Saturday, May 3, 2014

Don't Let Them Age!

"An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion." -Newton's first law of motion

The past few months Heffner has had some health issues pop up (angry liver and stupid tumor).  Each time it has way laid him from his regular exercise routine of jogging and hiking with me.  Then there's the gradual build back up into shape.  And then he turned 8 and I basically started treating him like a piece of porcelain that would potentially shatter.  In a nutshell, I was letting my dog get old before his time.  

This wasn't necessarily a bad thing when there were two other dogs in the household to keep him mentally and physically engaged.  But now it's just him.  And he and I have both been a little mopey lately.  I had to give myself a firm shake to get my butt back in gear and start taking care of my dog the way he should be taken care of.  Yes he's technically a senior dog.  Yes he is actually starting to age.  But I'll be damned if I'm going to let him get old before his time!

There were a few things that caused me to realize that I needed to make some changes and be more supportive of Heff.  He was letting me sleep in.  Like past 8:00 am without coming to whine at the baby gate across my bedroom door.  He was sleeping all the time.  I could be in the office on my computer and he would just stay out on the couch sleeping, no matter how long I was in there for.  Pretty much the only time he would get up to greet me at the door was when I came home from work.  That is NOT my dog, and I needed to do something to change this.

Due to the various issues that have come up with him and some minor foot issues that he's had, I've retired him from running with me.  So he hasn't been getting the same level of exercise that he's been used to for the past several years.  And yes, it totally sucked when I made the decision to do this, but it's what was best for Heffner.  I had already implemented what I was fondly calling "old man walks."  Instead of going running with me, I'd take him for walks in the evening.  Just he and I.  It was sweet.  But it wasn't enough.  There was only so much variety that I was giving him on the routes that I would pick and that's just not enriching enough.  So I've implemented what I am fondly calling our date nights! (Hey, I've gotta maintain my crazy dog lady status some how!  I'm practically normal now that I only have one dog.  I've gotta do something to amp up the crazy ;) )  Date night involves a bunch of other things, but part of it is that I load him up and we head off to one of the pretty parks in the area, that have some lengthier trails/walkways.  I make sure that I pick places that have softer footing for his feet and joints.  I make sure that there are plenty of places to go so that we're out for at least a half hour.  The pace is set by Heffner (this gets more critical now that the weather is warming up and I don't want him over heating).  If he wants to stop and sniff something, then we stop and he sniffs.  My cell phone is turned off during this time.  It's just Heff and I, enjoying our little outing.  We do this twice a week and he definitely is enjoying it!  We've got some really pretty parks in the area and he LOVES going for car rides.  It's really a win-win situation.  
We're still going hiking, so we've got at least three outings away from home a week that we do.  Spicing up Heffner's physical activity?  Check!  After last year's trip to the Great Dane Club of Northern California's annual specialty weekend, I retired Heffner from competition in all performance sports.  I also basically stopped training him for anything.  That was dumb.  Nothing quite lights up my dogs and gets them excited than when I would do my bouts of daily training with them.  Well, nothing except when they'd lose their little minds as they watched me get the truck ready to take them for an outing. ;)  It's pretty well known that if you keep animals and people mentally engaged, they age slower.  I know this.  And apparently I chose to ignore it.  I know, I have serious moments of stupidity at times.  So, I've started back into training Heffner to do random tricks and behaviors.  I'm back to videoing each training session for each activity.  And I freaking LOVE it!  Even better, Heffner freaking loves it!  He's so excited to be "working" again.  And he's so excited to be getting yummy treats for these activities again. ;)  There's an added bonus of additional physical activity for him that is absolutely helping as well.  I've got a plan for tricks/behaviors to train right now and more to come.  While there are sports that would be friendly to an aging dog competing in, I doubt that we'll actually compete.  But who knows!  Right now we're having fun working together and re-establishing that working bond that I let falter.  I'm feeling re energized and excited and I'm getting my obnoxious boy back. 

My dogs used to jump up and follow me any time I got up from where ever I was sitting in the hopes that it meant I was going to do something with them.  Because it usually did.  Heffner hasn't done that in a while, and it's understandable since I was being a huge slacker.  But now he does!  I'll be sitting at my desk and need to get up for whatever and he's up and following me where ever I go.  As I mentioned, he used to just stay sleeping on the couch regardless of where I was in the house or what I was doing.  Now he's with me all the time, keeping an eye out for when our next activity is going to happen.  He's eager, bouncy, and ready for action!  Even more surprising, while still definitely heat sensitive, that boy is still wanting to play and engage outside, even on the gross 90 degree day that we had recently.  It feels like I've stopped the aging process in him and I've got my boy back.  It feels really good.:)

There's a few additional things that I've started implementing for him (and more that I plan to add) to help with the aging process and to keep him around, happy, healthy and as comfortable as possible, for as long as possible.  I'll be sharing those as well.

Newton's first law of motion is particularly pertinent as our dogs age.  While we do need to look out for them and make decisions that are best for THEM, we also don't need to cause them to age prematurely.  If we want these guys to be around for a long time and stay in motion with us, then we need to do what we can to keep them in motion.  Don't be a jackass like I started to be.  These guys give us everything they have and they stand by us no matter what happens.  We owe it to them to keep them happy and healthy and aging gracefully.

1 comment:

Cyndi said...

I completely agree and thanks so much for the reminder to keep my 9 & 1/2 year old active physcally and mentally. You might check into Nose Work -- it's perfect mental activity for senior Danes -- mine is working on his first title and at the last trial I saw a 12 year old Dane get her title!