Most of the advice that I give is concerning younger dogs, who are challenging in their behaviour or are undergoing basic training. I was asked recently whether there is anything to look out for with an elderly dog. Any likely behaviour, or ways of looking after their needs more specifically than for a younger dog.
One thing to bear in mind is how the ancestor of the dog is treated. In the wild, once a wolf becomes elderly (over 7 years old) they lose their edge, become slower and therefore are considered a weakness to the pack. Because the survival of the pack as a whole is of the utmost important, once a wolf is deemed to be slowing the pack down, they are making it more vulnerable, so are either driven out, or killed. Horrible, I know. Fortunately your pack situation does not depend on having the fitness and strength to catch prey, and defend against attack. It’s worth bearing in mind though, that your dog will have become aware of its weakness, and could therefore feel more vulnerable. Our dogs will live much much longer, due to the medical care we can provide, the food and shelter, so they will appear healthy for much longer than the 7 years of the wolf, in most cases.
Behavioural considerations for your elderly dog
1. Give them more space.
It is possible that your elderly dog may become snappier or more irritable, due to their vulnerability. If a dog thinks it is leader at this age, this can present a real problem, and you will need to resolve this quickly, to take the responsibility away from your dog, so they can enjoy their last years in peace. If they already know that they are not responsible, then it is simply the case of allowing them a bit more time to themselves. Not bothering them if they seem a little grumpy. And make sure small children are not allowed to disturb them while they are sleeping.
2. If you have other dogs.
A younger dog may pick on your elderly dog. If this happens you, as the leader, can step in and remove the antagonist. Do not leave them alone together. If can be helpful to give them separate eating and feeding spaces and times, as your elderly dog may take longer to eat, and doesn’t want to be hassled by the younger one. Think carefully about introducing a new puppy to your pack if this is something you are considering at this time. Bear in mind not all pups will respect their elders, so an introduction on neutral territory to test the reaction would be advisable before committing to a new dog.
It’s important to remember that a dog is unable to tell us when they are in pain, so assume as they age, that they would prefer shorter walks, and probably less of them. When you do walk them, take more time to cover a shorter distance. That way your dog will not feel pushed to keep up with the pack, when this is actually causing them stress or discomfort. Try to keep your dog away from other dogs while they are out walking, as another dog may be a boisterous, causing your dog a lot of stress, as they already feel vulnerable. If you see another dog approaching, calmly remove your dog from the situation as quickly as possible.
4. Be patient
Their minds will be slowing down as well as their bodies, and their hearing won’t be as good, so they may take longer to respond to your request. Also for completing simple tasks, like toileting.
5. The home environment
Try to keep things the same for your dog, not introducing new obstacles to the house, or suddenly changing their sleeping arrangement. Make sure your dog has a comfortable place to do lots of sleeping without being disturbed.
If you would like to read more information about elderly dog care, I can recommend a read of the Seven Ages of your Dog, by Jan Fennell, which also provides information about diet, grooming and health. If you want to find out how to stop your ageing dog from worrying about being the leader of your pack, then get in touch..