And suddenly one day you realise that your dog is growing old. It isn’t that he suddenly grew old. It isn’t that you hadn’t noticed small signs of change, but suddenly one day a “tipping point” seemed to be reached and the reality was there staring you in the face.
What might those little telltale signs be? You might have noticed when walking on sandy or soft surfaces that there was a “drag line” left when one paw was being trailed slightly instead of being lifted fully off the ground in a normal walking action. You might even have heard the dragging as the nails made contact on hard surfaces. Maybe he was walking more slowly than before, and tired more quickly when out on walks. You might have been surprised to find that sometimes he bumped into you even at close quarters as his near vision acuity became more reduced. You might find it surprising because he is still able to see other dogs some distance away. Dogs distance sight is better than their near sight so in fact this apparent discrepancy is not so surprising after all. Getting up may now require greater effort than before. If you see that mobility improves with movement then homoeopathic Rhus Tox is certainly a remedy to consider.
He may sleep more than he used to or may not be so keen to jump out of bed in the morning. Rather than licking your face, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, urging you to launch into this exciting, brand new day, he may curl up and put his paws over his eyes as if asking “Just five more minutes please…”
Noises that once seemed to bother him may no longer do so. This may be a bonus for some whose dogs have suffered with fireworks, thunder and gunshot.
So, the realization is there. What does it mean in practical terms in day to day life? We may have to change our walking routines taking shorter, more accessible walks than before. Walks on clearly defined paths rather than wide open spaces may be easier for your dog to follow. However, it is important not to eliminate or reduce exercise too much because exercise will keep the joint and muscles in better form. It simply means that a different kind of exercise is required. If he still enjoys his walks, then we might have to walk at a slower pace than we once did, stopping from time to time to make sure that he is keeping up, and if he gets ahead, then it is also important to ensure that he is aware at all times of where you are. As eyesight fails, the olfactory system, which has always been important, may take on a whole new significance as his universe becomes even more scent-oriented. As well as physical exercise, another important string to our bow is mental exercise and this may now take on greater significance than in the past.
When out on walks without a lead, as sight and hearing are diminished, we must become more vigilant. Your dog, now immersed in his universe of scents, may suddenly look up and not see you straight away. This can lead to panic setting in and the dog begins to run around desperately searching for his family. If we are not vigilant, this can lead to accidents or the dog may even be lost as he rushes around in a blind panic. I recently saw a case of this where a young French woman who was walking in the hills with her elderly dog became so engrossed in her wildlife photography project that she did not notice that her dog had wandered off. When she did, she called and searched for days, but the old dog who was almost deaf did not hear her and so was lost. What panic and what agony for that young woman as she reluctantly had to return to France without her dog after days of searching. And what fear and panic for the poor dog lost in an unfamiliar environment with no reference points to help her return to the little caravan! Of course, this is an extreme scenario, but it is a salutary reminder of how major accidents can happen due to lack of vigilance.
Reduced hearing does not necessarily mean that your dog is totally deaf. Auditory impairment usually involves certain pitches and registers of the voice, so you may have to experiment to find which tones of voice can still be heard, and make an effort to use those. At this time the value of having taught your dog to respond to both voice and hand signals with default behaviours really does become apparent.
Diminished visual and auditory capacity may mean that you dog loses a certain degree of self-confidence which may mean that he is less comfortable when you are not around or at least within contact distance. This may have consequences for how you organize your time and how long you can leave him alone.
Another area where we may have to make some changes is regarding touch. As he ages, your dog’s body may become more sensitive to touch, and where vigorous grooming might once have been pleasurable, now he may prefer a more gentle touch particularly over joints which may be painful or where he may have discomfort. These changes may even involve the type of combs and brushes that we use. It may seem counterintuitive but sometimes smaller combs with smaller teeth closer together provide a more delicate touch than combs with larger teeth spaced further apart. Even the angle at which the comb or brush is placed in the body may have an effect, so it is a matter of experimenting and observing your dog closely to see what his responses are and then making an effort to make any necessary adjustments to the grooming routine. Carrying out a Touch exploration of the body with the back of the hand may reveal the areas where there is discomfort of heat indicating possible inflammation.
Eyes may begin to water more or even “gunge up” so cleaning the area around the eyes with a soft cotton wool soaked in elderflower water or cornflower water may provide relief.
Having an arsenal of therapeutic tools at our disposal is going to prove invaluable at this time. Being able to offer Tellington TTouches on the body and put on a TTouch wrap can provide relief and comfort in many instances. Using zoopharmacognosy, offering essential oils and macerated or vegetable oils, as well as minerals and other substances gives the animal the chance to select the substances that he requires at any given time, and we may find that he will choose more analgesic or anti-inflammatory oils than before or oils to soothe the spirit.
Watching our animals age is a bitter-sweet experience: bitter because we realise that they are not going to live forever, but also sweet because we learn to savour each moment and take life as it comes which is one of the great lessons they can teach us. This is a gentle time, a time of softness when all the rough edges have been smoothed with the passage of time like shells rubbed smooth by the action of the waves in the sea.