Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks

Photo: Chili in the FIeld

Chili, short for Chilcotin, is a well-known long time canine community member. She was adopted from the BCSPCA as a pup and she’s been calling Fernie home for the past 13 years. Back in the day, Chili used to start almost every morning by trotting over to her neighbours’ houses and jumping on their beds so she could sleep in with them. Mornings have never been her thing. 

With well over a thousand miles of hiking, biking, snowmobiling and skiing under her belt, Chili has ridden just about every single trail in the area, and beyond. When she reaches a peak, she zens right out to enjoy the views as if it’s all mapped out in her head. She knows her way around, from sneaking behind the meat market hoping for some scraps to making her way directly home from the top of Big Steep Mother if she hears even the faintest sound of thunder. She’s far from being a guard dog but she sure is a true Fernie dog.

As her face turns white and she begins to slow down, Chili has fallen into real retirement. She no longer enjoys car rides or straying far from home but she’s lucky to live on an acreage where she can frolic to her heart's content.

It’s common for senior dogs to develop anxiety and it’s not always as easy to adapt as one might think. Keeping things routine can be helpful as new or unusual things can make them feel insecure while the senses they rely on start to change. It’s also important to balance out routine with mental stimulation in order to support your dog’s inevitably declining cognition. The opposite is true that you can teach an old dog new tricks and in fact, it’s the best way to help maintain their smarts without major change. You can have short one-on-one sessions andintroduce new tricks into their routine, like before mealtime which is ideal as your dog will be motivated in knowing what’s coming. Think back to the puppy stages of being patient and keeping things simple, consistent and recognize your dog's limits. It’s ironic how as we age, we become needy and less independent, like a déjà-vu of our younger days.

The physical changes are the most recognizable signs of ageing as they develop right before our eyes. Pain is one of the most common reasons behind these changes, yet it can be very difficult to detect simply because dogs can’t tell us they’re hurting. Thankfully, there are ways to help them through it. Omega oils are an excellent supplement as they are an essential part of nutritional requirements. They are beneficial for inflammation, which is one of the reasons your dog feels pain, and overall they help support tissues throughout the body, which makes up everything that takes a toll over time. They are an easy way to help keep your senior dog comfortable. For increased discomfort, your veterinarian is the best tool for pain management with options ranging from medications to acupuncture and other alternatives.

Staying active is necessary for your old friend. You just need to adjust to their capabilities. Remember these wise words from George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.” Giving your dog as much freedom as possible during exercise allows them to go at their own pace and you can do that by switching roles and letting them take the lead. Go a little slower, follow along, go a little less further but most importantly, go play!