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Posted 06/13/10

Don’t Forget the Old Dogs Need Your Time and Attention

I have a friend who runs in sled dog races with her Siberian Huskies. Kathy is something of an anomaly in that, not only is she a woman, she lives in Connecticut … not exactly the hub of the mushing world.

She discovered the sport about five years ago, has the assistance of a devoted husband, and isn’t afraid to get up in the wee hours of the morning on some of the coldest days of the year in order to get her team ready for a three hour training run.

I have the utmost admiration for my friend. I was a long time fan of the late Susan Butcher who really paved the way for women in this arduous sport. The fact that I can follow the adventures of someone I know from the comfort of my living room via computer is great fun. If she someday makes it to the Iditarod or the Yukon Quest, I’d be sorely tempted to volunteer to go along as part of her support crew.

Most of us have great relationships with our dogs and many of us enter into competitive arenas with them. There is something to be said for training in search of a specific goal, even though you’d be hard pressed to get me to expend the time, energy and hard work it takes to become a musher. (Not to mention that a team of Norfolks would be an odd sight, indeed, pulling that tiny sled …)

The thing is, you don’t have to engage in competitive pursuits in order to strengthen your relationship with your dog. It’s possible to achieve personal goals by hiking together, learning tricks, visiting nursing homes and countless other activities.

It’s easy to appreciate the companionship of dogs as we work at our computers, watch television, or visit with friends and family. Dogs are amazingly resilient creatures and they will adapt to a wide range of living situations without complaint.

But, how will you feel as your companion ages and turns gray and you’ve not taken him on a walk or to the beach since he was a pup? When your old girl gazes at you through the cloudy eyes of an elderly dog, will you have any recent memories of playing ball or running (or strolling) in the park, or playing in the water at a nearby lake or have you been “too busy” to do some of the things she enjoyed as a youngster.

I do a lot of different things that involve sporting activities with my younger dogs. But with the older ones, some of their greatest pleasure comes when they do errands with me on a Saturday; especially when we go to the local land fill or to the drive through at the bank where they are handed biscuits. My really old dog seems to crave routine so we don’t necessarily go very far afield. Instead of taking her swimming (formerly her passion), I concentrated on short walks this past summer … sometimes just to the mailbox and back. We’d sit outside on the grass and have ‘our time’ together. She still loves rides in the car and on a couple of occasions we snuck off without telling the other dogs and went for ice cream.

A couple of dogs who are next in line age-wise are still keen to practice their obedience routines and I even entered my eight-year-old in some rally trials this past Fall and she picked up her Rally Novice title … it was fun for me and even more fun for her.

So, whether you enjoy competitive events or not, whether you want to train your dog with a particular goal in mind or just want to hang out together, don’t focus all your attention on the youngsters. Remember that the old timers still need that special time with you whether they are retired show dogs or have always specialized in being devoted family companions. They may be content to lie by your feet or next to the fire most of the time, but they’ll appreciate it if you include them in some age-appropriate activities. You can put a spark back in their eyes and renewed energy in their steps if you’ll only give them a chance to be an active participant in your life. There will always be time for memories, but there won’t always be time to share those ‘real life’ experiences.


ANTIC, March, 2009

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