by Denise Mazzola, CPDT-KA
Thor is 13 years young. He’s a yellow lab that has been with me since he was a puppy. He is what we call my heart dog. My daughters all grew up with him, playing, running, chasing tennis balls, hiking together and vacationing together. Thor and I have earned numerous titles in Rally Obedience.
He’s slowing down. As dogs begin to age, they revert to puppy-like behaviors. It was a heart breaker when I realized after ten years of running together at 6:00 am he could no longer go. Every morning at 6:00 am he’d meet me at the back door waiting. I couldn’t even look at him when I was getting ready. It was a killer. Thor and I do still walk together but only on short hikes. And, he is better off leash because he can pace himself, stop to sniff as much as he wants and then catch up. This is the same way I treat puppies, letting them off leash or dragging their leash to pace themselves.
As a puppy, Thor was easy to house train and has been a rock of reliability ever since. Imagine my horror when he began peeing in my daughter Olivia’s bedroom. My God I thought, I can’t live like this, I love this dog with all my heart, but wiping up rivers of dog pee on a daily basis was getting old quickly. Hoping for a medical solution, I took Thor to the vet. The vet checked his urine and discovered the pH was high. He suggested I stop giving him the vegetables I added to his diet in hopes of ending the poop eating, (that’s what threw off his pH level). I decided it was better to live with the poop eating if I could get rid of the peeing in the house. It worked and he stopped using Olivia’s room as his bathroom.
Thor has had two major surgeries since he turned ten. The first one was a growth on his head that never went away, we tried antibiotics and homeopathic remedies. It was a low level cancer. His second major surgery was this past September. He had an oozing growth on his face that wasn’t going away and a fatty tumor under his front leg. They removed five suspicious growths and a large tumor that was making it difficult for him to walk.
I’m happy to report he has made a full recovery, so have I, and Thor can once again run across the front lawn.
Now, it seems that when we take him out to potty, he forgets why he’s there. He sniffs around as if he’s never been in his own backyard, wandering around. He has to stay leashed because he’s fairly deaf and can’t hear us calling, not unlike the puppy that doesn’t know to come back and finds every smell outside to be exciting and distracting. Just like a puppy, he needs to go out often. When he asks to go out, I need to act immediately or I’ll end up cleaning up.
My message here is this – be kind to your senior dog. It’s a bittersweet time of life – you’ve had many years of love and history with them and it can be hard to accept the realities of aging. Give them more time to eliminate, let them smell the grass and enjoy themselves, be patient with them. And, be proactive about solving problems as they come up to minimize the frustration that’s inevitable when your well trained, senior citizen begins acting like a puppy again.
Certified Professional Dog Trainer Denise Mazzola is the owner of Denise Mazzola’s Everything Dog. She has been training dogs and people for over 25 years. Everything Dog provides services to clients throughout the Monadnock Region of NH by offering private lessons, group classes, board and train, as well as day training services. Denise has been published in the trade journal, Chronicle of the Dog, and writes a monthly column for the Monadnock Ledger Transcript. She also hosts a monthly “Ask the Trainer” radio show on WKBK. Denise lives in Keene with her life and business partner, Amy Willey CPDT-KA, and they share their home with three dogs and three daughters. For more information, visit www.everythingdognh.com.