidney disease, as well as doing a routine blood chemistry (which would show some kidney values). Hopefully your vet is on top of this?

  21. My 11 1/2 yr. old beagle has gotten only better; lost a little weight (changed to a high protein lo carb diet), he loves to lay in the grass and watch the world go by, and tells me what time to take our daily walk. He is also trying to learn human talk, basically a groan/howl or growl/whine or sometimes the classic Arooo! His training has finally stuck, he comes when called, heals when we are walking and see a car coming,otherwise a loose leash. He is more devoted to both my husband and me, and is much easier to be with.

  22. My 13-1/2 year old miniature poodle has gone from being that perfect dog who would do anything i asked right away into a dog who at best contemplates first if he wants to do what i am asking. If not, then he doesn’t. Truly never did that kind of thing before. I call it O.D. P., my version of the hall pass. It stands for old dog prerogative and it is his motto, being a dog of older years. So funny that they get this sense of maybe power as they age.

  23. I live with my first doggie, the love of my life, a Yorkie, my Beanie. She is now 8. I will do everything I can to help her age, just as she does everything she can to help me age. LOL. She licks my hands, my knees, my arms. She grooms me every day. She wakes up in the a.m. and flings her body all over me, giving me “lovies” and is SOOOO happy just to be alive and to be with me. I love this little being more than anything in my now world or my before world and I lived a LOT of life., and have had multiple husbands. Yupper, love her more than them and any boyfriends.

    I don’t care if people think I am silly or crazy that I love this dog so much.

  24. Dear Susan and Beanie, I absolutely get it! My pekingese Nelson is 12 and a half, and my whole world. I am 72 so he is my last dog bc i don’t want to leave a beloved dog alone. He has given me 12 years of love and joy and I’m so grateful. Bless all of you old dog parents, jeanette and Nelson

    • Dear Jeanette – There are so very many “SENIOR dogs out there who need a loving home for their last years. Far too many that are in shelters or rescues. I realize how hard even thinking about not having your Nelson with you is – I am 82 & my Suzy dog is 13 – we are pretty much the same age (in dog years). She was diagnosed with Lyme Disease a year ago & has flare-ups from that. Now a skin issue too – but I think mainly just age. I also have a 13 year old cat – so we are all getting older together. Thinking about “after” is so very hard – but as long as I am able, and so far my health is good,, I will have a dog & a cat for as long as I can. My son & daughter are well aware that if something happens to me, my animals either stay with them or are put to sleep. There would never be a question of giving them away – ever.”
      As I said – after is hard to even think about BUT if I can give another dog & cat a loving home, thats what I will do.
      Their lives are so short compared to ours – it really doesnt seem fair at all.

  25. We have an 11 1/2 year old mini poodle. We are very careful to try to give him the very best food, as we want him to live a long and happy life. We read the ingredients lists very carefully. The only change that we are noticing is that he sleeps more, and plays for shorter intervals. Please offer suggestions as to the best longevity diet and where to buy that. We are bonded so tight to this little guy. I now call him Mr. Chumley, because he is such a chummy, buddy, friend. He sometimes seems to glue his little body to our legs, laps, etc. Please weigh in on the best food for our precious chum. Thank you!

  26. Thank you Nancy for a warm and yet kind of sad story. We’re going through our 5th Golden’s senior years and know the progression, now at the needing help on every outing due to bad arthritis and poor hearing/Cognitive Disorder signs.
    However, still trying to appreciate every moment and signs of the boy we have known for 12+ years. It’s sad and yet comforting to know his life is so valuable, especially to us and his brother from a different mother. Oh to be a loving and loved (unconditionally) dog owner/caretaker for life! Thank you for the opportunity to sit back and dwell on my boys life. 🙂

  27. It’s heartwarming to see so many people being good caretakers and companions to their canine family members after they’ve loved us wholeheartedly through the many changes they’ve shepherded us pthrough.

    My Penny will be 14 this summer. When i brought her home as a puppy i had just graduated college and had moved across the country to a new city with my fiance. Penny and i grew up together. She was by my side through so many major life events- the birth of my now 11 y.o., my divorce and custody battle, the deaths of close friends. At one point we were homeless for a year and i had to send her to live with my sister until i could find a dog friendly apartment.

    Life started to settle down about 6 years ago and penny decided she would fill the role of coparent to my kid and emotional support animal to me. She has lost a lot of her hearing and doesn’t move around gracefully like she used to. But now my kid is fiercely protective of her and we do all we can to show her our gratitude and give her the happiest senior years we can.

