Old Dogs

ImageOld dogs.

On Wednesday, Parker had been full of beans, bounding through the condo, whipping around corners and racing down the halls, prancing on his walks and uber-friendly and playful to every dog we met. I couldn’t stop laughing at his antics and really taking joy in this behaviour. It beats the “old man” gig we usually have – stumbling around, tripping up, standing and staring at nothing. 

I laughed about it with a good friend over the phone, who is also a trainer, and in the silence between sentences we both knew what the other was thinking. “Uh oh…is this it?” Sometimes old dogs have a burst of energy before things take a turn for the worst and that’s what we always fear. The truth is, if he has that burst of energy I’m going to enjoy it with him. I’ll stop everything and really take it in. 

I know it sounds terribly light when I talk about it this way but I’m a pretty realistic person and I know that we may not have long together. I’ve come to terms with the idea that we might not have long and I say a little goodbye every night along with a goodnight just in case. There’s a chance he could live another few years of course but with old dogs it’s hard to tell. It’s not like they have a little clock installed with a countdown timer that we can see…we just enjoy every day together as best as we can. 

With an old dog you grieve a little bit every day. You grieve the loss of the activities you used to share, the energy and endurance, the able-bodied way he used to move, the interactions he used to have with the world. You even grieve the naughty things; barking and lunging at dogs across the street, “whoo-whoo-whoo”-ing at the knock at the door, the scattered, half-asleep race to the door at the sound of the doorbell on TV, getting into the garbage while you’re at work, sneaking into your bed and shedding all over your clean pillows, even counter-surfing. You grieve the loss of his hearing and sight, you grieve the deep sleeps that are now interrupted by restlessness and sometimes wandering confusion. You grieve the future because now it’s like muddy water – you can’t tell what’s in it but it doesn’t feel great.

It’s not to say that you’re in a constant state of sadness and that you can’t enjoy life – this grief is different. It’s just under your skin. It’s a thin layer that rests there. Sometimes it’s greatly exposed by a fresh wound and then once it’s healed it’s tucked away again. We live our day to day, enjoying all the things we can do. I am proud of him when he dares to sneak something off my plate as I get up to get a glass of water. I praise him for being such a phenomenal scavenger and I let him eat that half-slice of pizza. He barks at a dog who gets in his face and I tell him he’s a good old man for using his words. He begs at the table and I laugh and reinforce him with a toast crust. 

ImageParker is getting older. Every day I see little changes in him and it’s usually just a slowing down or a bit of confusion or a shortened walk. Today he insisted that we live in the condo down the hall and stood there for about 3 full minutes staring at the door and looking back at me. 

He does a lot of sitting on walks, he sleeps off and on during the day, if a piece of food is tossed to him and bounces off his nose, he doesn’t get up to get it – he looks to me as if to say “sorry Mama, try again and aim for my mouth this time.” Things are a little different. 

It’s not easy, but it’s beautiful. There’s something about old dogs that I love more than I could ever explain. There’s this gentleness, this deep love, this wisdom and grace. You can’t argue with an old dog – you let them have their way because they’ve earned it. You make life a little easier for them but you sure as hell don’t give up on them. You make sure they’re getting proper exercise and lots of mental stimulation. You practice modified tricks (like modified yoga) and you take care of their body and mind every single day with the intention of making it more resilient to aging. 

What I want to be sure of, is that whether we have a few weeks left or a few years left, they’re going to be wonderful for both of us. 

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About Caryn Charlie Liles
Caryn is a Toronto-based “people-trainer for dogs” and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT). She is the founder of Whatta Pup!, a pet dog training company established in 2008. Seeing a growing need for specialized training due to an increase in aggression in Toronto, Caryn co-founded The Toronto Centre for Canine Education, specializing in “the socially-challenged dog”.

17 Responses to Old Dogs

  1. Christy says:

    Love this. I am a veterinarian, would you mind if I share this with my clients (with proper acknowledgment of your authorship, if course)? It’s beautiful.

  2. Maggi Burtt says:

    Great job, my friend. Eloquent, truthful and full of love.

  3. This is a wonderful, heartwarming, laughter-through-tears post. Thank you for making my, and Parker’s, day a little bit better.

  4. Reblogged this on dog & his boy and commented:
    It’s rare yet wonderful to find a blog post such as this. It made my day a little bit brighter knowing that the Parker’s of the world have caregivers like this. I hope it moves you as it has me. If so, check out the rest of her blog. It is lovely.

  5. Judy says:

    This is a lovely post. I too have an old friend (she was 18 last October – not bad for a Staffy!) and I’ve been taking each day as it comes for the last 3 or so years! But with no major health problems we just deal with all the old age issues you’ve mentioned – some sleepless nights & confusion – but it’s the least I can do for my girl who’s been by my side for such a long time. I also love reading blog posts like yours because it’s great to hear the experiences of others. When Isabel turned 18 I also wrote a blog post about what my family & I have learned from her: http://www.vetanswers.com.au/blog/post/ode-to-isabel-the-18-year-old-staffy/166

    Thanks for your lovely words 🙂

  6. Teresa Cicala says:

    Beautifully written. Eloquent and from the heart.

  7. Natalie says:

    Thank-you so much for writing this! It’s all the things I’ve been thinking about with my old girl Sadie and just haven’t found the words. You did — perfectly.

  8. SusieSalerno says:

    Beautiful and heartfelt….

  9. This is so impossibly sweet and a beautiful love letter not only to your dogs but to all old dogs. as someone who has had the privilege of adoption old dogs, you are so right about everything you wrote: we grieve a little every day and even reward and celebrate those moments of naughtiness that show that younger spark. Thank you for putting into words the feelings of so many of us who have experienced the gentle and wise love of an old dog.

  10. Deirdre OBrien says:

    Thanks for writing this as we have all had the old dog we know just what you are saying , Beautifully written.

  11. Heather says:

    Great article!! My senior 13 year old Smooth Collie also uses a Help ‘Em Up Harness and booties – the harness actually reduces my stress too as I know that I can lift him by myself when necessary. We still have so much to learn from our senior dogs and we must treasure each and every moment we spend with them. Thank you!!

  12. Angie says:

    Thanks for puttins so many of our feelings into such beautiful words.

  13. Shirley says:

    Beautifully said, Caryn! I’m going to share this and keep a written copy for myself. I cried and smiled through the tears.

  14. Penny says:

    Thank you. I am so grateful to have found this … hugs and toast to Parker from Rizzo the 15 year old Jack Russell terrier

  15. I just lost my dog and have needed a way what I am feeling… thank you so much for your article.

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