It can be hard to admit your dog is getting on in years. You might not realise it at first, but one day you’ll suddenly notice that things have changed and you’re living with an older dog, without knowing exactly when it happened. You may have stopped doing what you used to do together without adding others in. And your aging dog deserves some fun actitives to do with you as much as they did when they were younger.
For instance, Fraggle is now 10, pushing 11. For the most part, she doesn’t act it. At all. We definitely seem to be believers in ageing disgracefully here. But. The ailments have steadily grown over the years. What started as bilateral luxating patella became full-blown arthritis in the right stifle. Then came incontinence (not that uncommon in spayed middle aged bitches), then suddenly epilepsy (probably not age related, although late onset for sure). And her eyes are definitely cloudier and I’m pretty sure her eyesight is worse. Then there are the lumps and bumps that come with age that we keep a record of and how fast (or not) they are growing; there’s one on her eyelid that may become a problem if it gets much bigger. She’s a little more nervous around unknown people than she was (possibly related to epilepsy meds, possibly to failing eyesight). While she hoons like an idiot, still she face plants more often when she’s misjudged either the distance or her capabilities.
Naturally, the things I do with Fraggle have changed as life changed. I mean, I’m not the half marathon runner, competitive swimmer I used to be either to be fair. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t do anything fun and interesting with our ageing dogs. In fact, it’s important that we find ways to keep them engaged and their bodies and minds as healthy as possible.
What to consider
Bucket lists don’t have to be morbid and can be a really fun and engaging way to enjoy your time together, create more memories and preserve them. But here’s the key – the bucket list for an ageing dog should improve both your and their quality of life.
Typically bucket lists are filled with big, adventurous and thrilling things things like jump out of a plane, write the next big novel. Or for activities with a dog it might be run a cani-cross race or win up the grades in agility. And while some people might do these things with their dog, they can be too much for an ageing pet.
When we first got Fraggle I had hoped for a long agility career with her, but her luxating patella put paid to that. So we found other ways to fulfill her desire to run at 1000mph at all times. Like hoopers. Now she has epilepsy and excitement is a trigger, so I’m not willing to risk competitions with her, or even a training class where she needs to wait her turn while anticipating her run. So instead we do tiny bits in our garden. Off lead walks have been curtailed too since running off lead is a trigger (and often causes her to be lame if she gets too wild), so she spends more time on a long line. That way she can still find the interesting sniffs and I don’t have to worry about her having a seizure off lead and bolting as she comes around. My own fitness curtailed our runs together, but it is something I’m considering, since I won’t be running far or fast (shuffling while trying to breathe is more accurate) and it may fulfill her desires enough without risking a fit.
When making your bucket list or picking things off your list, consider:
Arthritis is fairly common in older dogs, but even if they aren’t arthritic, their mobility and range of motion is likely to decrease over time. This may mean that you need to consider the terrain you are on. How far or fast you run/walk. It’s no good if your activity means they aren’t going to be able to move for the next week. When I do scent work with Fraggle now, we stick to low hides so that she isn’t encouraged to jump up (and down) on surfaces that may be too much for her.
Some dogs can become more nervous generally or in certain contexts as they age. That may be due to failing eyesight, hearing, or mobility. Slippery flooring can often be the cause of some dogs not wanting to walk in certain rooms. Many ageing dogs may prefer their own company or the company of a few close friends rather than a room full of energetic canine youngsters. Much like how many people enjoyed clubbing when they were young, but then preferred a night at the pub with friends as they got older. If you find that your dog isn’t enjoying your class as much as before, is there a quieter class to go to? Can you do the activities at home or just with a friend or two instead? Is a hike with a friend a better choice than the park full of dogs?
If they’re having a good day or a bad day:
Whether your ageing dog has a health concern or not, they are probably going to have days they are more active and up for things than others. If your dog doesn’t seem up for a long hike that day, do a short one. Find a place to sit quietly and watch the world go by (if they will enjoy that) or just go home and enjoy the peace in your own garden. Try the longer route on another day. We invested in a chariot for Breckin, because he didn’t like being left out of the longer walks. The younger dogs needed them, but Breckin wasn’t physically capable of walking that far; no matter how much he may have wanted to. Find ways to accommodate your dog in the best way you can.
