Dogs are like people: They are social, curious animals, and they interact with their environments. They need more than food and exercise to be mentally stable animals.
Make Your Dog Happy
Young dogs enjoy long walks or runs; they enjoy chasing Frisbee and retrieving balls. Some dogs love obedience competition, fly-ball, tracking, sports, agility, and dance. They want to do what their people do, and they are simply happy making their people happy.
In her book, Animals Make Us Human, the well-known autistic, Temple Grandin, Ph.D., says she probably thinks more like animals than humans because of how her brain works. She understands how animals need to have their senses stimulated – to satisfy their curiosity and their need to play — beyond the known need for physical exercise. She says that animals under the care of humans, like zoo animals and pets, deserve to be free from pain, free from hunger and thirst, and free from fear and distress. Just as important, they should have the freedom to express “normal” behavior. She says, “Dogs need parents, not pack leaders.”
Know your dog’s breed. Dogs are hard-wired to act certain ways. Some breeds love to swim; it comes naturally to them. But, for others, like some large-chested breeds, swimming is difficult. Hunting dogs enjoy the hunt; you can see it in the gleam in their eyes. Herding dogs love to herd. Terriers were created to exterminate vermin, and they, too, love their jobs. Some dogs love car rides; others don’t. Know what your dog enjoys and then adapt activities to his age level and natural abilities.
“Companion” dogs were created by humans for humans, not for the dogs’ sake. Simply petting and hugging a bonded dog makes him feel like he is in doggy heaven. Dogs will, literally, follow their owners anywhere. They just enjoy being with their human family.
Like people, dogs begin to lose some sight and hearing and become more forgetful with age. Their abilities change; their stamina decreases; they slow down and sleep more.
Make Your Dog Happy – According to Experts
Dr. Bruce Fogle, D.V.M, a world-renowned pet behaviorist, offers several suggestions for making an older dog’s life more complete. In Natural Dog Care, he explains that aging dogs slow down because they produce less dopamine and more stress-related hormones. They “forget” how to ask to go outside; they will not follow their owners around as readily; they greet their owners less often; and they ask for less attention.
Older dogs sleep more during the day and less at night. By understanding what’s happening, owners can take note and intervene. It is easier to leave an old dog alone, but this is the time for the owner to get more physically involved to help slow down the inexorable aging process.
A physically-healthy, relatively pain-free dog will have reason to live longer. In the ASPCA Complete Dog Care Manual, Dr. Fogle recommends that owners:
1. Groom their old dogs more often – for blood circulation and body contact. Also, make the dog more comfortable by massaging his joints and muscles.
2. Check ears and eyes for problems.
3. Brush the teeth to reduce risk of gum infection. Old dogs can learn new tricks, even if they haven’t experienced gentle tooth brushing and gum massage before. Use specially-made dog toothbrushes (or finger brushes) and toothpaste.
4. Feed smaller amounts of quality food more often, but watch for weight gain. Feeding is one of the highlights of a dog’s day. Smaller meals will digest more readily and spread out the times the dog looks forward to.
5. Provide warmth, comfort and soft bedding.
Of course, physical comfort goes along with the emotional. A relatively pain-free existence with daily interaction offers quality of life. That is only one reason for annual wellness checkups with the vet; (s)he can tell if a dog is in pain from an overlooked problem, and (s)he can offer safe pain relievers.
Regarding emotional enrichment, animal shelters, kennel owners, and rescue workers know the need for outside stimulation inside the kennel environment.
Carl Friedman, the Director of the San Francisco Department of Animal Care and Control, deals with this problem daily. He says many of the dogs that come into their facilities are subject to long periods of confinement, and they become so stressed, they lose their appetites, develop poor hygiene, become less motivated, more aggressive, and sometimes self-mutilate.
Their program, “Give a Dog a Bone (GADAB),” established by Corinne Dowling in 1999, was developed to serve dogs in long-term care, often awaiting court settlements before disposition of their cases. To overcome sheer boredom, Dowling says they “form play groups to provide canine companionship and provide some novelty and joy” for the dogs.
Treats, human attention, exercise and love are the main ingredients of the program. Dowling says they offer games like “Find it,” in which the dog must locate its treat tossed into its kennel. They play tug of war; dance together; and practice commands like “Sit, Come, Down, Give Paw, and Go to bed.” They entice the dog to “Get me” — where helpers call the dogs back and forth in double runs for sheer exercise and interactive fun.
Stanley Coren, author of How Dogs Think, says most owners can expect their dogs to experience sight and hearing loss with age. In preparation for the inevitable, he says he trains all of his dogs to respond to sight and voice commands.
Alternatively, a friend got a second, younger dog as a “guide dog” for her blind, furry pal. She said the old dog learned to follow the sounds of the bell on the companion dog’s neck; the aged animal could still find her way around enough to go outside, avoid running into furniture, and even go on walks with both her human and animal companions.
With a bit of thought, owners can give any breed of dog at any age a better quality of life. With regular vet care and awareness of their pets’ emotional needs, owners can enjoy their dogs longer while they themselves gain the same sense of general well-being and a zest for life.