Benefits of Owning a Senior Pet

Older dogs might not fill a home with happy chaos as energetic puppies do, but these senior pets still enrich our lives in so many ways.

Adjustments Make for a Happy Senior Dog
Panda, a 15-year-old beagle, was just a 7-week-old puppy when owner Cathy Perry Glass brought her home. “To me, she is like my first teddy bear, which is still cherished after so many years,” says Glass. “Like my bear, Panda has aged over the years. Her once-svelte beagle figure now has myriad lumps and bumps. We communicate through sign language and touch, but to me, she is more beautiful than ever.”

Just as life with a new puppy takes adjusting, you and your senior dog will fare better if you make accommodations, says Glass. “Living with a senior dog can be a joy. Making a few changes as your dog ages can keep you both happy,” she says. For example, Glass uses a pet stroller to take Panda on outings. Teaching Panda signs helps Glass continue to communicate with her. She is vigilant about taking Panda for regular veterinary checkups. Owners of senior dogs need to stay on top of age-related health conditions, says Glass.

Pay attention and you’ll find benefits to living with an older dog. “Older dogs focus well and can learn new things,” says Glass. Panda still loves a good snuggle and scratch under the chin.

Still Sharing the Love
Linda A. Kerns’ 12-year-old Shetland sheepdog, Stormer, still accompanies her everywhere she goes. “He comes to work with me every day and rests in his bed next to my desk,” says Kerns, who maintains a law practice in Philadelphia.

Stormer serves as both inspiration and support to those around him. “I am a divorce lawyer, and Stormer earns his keep by greeting clients and providing everyone he meets with loyalty and love, something that a divorce client desperately needs,” says Kerns.

You might be surprised to find many senior dogs still bring energy to everyday life. “Even though he is in his golden years, he still acts with the enthusiasm of a puppy.”

Learning From a Senior Dog
Magic, a golden retriever mix, turns 16 on March 15. “He’s not as spry or as sharp as he was, but he’s still the great teacher he has always been, just different lessons now,” explains owner Debra Atlas, an environmental journalist based in Northern California.

As a young dog, Magic would sneak toys in and lay them beside her chair as Atlas worked. “When I was ready to take a break, I’d move and suddenly see it. The lesson was: There’s always time to play!” says Atlas. Now, it is her turn to remind Magic about playing. “When I say ‘playtime’ and bring out a toy, he suddenly lights up with joy,” she says. As Magic has grown older, he has become more affectionate.

“As he’s become old this year, I’ve realized how much he’s taught me over the years and how important those lessons have been to the quality of my life, my inner strength and to my ability to give and receive love,” says Atlas.

Saving Seniors
David Hendrickson, CEO and founder of skateboard company Hendrick Boards, believes in the value of older dogs so much that he works to aid their adoption. His company supports adoption programs such as those that match senior dogs with senior citizens.

“To me, it is all about providing a senior dog with love and companionship during their last beautiful lives,” says Hendrickson. “It is all about giving them love and being loved in incredible ways back.”

New Year’s Resolutions for Your Dog

It’s a new year, and that means it’s time for resolutions for both family and Fido. Mix and match these resolution ideas for the best results this year, or add all 12 to your regular routine and care time for your pup.

January: National Train Your Dog Month

Sponsored by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, National Train Your Dog Month occurs every January to help promote the importance of training and socialization of dogs. All dogs can use some form of training, even if it’s just to promote fun and bonding between dog and pet parent.

Keep in mind--training does not mean teaching your dog tricks. Training a dog means helping to correct a behavior that is undesired, promoting harmony between pet parent and dog, and/or teaching your dog to be a good canine citizen.

February: National Pet Dental Health Month

There’s no time like the present to start a daily tooth and gum care regimen for dogs. The American Veterinary Dental Society reports that oral disease is the most frequently diagnosed health problem in pets. In fact, an astounding 80% of dogs have dental issues by the time they are three years old.  Establish a dental care routine by vowing to brush your dog’s teeth as you would your own.

