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The Golden Years: Having a Senior in a Multiple Dog Household

The Golden Years: Having a Senior in a Multiple Dog Household

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This blog post is very late in coming. I have had a lot of upheaval in my life in the last eight weeks or so. With apologies to those who subscribe, it was not the fault of the holidays. My mother passed away very unexpectedly only two weeks prior to Christmas. My mother was a senior citizen and while human rather than canine, obviously, there are similarities in care of both species. So I am taking this opportunity to add some very personal experiences to this post. Having a senior canine in your life can add such joy but it can also be fraught with worry.

Siri just turned thirteen years of age just four short days after my mother passed away. Like my mother, her age really started to show about six months ago. She has grown increasingly confused about day to day situations, but thankfully has shown some improvement on that front with some natural mental clarity remedies. She is happy to comfortably rest for hours around the house now instead of showing Kenzo who the boss is. But make no mistake, if the big lug bumps into her too harshly, she will take some of that fuzz off of him in a heartbeat! Preventing the bumping into is my job, however.

Like my mother, who was in assisted living until about six days before her passing, Siri increasingly requires hands on care and attention. I help her up and down stairs. I also help her get up from a lying position, particular when she is lying on hard surfaces like the kitchen tile floor. Sometimes I have to repeat her name in order to help her remain focused on her task such as moving forward towards the door to potty. The comparisons are so similar with my mother’s increasing needs as days passed. The supervision required was more hands on, as it is now with Siri.

A multi-generational multiple dog outing

A multi-generational multiple dog outing

In particular, what I have realized is of vital importance is the need to keep the mind engaged. That goal alone can result in more animation in your senior regardless of the species. Siri cannot move around well enough any longer to engage in physical play. But she relishes her puzzle toys and her rolling treat ball. With her rolling treat ball, she actually motivates herself to stand longer than during any other activity aside from walking. It’s a joy to watch. She grins with happiness after during this. I noticed the same difference in my mother when she was engaged with something she enjoyed versus just sitting and watching TV. Engaging the mind does so much towards keeping the body functioning better. I am convinced of this.

It’s hard to watch the dogs we love get older. They never live long enough and we almost always outlive them. I would much rather bear the pain of watching them get older than having to leave them alone by checking out first. So enriching their golden years is such an important responsibility to me I hope that it is to you as well.

With a multiple dog household, there are special considerations for the safety of the senior members. Of course, individual requirements depend on the dynamics of each household. In my case, I walk all of my dogs at once. We go outside of my basic neighborhood to walk so leaving anyone behind is not an option and would stress Siri considerably. In the summer, we just took shorter and slower walks. The beginning of summer was when Siri really began to slow down. So we adjusted our walk protocol accordingly. None of my dogs enjoy the heat much anyway so it all worked out.

When the weather starting cooling off, we changed the protocol again. We routed a shorter walk for Siri, and then returned her to the car to rest, while I took the boys for a longer and faster walk. That worked out really well for all of us. Siri gets just enough of a walk to get some necessary physical exercise and mental stimulation. And Trent, Kenzo and I get needed aerobic exercise.

As mentioned, Siri no longer travels up stairs by herself anymore so that has been another adjustment. I support her behind while she heads up any set of steps, though here and there, she feels spunky and does the steps up to my bed on her own. She maneuvers down steps on her own, though her confidence level varies with the day so I typically walk with my hand on her or stand below her to boost her feeling of security. The protocol depends on whether we are descending inside steps or yard steps.

Most of the time inside of the house, both Kenzo and Trent are fairly respectful of Siri’s space, taking some care to not knock her over. But exiting the house into the yard and exiting the car can often make them forget their manners. We practice the Wait cue most of the time for these scenarios so politeness can be at a maximum. I use body splitting to prevent most accidental bumps.

They do look out for her well being because we are a family and families do that. I noticed that especially when a friend visited who had not been here before. Kenzo was a bit wary of this friend until he watched her help Siri move around. He clearly approved of what she was doing. But this kind of family atmosphere does not come automatically to all multiple dog households. As with human blended households, it is up to the decision makers in the home to set the standards and guidelines so that the crew knows what is expected of them. Consistency and guidance are your keys to success with smooth interactions. Keeping your senior engaged in the crew is a vital part of quality of life and enrichment. I hope to keep Siri around a lot longer before she goes to keep my mother company.

Feel free to share how you help your senior to feel safer, happier and more comfortable.

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Great Expectations: Life Will Roll You on a Regular Basis

Great Expectations: Life Will Roll You on a Regular Basis

Things are running smoothly in your multiple dog household so you let your guard down and assume you now have a cake walk. Until one day you don’t and you are at the vet’s office with one of your crew. What happened, you wonder? Everything was fine, you muse. Well, you are right and you are wrong.

Life happens. Really. Google trigger stacking and you will get several wonderful articles by several wonderful trainers who will explain the dog version of a bad day. This equals “stuff” happens. Exchange the word “stuff” with what many of us say when something goes awry and you get the picture. Nothing is continually perfect. We all fluctuate with our moods and our tolerance levels. That is a perfectly normal occurrence.

Does that mean that the multiple dog parents can never relax? Of course not, But it does mean that you have to be skilled observers. This should be second nature with a multiple dog household. Nipping a problem in the bud early on will help things to be far more fixable than waiting until that vet visit is a reality.

Exciting situations are one of the triggers for conflict between housemates where there usually is none.

Exciting situations are one of the triggers for conflict between housemates where there usually is none.

