Dogs are good for our health. This is a proven fact but I don’t have to tell you that! They make us happy in so many ways, providing companionship so that we are never lonely, making us laugh daily and getting us outside in the fresh air. This, I think, is the most important reason sharing your life with a dog is beneficial to health and well being. A fact that has become very clear to me as we have adapted to the slowing pace of a senior dog.
When Frankie and Bruno were young, they were very active and we happily walked twice a day, even though I was often presented with the ‘are you sure about this?’ look if the weather was somewhat iffy and disapproved of by a whippet. Still we would venture out - before and after work, with a few strolls during the day for sniffs and comfort. We had this routine until they were about 11. As the years went on we might not have walked as far, but we still went, all getting a great deal of pleasure out of it. Frankie would chase squirrels and bark at the wind, Bruno would plod loyally beside me in the hope of a tasty morsel coming out of my treat bag.
Looking back I think the routine changed when Bruno’s heart went into failure. Even though he was stable on tablets he tired very quickly and we had to be super careful about taking him out if it was warm, mindful that he would just plod next to us for as far as we took him, such was his desire to please. Frankie, being an independent madam has never had any such desire to please! If she doesn’t want to walk any further she will simply stop and no amount of coaxing will encourage her to move, unless you turn back towards home!
I noticed that our walks were getting shorter and shorter and if presented with a choice they would both choose the quickest way home. I learnt to listen to what they were telling me and not to worry that we were only having one walk a day. In the last few months of Bruno’s life we didn’t even manage a daily walk, perhaps 3 times a week. Both dogs were happy to have a mooch in the garden most days with a couple of walks up the lane at The Barn for relief purposes – something that becomes more frequent with a senior dog.
At first you don’t notice the changes – the slightly shorter walks creep up on you until they are nonexistent. This is the place we are in now. Frankie has become very reluctant to venture out of our front door, let alone to the park or a gentle stroll around the orchards behind our house, she doesn’t even bark at the ducks on the pond when out for a comfort break at The Barn. Her favourite place to be is the spare bed, even though the stairs are a bit of a struggle, the pleasure of being able to stretch out on a double bed is worth it!
I suspect, as you are reading this, you are a dog owner, you will know that one of the reasons they enrich our lives so much is that we share the great pleasure of walking together. You are in tune with the seasons, you see nature every day and knowing that your dog is happy will always have a positive effect. You have probably got to know all the regular dogs on your walks and will undoubtedly know the dogs names long before you introduce yourself to the owners! You will have discovered footpaths and woodlands on your door step that you might otherwise have never known, and probably visited a few pubs that were so off the beaten track you wouldn’t be able to find them in a car! Getting out there every day whatever the weather can be exhilarating and make the stresses of the day go away.
Not doing these daily walks has made me realise how much I got from them. The dog walk was my thinking time, my 'clear my head space' time, in fact I often got my best designs and ideas while out walking the dogs – strangely that time is not so inspirational if I go out alone. With less exercise my body is feeling decidedly creaky! We do venture out at the weekends without Frankie for longer walks, but it feels odd not have a dog, we both feel it.
With age comes change. Change in routine, change in eating habits, change in mobility. I have learnt to embrace it and adapt to it. For now we are respecting our senior’s needs, and even changing our work lives so that she is able to stay at home more, the place she feels most safe, avoiding a trip in the car – something she has always hated – to work with me. Between us, we feel these changes are needed to give Frankie the very best of what time she has left.
If you have dogs that are slowing down, my advice is to go with it, listen to what they are telling you. If they are panting more often than they used to, or walking slower than ever before, this could be a sign that they really don’t need or want to walk as often. Most dogs will, like Bruno, just want to please you. They will push themselves to keep up with you and go as far as you want, but it might not be what they want, because after all it is often us humans that have the issues with the slower pace and not our hounds that crave and need it.