March: National Pet Poison Prevention Week

Poison Prevention Week takes place March 18 through 24 every year. In addition to household items and stale treats, keep dogs away from anything with artificial sweeteners. Xylitol, for example, is a substance found in many sugar-free items and it is lethal to pets. Take a check of your house and surroundings and be sure to pooch-proof it from poisons.

April: National Pet First Aid Awareness Month

Now is the time to refill your pet’s first aid kit, or to establish one. Try keeping a first aid kit for your dog in the car and one in the house, since you never know where or when an accident may occur. The American Red Cross has specific recommendations for what you should keep in this pet first aid kit, or you can buy one with items already included. 

May: National Animal Disaster Preparedness Day

Get those disaster plans in place! Ensure you know where you and your dog will go in the event of a natural (or otherwise) disaster. From hurricane planning to flood evacuation, have a plan of escape, a point of destination and all supplies in place should you need to urgently escape. Never leave a dog behind.

June: Take Your Dog to Work Day

If you are unable to take your dog to work for National Take Your Dog to Work Day on June 21, celebrate by taking a special day off and making it Fido bonding time. Celebrated each year on the Friday following Father’s Day, show your dog what mom or dad does for a living and let the fur fly.

July: Independence Day

Keep dogs calm and safe from harm by practicing firework and outdoor safety in advance of 4th of July celebrations. Dogs will often bolt when they are startled.  Ensure dogs cannot escape from your abode by securing doors, locking any outdoor gates and restricting access to areas like windows, which dogs may jump through when frightened.

August: National Dog Day

The dog days of summer come to life when August 26th rolls around. Make a resolution to celebrate your dog’s life by ensuring his or her good health. Preventative care and wellness check-ups at the vet with routine blood work and both fecal and urine screening are crucial.

September: World Rabies Day

Rabies is a deadly, yet very preventable, disease. Ensure your dog is current on the proper vaccination and discuss any questions with your vet.

October: National Pet Obesity Awareness Day

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention has dubbed October 10 National Pet Obesity Awareness Day. Dogs should not be overweight or obese; their joints, organs, and every fiber of their being are affected by any extra weight.  Any pet weight loss program should be carefully constructed and designed for gradual but healthy decline in weight. Seek veterinary advice.

November: Pet Cancer Awareness Month

Screening your dog for lumps and bumps before they progress is crucial to stopping the spread of cancer. Often times something caught early on can be treated and/or removed prior to further complications. Take the time to check Fido and report any unusual findings or changes in behavior to Rover’s veterinarian.

December: National Mutt Day

National Mutt Day is celebrated on December 2. Whether or not you have a mutt or a pedigree pooch, this is a good time to give back, especially with the holidays approaching. Donate to a favorite dog charity, give back with some time to a shelter or consider fostering a dog in need.

How to Succeed at Off-Leash Dog Play

Like a doting parent, Anne Hendrickson recalls when her dog, Riley, was just a puppy and she started taking him to an off-leash dog park in Minneapolis. "It was so much fun," Hendrickson says. Riley met a group of playmates. There was Dallas, Zuma and others. "They would meet and run," Hendrickson says, "and wrestle and chase and play."

Hendrickson is convinced of the benefits of off-leash play after seeing how happy it makes Riley and her other two dogs -- and how well behaved the dogs are in the house afterwards. She's started a dog daycare business, Downtown Dogs Minneapolis, where pups play off-leash. She tells clients that off-leash play may help correct many behaviors at home, such as destructive chewing or digging, which could result from boredom or lack of exercise.

Hendrickson is also the health and safety expert of Dog Grounds, a non-profit in Minneapolis that fights for more public land for off-leash play. She's part of an urban movement that has caught on from New York City to Seattle, in which dog owners have answered leash laws by fighting for more off-leash parks. Dog owners also set up "playgroups" where pets can romp and socialize. Whenever you put two or more animals together, however, there are risks. Here's how to make sure that off-leash play is a positive experience for your pet:

Know your pup's temperament Not all dogs are cut out for dog parks, says Robin Bennett, a dog trainer in Stafford, Va., and author of Off-Leash Dog Play: A Complete Guide to Safety and Fun (Dogwise). "The best thing to ask yourself is, 'Does my dog enjoy the company of other dogs?'" Bennett says. "Just as with people, some dogs prefer to have just one or two friends, while others are more like social butterflies."