Ideas for your dog’s activity banquet
The bucket list is a way to enhance their quality of life and to share special moments together as they age. Let your dog guide you on what they can and cannot do! And you don’t need to think of it as a bucket list, more an activity banquet, which means you can devise a suitable one for your dog whatever their age.
1 – Go for a trip at a Fancy Pet-Friendly Hotel or Airbnb
Or even not so fancy. Find new places to explore together. All my dogs have enjoyed some one on one time with me at a hotel. Often when we were attending courses or workshops. It’s an opportunity for them to enjoy my undivided attention, and discover some new places together. But even our dog friendly holidays have meant new sniffs to be had even if they had to share attention with the rest of the gang. Our favourite holiday location with the dogs is Holidays with my Dogs. You don’t even have to leave site for the dogs to enjoy excellent walking opportunities. A fabulous place to fully relax together, especially great if your dog struggles with other people or dogs.
2 – Spend a Day Letting Them be the Boss
Can you give your dog total control for the day? Pick a special day and let them do what they want. Let them pick their toy or chew at the pet shop. Let them pick the route on the walks. Allow them as much time as they want to check out that juicy sniff spot.
3 – Camp Out in The Living Room
Move a mattress downstairs or wherever is comfy for them and chill out. You could watch a film while snuggling up together. Share your snacks (make sure they are dog safe). Give them some massage or TTouch.
4 – Throw a Party
If your dog would enjoy it, invite their human and or dog friends over for a get-together. Search for hidden toys or treats in the garden, set up a photo area with some fun props, bake some homemade goodies. You could have some fun party games for the dogs to enjoy, or have everyone prepare a trick or skit to entertain each other.
5 – Sleep on the Bed with You
Overnight or for a nap. If your dog doesn’t normally get to sleep on the bed with you, a special snooze could mean the world to them (and you!). In our house the eldest dog has often slept upstairs with us. Not only for the practical reasons of toilet breaks during the night or much needed space from the youngsters in the house. It’s also because it’s some quiet relaxing time to spend with them without other interruptions or pressures.
You many need to consider their mobility and whether they need help with stairs, or getting on the bed. I did go as far as removing my bed frame and sleeping on a mattress on the floor for a year when Breckin couldn’t get on the bed any longer, but you really don’t have to go that far. They may just appreciate being in the same space as you and be happy with a comfy bed next to yours.
6 – Go for a Picnic
It could be just the family and your dog, or invite a few others to tag along. You don’t have to go far. Your garden- or even your living room – might be the perfect spot. We’ve enjoyed the quieter spots in Petworth Park away from the main paths. Just watch out for the deer hiding in the undergrowth. And we’ve enjoyed hiring a private field like Life off the Lead or The Dog Meadow at Sumners Ponds. The dogs can mooch around and we can sit on benches enjoying a Sunday brunch.
7 – Watch the Sunrise or Sunset Together
At the beach, from the countryside, or anywhere else with a clear view should work. I’ve spent many early mornings sitting on the steps of our patio with my dogs watching the sunrise. It’s a great time to just be there with each other.
8 – Put a Camera on Your Dog and See Life from Their POV
I’ve always wanted to try this, but not ever quite been brave enough to try with the spaniels. Cameras like GoPros can capture your dog’s world in a way you have never seen. If your dog tolerates it, put a camera on them and let them record their walk, or day-to-day life. You might get some surprising insights into what they find interesting. https://youtu.be/o3Z5NeDaC8E
9 – Pawprints, Stepping Stones or Other Artwork
I have to admit, the most we have right now is several canvas prints with our dogs past and present. I’ve never been organised enough to do casts of paw prints, or even nose prints. I have the ashes of our departed dogs and I’ve always intended to get some glasswork that incorporates them. I like the idea of a charm bracelet with a glass charm for each dog’s (and the lizard’s) ashes. I’m also lucky enough to have been gifted necklaces made by the amazing Karen at Keepsake Jewellery. They are lovely abstract reminders of Khanu and Willow. I often wear one when I need a little bit of a boost.
What else should be on the list? Let me know!