Watching Your Dog Age Is Hard

Watching Your Dog Age Is Hard

Barbara Dobbins, my friend and frequent contributor to WDJ,
once wrote a post
for this space that described how her senior Border Collie, Daisy, had earned a
“permanent hall pass” for jumping up on the counter to help herself to any food
that had been left out. Two years into cancer treatment, Dobbins was happy that
Daisy had an appetite! She also described other dogs she knew whose owners had
decided to look the other way when the dogs did naughty things.

Otto is definitely showing some signs of aging

At 12 ½ years, my senior dog, Otto, has seemingly decided he
should get a pass, too. My husband and I are not sure whether he’s getting a
little senile, or simply emboldened by the plethora of as-yet uneducated foster
puppies that have been trampling the landscaping and chewing drip-irrigation
lines (or, alternatively, whining in a crate), or some combination of these
things. Whatever the cause, the fact is that his behavior has begun to
deteriorate just a bit.

Don’t get me wrong; he’s still a very, very good dog! But,
adolescent misadventures aside, he’s always been near perfect – like the kid
who sits in the front row and always – ALWAYS – has his hand up in class. If he
hears me telling any other dog to “sit” or “down” or “come here,” he’ll pop up
out of a dead sleep and run over to prove that he can perform those behaviors
better and faster than the other dog can. So it’s a bit of a shock to have him
completely blow me off when I call him after hearing him roar his terrible roar
at the FedEx truck that’s passing by our house, and see him go tearing down the
fence line, determined to chase the truck to the very edge of our property. How
do I know he actually heard me and decided not to leave the chase? Because I
could see him look over his shoulder and hesitate just a moment, and then
decide, “Oh forget it, she’s too far away.”

Otto’s sudden interest in playing fetch

He’s also apparently decided that enough is enough when it
comes to the relentless fetching of our younger dog, Woody – one of those dogs
who would likely fetch until his feet turn bloody or until he passes out from
heat exhaustion. If Otto is by himself, he will fetch a time or two, and then,
chase the ball or other fetch item a third time, but just as he’s about to
reach the fetch item, seemingly catch a whiff of some mystery aroma he just HAS
to check out! “Excuse me, Mom, I think there was a raccoon on our lawn four
nights ago, I should investigate.” In other words, he’s never been all that
into fetching. But suddenly, he’s started to get very competitive when Woody is

He’s not nearly as fast or as coordinated as Woody, but he’s
started to insert himself into any session of fetch, trying to beat Woody to
any throw where that seems likely – which, because Woody never watches the
ball, but just takes off running in the most likely direction, and Otto
actually visually tracks the ball, Otto can get to more of the throws than he
ought to be able to at his age. He also will try to intercept Woody on his way
back to me with the ball and forcibly take the ball from him! Thank goodness,
even though Woody is 4 ½ years old, he is still very submissive in the face of
Otto’s “attacks.” He doesn’t quite give in, but he has not yet once tried to
retaliate, either; he either tries to outmaneuver the older dog, or will stop
and hunker down in a submissive pose, holding the ball tightly in his mouth and
squinting his eyes tightly shut as Otto bites his face, trying to get the ball.
“Sorry, man, I just can’t let go!”

Does Otto actually want to play fetch himself? Is he jealous
of the attention that Woody gets for fetching? It seems that he just wants the
ball; if he gets it, he just leaves with it! “Ha! That stupid game is over!” he
seems to say. And, yes, I’ve tried having two balls on site when we are
playing, so if Otto steals one, Woody and I can play on . . . Otto will drop
whichever one we let him have and come in pursuit of the “active” ball in the
game, so lately I’ve been putting him in the house when Woody needs a good,
long session to work off some energy. I don’t want him to get hurt trying to
overdo the fetching heroics!

It’s just weird, because he used to just watch Woody
fetching like, “Yuck! What an idiot!” And now he’s like, “I have to STOP this!”

Got the ball and the game is over…

Other changes in Otto’s behavior

Also new: For most of his life, even if he didn’t want to do
something, like, suffer through a bath in the yard with a hose, he would come
when I called him. Slowly, sadly, but he would come (and he would get thanked,
rewarded, and fussed over). Now, if he sees a hose and thinks a bath might be
in the works, he just leaves, even if I’m calling him. “Nope! Just… nope!” He
thinks – actually, he knows – I’m
just not going to make him suffer through a hose bath anymore if he doesn’t
want one.

But the biggest surprise came a few days ago, when my
husband left his dinner unattended on the coffee table for a minute, and Otto
just started helping himself to the food. WHAT?! He’s NEVER been a
counter-surfer or helped himself to food like that before, which made both my
husband and I wonder if this is a bit of dementia creeping in. He actually
looked a bit surprised when both my husband and I, shocked at the same time,
yelled “Hey!” I told my husband, we have to treat him more like a puppy again;
we can’t take it for granted anymore that he knows all the house rules and will
follow them.

While I’m happy to issue him that “permanent
hall pass,” and will likely just go ahead and let him have the rest of any
burrito he manages to steal from now on, part of me is a little sad at these
age-related behavior changes. Dogs just don’t live long enough! We’ll cherish
all the time we have together, a little more now.

The post Watching Your Dog Age Is Hard appeared first on Whole Dog Journal.

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