  28. This article came at just the right time for me, as I have watched my 14 year-old greyhound change rapidly in the past year. I have never had the privilege of living with an aging dog, having lost my first 2 weims at early ages to GME and lymphoma. Willow has slowed down, become selective in which commands she will deign to respond to (“Is she LAUGHING at me” when I call her in from the yard and she raises her head, looks at me kindly, and continues on with whatever it is she is doing)… so much of this article rang true! I began to think she was losing her hearing, but maybe not. She is clingy, demanding, tender, and crabby. For 6 years she has treated my 8 year-old weim with tolerant disdain. Never one for a dog pile, she now seeks her out for a cuddle and enjoys laying on top of her. Scarlett is thrilled to finally be getting physical attention from Willow and the look on her face is priceless. Willow is now more selective in what she will eat (Is she holding out for that can of tripe she knows I’ll give her if she fasts long enough to make me anxious?) Like Mike mentions above about his Bear, Willow is also becoming incontinent, seeming to lose feeling in her back end. Sometimes, poop just falls out of her, and she’ll look a bit surprised, like, “Where did THAT come from?!” I am on several greyhound fb groups and while aging is mentioned, most owners refer to greys sleeping more as they age and seeming to need less food, but not behavioral changes as this article does. I feel proud and honored that I have been able to shepherd Willow into old age, and if that means having to change my own expectations to meet her old lady demands, I’m all in! Hall-pass it is!

  29. In regard to euthanizing a pet because their owner has died—please don’t. There are many seniors out there who adopt older dogs from shelters and can give them as good a home as they had with you. A shelter home for awhile obviously isn’t as good as a real home, but it’s not bad. There are shelter workers and volunteers who love these dogs and give them attention and affection until they are adopted.

    • Excellent point, Sue! I volunteer at my local shelter and have been a part of many senior dog adoptions. There are quite a few people who have hearts for seniors, including seniors with disabilities. Our shelter, and many others, have a permanent foster program that allows senior dogs to live out their remaining time in a home environment while the shelter retains all medical responsibilities. We volunteers definitely love up on the frosted-faced doggos in the shelter all the time. Seniors still have an abundance of love to give. They should all be given the opportunity to live out their lives with a loving family.

  30. My dog isn’t nearly as old as the other dogs and some would still consider her a puppy but to me she has grown up so much especially in the past year. She is a German Shepard mix with Labrador. We got her when she was 3 months old and when she was very tiny. Now she is is up to my waist but when she jumps she is almost as tall as me. She has been growing so much. At the beginning she was very playful and still is but the difference is now she likes to cuddle and whenever she wants she just come up to me and wedges herself under my arm. She is the cutest dog.

  31. Definitely can relate to this! We (my husband and I) have a 13 yr old (just turned 13 on Sept 13th) Jack Russell named Mylie. I’ve had her since just before she turned 5 and for being a breed that is known to be “crazy” (high energy, etc.), She has always been the best girl!

    Along with her black “mask” turning nearly white, I’ve definitely seen some changes in her behaviors over the years. We’ve definitely made adjustments in expectations for her with some of the behaviors because overall, she is still a very good girl and in the grand scheme of things, these little “missteps” are not that big of a deal. Her quality of life matters much more to us than perfection…and I just couldn’t bear the thought of endlessly correcting her, who would be looking confuaed the whole time, until she got something like sitting before being fed and waiting for the “go ahead” command (our 2 yr old pug/jack Russell mix still has to do this, however, and he does, even if she doesn’t) or always sitting when requested (usually when her brother is sitting for a treat and I don’t want to give to him and not her—so she gets one whether she feels like sitting this time or not, because she has earned every treat regardless!).

    Some other things we have seen change are how she “doddles” when it’s potty time, often staring off into nothing for (what seems like) several minutes…or the way she has trained us to cater to her in various ways at mealtime (like feeding her off the floor or out of my hand instead of out of her bowl, or like last week, when she decided that she wanted to eat out of her bowl while standing in her little “brother’s” crate 🤷). She also gets goofy spurts of energy, which are funny to watch/hear and she will wrestle around with our 2 yr old to her heart’s delight (which was part of the reason we opted to get a puppy after we lost my husband’s 11 yr old pug/jack mix to CHF 3 yrs ago-she was lonely and we knew that a young dog would help keep her young, which I wholeheartedly believe it has!).

    Sometimes (not often) she will have an accident in the house, but we don’t scold her, we just clean it up and move on. Truthfully, I feel that my husband and I are to blame for any of her accidents, because we may not catch her “signs” (we bell trained our young one for this reason) and she cannot hold it very long once she gets that “potty prance” going. We have just adapted to being more mindful of her cues and also ensuring that she go outside to potty with our other pup before bed, even if she “doesn’t feel like it” (she really doesn’t want to move from her cozy spot on the couch sometimes), and even if they were just out about an hour earlier. Sometimes she won’t go on this potty trip, but we’ve done everything we can at that point.

    My husband thinks she is going deaf (I challenge that every time she starts barking at something that I barely heard…I think she has “selective hearing” 😂) and blind (she has the start of cataracts but as soon as we noticed them, we got her on a quality supplement that had fantastic reviews and anecdotal evidence of great results, and while it didn’t get rid of the cloudiness that was there, there had been zero progression of this getting worse and our vet did not seem to be concerned with her vision in any way-he tells us all the time that she is doing great and to “keep up the good work,” commenting that he wished he saw more dogs her age in her shape).

    If only we could selfishly keep them here with us forever. ♥️


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