Several stressors in any given day can cause a shorter fuse in a dog than he or she would normally possess. This can include many things, among them not feeling 100% up to par, not getting enough exercise or mental stimulation that day, not getting something expected that day, there are just so many variables. Even atmospheric conditions make a difference such as barometric pressure, temperature, moon phases, solar flares, etc. It all adds up.

We all have scenarios that cause us to have shorter fuse than usual. Dogs are no different. Expecting our canine friends to have the same mood day in and day out is as unrealistic as assuming you will have the same mood on a daily basis.

Nothing comes out of the blue. I hear that periodically. “There was no warning”. There is ALWAYS warning. It’s usually unseen except in the parts of the mind where the conscious mind doesn’t allow it to come to a full surface thought. And then it happens. Unfortunately it usually coincides with the dog version of a bad day. The perfect storm. The straw that broke the camel’s back. Choose your phrase.

What does this all have to do with preventing chaos? Easy, pay attention on a daily basis and your perfect storm trigger stacking days will be far less of an issue than they could be. It’s all about being present in the moment. Watch your crew for questions. Watch your crew for signs of needing assistance. Watch your crew for anything that feels off. Don’t expect perfection because they are great most of the time. Life is fluid. Life is motion. To be stagnant is not something that you should aspire to. But the more in the moment that you are with your crew to prevent problems, on a regular basis, the more that you can relax in the future in the knowledge that they know you are present and there for them.

Feel free to explain your in the moment skills with your crew in the spaces below.

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Puzzle Pieces: Choosing The Right Dog To Fit Your Lifestyle

Puzzle Pieces: Choosing The Right Dog To Fit Your Lifestyle

A Westminster breed win causes the winning breed’s lovers to cringe for their breed. So can movies made about a particular breed. Dalmatians, Siberian Huskies and Chihuahuas to name a few, have already suffered through this fate. Backyard breeders pop up like weeds and rescues will be overflowing in the not too distant future. The same thing can happen when a particular breed is featured on the cover of a popular non-dog related national magazine. This recently happened with the Belgian Malinois.

It is especially harmful to a breed when the reputation is what can be seen as “bad ass” for lack of a better term. I imagine that the millions of Pit Bulls that have lost their lives for varying reasons because of what has been done to them via public perception would have preferred to avoid the “bad ass” persona. Unlike the majority of breeds that perform a job for humans, Pit Bulls actually do make great family dogs in most cases.

The same cannot be said of a Malinois. Or a working line Border Collie. Or an Australian Cattle Dog. Or so many other breeds that need a job in order to remain sane. Think of them as Type A dogs. Type A dogs are very much like your Type A friends who cannot sit still and relax unless exhausted. And even then, they struggle with this thing called the off switch. I know this. I am a Type A person.

Type A dogs need a job. Seriously, we are not talking just part of the day. We are talking most of the time. Dogs like this need almost constant mental stimulation or they will make their own and you may not agree with their interpretation of said mental stimulation.

So when a Type A dog breed suddenly becomes popular, people who are not planning on working their dog many hours a day decide to get the latest “cool” dog breed. While in a few cases, this will create a new fanatic of said breed, dedicated to their dog’s emotional stability, in most cases this ends up on the opposite end of that spectrum.

Typical of happens when Siberian Huskies -- or other Type A breeds -- aren't kept busy.

Typical of happens when Siberian Huskies — or other Type A breeds — aren’t kept busy.

The best way to prevent this scenario is to research, research and then research again when you plan on adding to your current crew. Areas of consideration include your lifestyle and your available time, your current crew’s tolerance level and likes and dislikes among other canines, your available finances and what a new addition would require, your available space and what your considered breed requires and even your plans for the future and whether an addition fits with them.

I am sure that I am preaching to the choir with my readers, but dogs are not fads nor are the meant to be disposable. They should be a lifetime (of the dog) commitment. Careful consideration that you have the right situation for the breed that you lust after is important to future happiness for everyone involved in the decision. Adopting or purchasing a puppy, especially a backyard bred version, of a Type A dog without having all the puzzle pieces in place will be a disaster in the making. Save yourself some angst and spend quality time matching your lifestyle and your current crew to what fits best, rather than basing your decision on the cool factor or an attractive face. That doesn’t work well for human pairings, it doesn’t work any better for choosing the canines in your life!

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A Day in the Life: Enrichments for Sanity — Theirs and Mine

The life of a professional dog trainer can be hectic. Oh, no complaints here. I make my own schedule and I am living my dream. But my dream is not my dog’s dream. So while some days are seriously fun for my dogs, some are less than thrilling.

All in all, I strive for as much mental stimulation as I can practically supply and an appropriate amount of physical activity on a daily basis. The physical activity is equally important for me. If I don’t get out into nature daily, regardless of the weather, I feel varying degrees of anxiety. I NEED to be outside and reasonably active on a daily basis to comfortably exist. My dogs are soul connections on this count.

Tired dogs are a sign of success.

Tired dogs are a sign of success.

So daily walks are the norm, whether 0 degrees or 90 degrees. It’s the length and time of day and location that vary. This winter we have used a vat of Musher’s Secret to achieve our goals. Daily fun most days also includes a romp in their indoor playroom. They may play actively for long or short periods or we may just hang out and exist as one. As often as my brain can participate, we have both one-on-one and group training sessions. My goal is a minimum of three times a week. My heart leaps at how much my dog’s enjoy this time. Some days include mental stimulation treat dispensing puzzle toys and others include high value chew time. If I have done my job correctly, I can see clients and safely spend computer time without protest and disappointed looks directed my way. This is my picture of success.

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