Over a year ago I injured my shoulder, how I really don't know but boy was it painful and the frustration I felt as it simply refused to heal, drove me mad. Months went by before there was any improvement but it did gradually return to something resembling 'normal' however, just when I thought all was well, blow me it tore again after I recklessly folded a towel, at speed (admittedly, without a proper warm up)! So, it was back to taking it easy again to give the thing a chance to heal, which it slowly did. However, just this week, after a month of pain free mobility, the darn thing has gone again (my plans for Rio de Janeiro 2016 have now gone up in smoke).
As humans, we have an understanding of how the world works and we know that as we get older it is more difficult for our bodies to recover from injury or illness, just as it is for all species, no matter how sophisticated the ointments, pills and potions but knowing this really doesn't make me a happy bunny. I only know that I am prevented from doing many of the things that I want to do (at least using Amichien Bonding means that I can thoroughly enjoy taking my dogs out, as they never put strain on my shoulder or pull on their leads).
The fact that we understand the reasons for much of what happens to us physically does actually help us. The knowledge of what is happening, takes away any feelings of vulnerability and uncertainty that we would experience, if we didn’t understand the processes. No other animal has this knowledge and if they are not functioning at 100% will feel apprehensive if put into situations that require a healthy, strong and fit body.
With all of my dogs now over six years of age, the oldest being thirteen, it is my responsibility to keep them safe and happy. I have to protect less able members of the pack, by preventing them from getting into situations where perhaps they would be at a disadvantage. Situations like an older dog eating much slower and sometimes with difficulty, so I will soak the food to make it easier to eat and feed them separately, thereby reducing the pressure that results from the natural canine instinct to check if any danger is behind them, or competition for their food. There are also times when older dogs need to be kept separate from younger, fitter pack members so they do not feel vulnerable in their company.
The younger ones can never understand the notion of 'respecting their elders', they are functioning in the world of survival-of-the-fittest and if other members of the family are not up to the job then they are of absolutely no use to the group. We see similar behaviour in younger people when they become impatient with an elderly person crossing the road, or a senior person struggling with their pin number at the checkout at the supermarket.
With modern lifestyles and medicines, people andtheir animals are living much longer which is delightful, as long asthere is quality intheir lives but, as carers, we have to appreciatethefear that our dogs will feel as age reducestheir confidence level. Dogs that develop illness, physical problems or are castrated are always aware thatthey are ‘under par’ but will not understand why andtheincreased levels of stressthey feel will almost certainly show as a change intheir behaviour. Depending onthepersonality ofthedog concerned, this behaviour can sometimes be extremely exaggerated and can range from submissive to aggressive butthey all result fromthelevel of pressure thatthey findthemselves under,their natural desire to survive means thatthey have to adapt to any changes or differences in whatthey perceive to bethebest way open tothem.
We make allowances for any family member who experiences a condition or has a life changing accident and we need to do the same for our dogs, without losing patience or punishing them for strange behaviour. In the natural world, a free living dog’s average life span is about four years but we sometimes have our dogs with us for three to four times that time period and we need to remember that it is us that have brought the stress and confusion of old age into their world. They do not understand the passing of time or the onset of disability as in the natural world, they simply would not survive!
We are lucky to have our intricate knowledge of how the world works and to be able to take such pleasure in it, particularly when for our animals life is much simpler and consists of one simple rule; “do I eat it, or does it eat me?”. With the knowledge that we have also comes a certain amount of responsibility and we have to make allowances for the “extreme” ages that our dogs can now reach and what may be going through their heads (if anything!).
When your older dog suddenly develops a new behaviour pattern, remember he isn’t suddenly becoming awkward or disobedient, it is more likely he is trying to adapt, in the best way he can, to his ever evolving world, so give him same consideration that you would an elderly person (hopefully) who may have the odd ‘senior moment’. As I often explain to my family, neither the dogs nor I are deliberately trying to be difficult, we’ve just been around a long time!
And while we are on the subject of age related situation be aware that if you told that you are experiencing a 'senior moment' when you struggle to remember where you left the car keys, you can respond by telling the misguided person that the reason for your difficulty is because you have so much valuable information in your head that it takes your filing system a little longer to sort through all of the information and when you eventually find the keys in the cutlery draw, you can assure them that you had a perfectly good reason to do that too.
24th May 2013