When starting out at a new playgroup or venturing to a new off-leash park, look for signs of stress in your dog, Bennett advises. "If the dog's body stiffens up, it may be a bit worried," Bennett says. Another sign of stress is if the dog was formerly panting with an open mouth and suddenly stops and closes its mouth. "The dog may be holding its breath and saying, 'I'm not sure of this,'" Bennett says.

Find playgroups in your area There is a growing variety of off-leash parks and playgrounds in communities around the country. Most city or county governments will have information on their websites about public parks that allow dogs to be off-leash. In addition, websites such as "Offleash meetup" allow you to search for groups or locations by zip code. If you can't find an organized playgroup, ask your veterinarian, breeder, or owners of other dogs that your pup sniffs during its walks. If you have a fenced in yard, you might even consider starting such a group yourself.

Introduce your dog to off-leash slowly If your dog has never been to an off-leash park before, avoid peak hours. "The first time you bring your dog, go at a time when it isn't very busy -- usually early in the morning or on a weekday," suggests Hendrickson. "This way, your dog can sniff and explore on its own terms."

Bennett suggests first introducing your dog to another dog, one on one. "Make sure to introduce your dog to another that is relatively calm and isn't going to overwhelm your pet," Bennett says. Look for a positive greeting ritual. Dogs tend to approach each other in an arc and sniff each other's faces and necks before making a beeline for the behind, Bennett says.

Watch for stress or aggression Monitor your pup closely for a reaction to other dogs. Healthy play behavior involves exaggerated and repetitive movements, Bennett says. These may include chasing, jumping in the air, moving quickly to the left or right and bowing down with the front paws.

Be on the alert for dogs that become rough or aggressive. "Any time two dogs are off leash together, there is a risk of injury," Hendrickson says. Cuts and scratches are likely. However, bullying is a possibility at dog parks. It can be difficult to spot because dogs bite and wrestle and pin each other in play. Hendrickson recommends the "Bully Test." Remove the alleged aggressor and watch the reaction of the "bottom dog" to see if it continues to try to play or takes the opportunity to get away. If your dog wants to flee, it's time to leave.

Follow off-leash etiquette A dog trainer or other expert sometimes sponsors dog daycare situations or organized playgroups. At other times, dog owners are on the honor system. You should abide by the following general rules:

  • Never let your dog play with other dogs if they have a communicable disease, such as kennel cough, or worms, experts say. Make sure your own pet is protected and up to date on its vaccinations.
  • Don't take a dog to an off-leash park if it doesn't have basic obedience training, such as coming when called, Bennett stresses.
  • Bring plastic bags to clean up after your dog, Hendrickson says.
  • If your dog shows aggression toward others, take it out of the park, Bennett says.
  • Don't bring food or doggie treats into the dog park, Bennett says. Other dogs may want treats, too. One thing dogs will fight over is food.

Photo: Corbis Images

Unconditional Love: "Never underestimate how good it feels when someone is happy to see you."

Welcome to the Unconditional Love series, where we bring you heartfelt stories about all of the ways animals have shown unconditional love through the years. Be sure to check back each week for a different post -- and share your own story for a chance to win $50 worth of pet food.

This week, we talked to The Dog Daily contributor Lauren Siegel. Here’s what she said about her pet:

What is your favorite way your pet shows you unconditional love? 
Even after a long day of us being out of the house, working or running errands, without fail Hesche will come to the door, more excited than the last day, to see us. 

Never underestimate how good it feels when someone is happy to see you. 

