It has become a habit for me to stop at my friend Bonnie’s home after finishing the Tuesday afternoon class I teach for the Allen Correctional Institution’s PETS (Pets Educated to Survive) program. We relax in her comfortable living room and have a cup of tea and some conversation. We’re always joined by Trace, her 10-year-old Airedale. Trace has been an “only dog” for a few years now following the sad passing of his sister, and he has become quite accustomed to being the center of attention.
When I call to say I’m on my way, Trace’s reaction to the phone ringing is comical. He starts “talking” and runs to sit by the chair I’ll soon be occupying. If he thinks I’m taking too long he starts pawing at the chair, whining and carrying on. I’d like to think he’s just that excited at the prospect of seeing me, but I’m pretty sure the little bowl of crackers and dog treats that he gets while we have tea may have more to do with his anticipation.
When we sit down to tea, Trace is the perfect gentleman. (Okay — maybe not “perfect” — he does drool and smack his lips quite a bit while waiting for another cracker.) He sits patiently for each small bite and when his treats are gone, he lies peacefully by our feet. Other than the drooling, he’s the ideal tea companion. (Bonnie’s husband, Steve, says we’ve ruined his big, tough hunting dog.)
Trace wasn’t always the gentleman he is today. Like any Airedale worth the name he was wild and playful when much younger — certainly not a candidate for afternoon tea. Airedales, like all dogs, are at their best in their senior years. (My personal experience tells me that the best age for most dogs is from seven onwards.)
Older dogs are priceless. They are well past the silliness and energy of puppyhood, although they still are subject to the occasional burst of enthusiasm. Older dogs are less demanding and are content just to be with their owners. They still need exercise to keep them in shape, but the need for rigorous exercise is past. An older dog may not be able to accompany you on a five mile run, but leisurely walks will be appreciated. Good dogs age like fine wine; they become mellower and more valuable as time goes by. If you have a canine senior citizen, take extra time to enjoy him while you have him.
If you are considering adopting a dog, please consider an older pet. It’s a sad fact that shelters and rescues are full of older dogs in need of comfortable homes where they can spend their golden years. A shelter environment is very hard on these senior citizens. If you have young, boisterous kids, or have a very active, noisy household, maybe a younger dog would be a better bet, but an older dog can fit in perfectly in a quieter environment.
Don’t believe the old saying that you “can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Senior canines can learn as well as younger dogs as long as you are aware that you may be dealing with behaviors that have become long-time habits and that may take a bit of time to modify. Don’t worry that adopting an older dog will mean expensive vet visits and too short a time with your pet. An older dog will eventually need more veterinary care, but if you work with your veterinarian, take advantage of his or her advice, keep your dog in good physical condition, your senior dog’s life can be fairly trouble-free for a long time. With affection, patience, kind training, and good health care you will earn the gratitude of an older dog who asks for no more than a warm bed, good food, clean water, and the companionship of a loving owner.
As for my boy Fergus — it’ll be a while before he’s invited to tea. Right now at 20 months of age, his manners are still in the frat-boy stage. But he’s a perfect candidate for beer and bratwurst party any day!
Dorothy Miner is a long-time dog obedience and tracking instructor, judge of canine events, and author. She currently teaches weekly classes for the Allen Correctional Institution’s PETS Program and does a bit of private training and consultation under the banner of “Training for Dogs and Their People.”