The Dogcharmer: Sadie, ol’ girl

Tips for keeping older dogs active and interested.

Sadie playing outside.

Dear Dogcharmer,

We have a Lab who is pushing 15 years old. Luckily, she is still active and inquisitive, but she is starting to show signs of failing. Some issues we have been facing are loss of hearing and vision (nose works perfectly), and the stairs have become tricky. By the way, her breath could kill an elephant.

Do you have any pointers to help ensure she maintains a good quality of life?

Worried parents

Dear Worried Parents,

Congratulations on having an ACTIVE 15-year-old Lab, which is well beyond the average of 10 to 14 years. Having worked with and trained many old, deaf, and blind dogs, I’d suggest the following: For the hearing deficit, the first order of business is getting Ol’ Girl’s attention, without having to yell. An electronic vibration collar would make it easy. Show it to her and when she sniffs it, give her a treat. Then put it on her with another treat. Then hit the button on the remote which will probably startle her a little, which you will make positive by giving her a “people food treat.” Next, step a couple of feet away from her and give her an arm-sweep hand signal to come as you vibrate the collar with her earning the piece of “chicken” as she steps toward you. Keep doing this, getting farther and farther away from Ol’ Girl, and you’ll be able to be in another room, and she’ll come looking for you when she feels the vibration. If you don’t like the idea of the collar, you can try a $20 plastic ultrasound device. Push the button, and it emits a high-frequency sound that you won’t hear, but Ol’ Girl may. If she does hear it, work it like you would with the vibration collar. You could try the same with any type of noisemaker, whistle, whatever. If you don’t want to bother with any device, stomp your foot on the floor and she’ll feel the vibration, as you give her the arm sweep to come earn her treat for coming to you.

As for her failing sight, you’re absolutely right about her nose. Having used two dogs I trained to find missing people, I can tell you that a dog can detect a drop of blood in a million gallons of water, which is equal to two Olympic-size swimming pools. Ol’ Girl could find the one rotten apple in 2 million barrels. With totally blind dogs, once a week I had the owners place a drop of lemon extract in front of all the hazards that could be bumped into — chair legs, table legs, walls, etc. Vanilla extract drops went down the middle of the safe pathways to her food bowls, beds, all hangout places, etc. I’ve seen dogs negotiate their way through houses and apartments so fast that guests found it hard to believe they were blind.

If Ol’ Girl is going to continue to use the stairs, they should have no-slip surfaces. If that becomes tenuous, then put a harness on her, with a short leash handle, and always help her up, and especially down. Or support her with a towel under her belly. Then a gate is placed to prevent her from trying the stairs on her own.

Worried parents, stop worrying, and revel in the fact that she’s old and still active enough to be taught a game like “Go find!” Tell her to stay, or have someone hold her back while you let her know you have a treat, back up acting silly to hold her attention, and let her see you place the treat behind a shoe or something. Then tell her to “Go find!” She’ll love the game, and learn to love searching, as long as you have success build on success, as the treat gets harder to find. As for her elephant-killing breath, talk to your vet, and for goodness sake, keep her away from elephants!

Hopefully less worried parents, give her a kiss for me.

The Dogcharmer

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