What has your dog/cat taught you about unconditional love? 
People often take advantage of those who love them the most. When it comes to a dog, you have to give back and show them how much you love them with your care. They teach you patience, and how to reciprocate love so the other party knows how you really feel.

When was a time that your pet’s unconditional love was extra important to you?
When my other dog passed away, Hesche crawled up into bed and laid his head on the pillow next to me. 

Have you ever had a pet that you felt that was truly a part of your family?
Definitely! Every morning, before I leave for work, Hesche gives me a little kiss on the nose. It’s just like I used to do with my grandpa. It’s become a family tradition that I expect to carry on for as long as possible. 

What does your pet’s unconditional love look like?

See picture titled thisiswhatunconditionallovelookslike.

Have a pet that loves you? Tweet us your story now for a chance to win $50 in Iams pet food!

Unconditional Love: ‘Bailey and PAWS saved my life that day, and every day after’

Welcome to the Unconditional Love series, where we bring you heartfelt stories from bloggers around the Web about all of the ways their animals have shown them unconditional love through the years. Be sure to check back each week for a different post -- and share your own story for a chance to win $50 worth of pet food.

This week, we talked to Karen Barnett from Paws4Claws. Here’s what she said about her pets:

Do you have a favorite pet from childhood? What made him so special to you?
I have grown up with dogs all my life, but one in particular comes to mind. My mother had 10 multi-colored Silky Terriers that she bred but never sold. One, named Pudgy, was born blind in one eye. I fought to save Pudgy from being put down, and had to kidnap him from my parent’s house to my home in NYC, where I kept him until I was sure I could return him to my parent’s home to live out his life without issue.

Have you ever had a pet that you felt was truly a part of your family?
In high school, my boyfriend at the time (now my husband) had two phenomenal dogs I loved: Cin Cin the Pug and Muffin the English Setter. These dogs, along with many others, were part of my family, and to me that meant they were awarded honorary human status. My now mother-in-law believed the same. She cooked human food for Muffin every day and, like all our dogs, they slept with us in our beds. It never occurred to me it should be any other way. These dogs brought me joy, companionship, comfort, stress relief and unconditional love.

Why is the bond between a person and his/her pet so special?
It turns out that dogs are a kind of wonder drug, and all-around stress reducers. Pet owners recover at a substantially faster rate from heart problems than do non–dog owners, and a child raised with a pet is more empathetic than one who isn’t.

What is the most surprising way your pet has ever shown you affection?
I have two fantastic, large breed loveable dogs--my 8-year-old French Herding Dog, a Briard named Bailey, and a tri-colored Bernese Mountain Dog named PAWS, who is the mascot, Chief Pet Officer and inspiration behind Paws4Claws.

Just 18 months ago I was running to a meeting, trying to finalize a deal to raise funds to keep pet loving families facing home foreclosures with their furry companions. In my haste, I missed the top step of a two-flight hardwood staircase of 18 steps. Bailey was in front and PAWS was behind me. I heard each bone in my left arm and elbow crack and shatter as it bumped down every step, and my shoulder crackled as I tried to shield my head from crashing against the wrought iron rails encasing each side of the staircase.

At the end, I lay crumpled and shriveled at the bottom of the steps. I was home alone, unable to move, bleeding and in unbearable pain. Bailey, sprung into love mode. She continuously licked blood from my face and anywhere else before I could see it and really freak out. But PAWS was more clever and powerful and pounced into rescue and recovery mode. He took my sleeve with his teeth and pulled me, slowly and methodically, towards the kitchen where we had a phone. He then helped me pull the phone to the floor so I could call my husband and tell him to come home to get me.

It has taken two operations, 12 months of physical rehabilitation, ongoing pain numbing patches and codeine to sedate intense pain, not to mention my entire family’s commitment to getting my left arm to work again. Despite all that, it would never have been possible without the love, true heart and, yes, I believe, human souls of my dogs.

Bailey and PAWS saved my life that day, and every day after.

Have a pet that loves you? Tweet us your story now for a chance to win $50 in Iams pet food!