The Senior Class. Considerations for a Gray Muzzle.

We’ve recently talked a lot about Cailie, our new puppy. There’s another Australian Shepherd dog in our home, too, and his name is Cody. He’s now almost 12 years of age. Sometimes I wonder, “How did he get that old?” Then I look in the mirror and realize there’s some gray in my muzzle, too.

Cody’s coat color masks his gray muzzle.

As our dogs age we must take extra steps to help them stay healthy and in the game.

Exactly when a dog enters those senior years varies on size and breed. Great Danes, for example, are considered seniors by five or six years old; chihuahuas, on the other hand, not until 10 or 11.

Like us, our dogs can develop a variety of health issues as the years creep up. These could include hearing, vision and dental issues. Kidney, liver, and heart disease are also often seen at this stage. Canine cognitive dysfunction, sometimes referred to as doggy Alzheimer’s, can arise. Our first dog, Abbey, suffered from this in her later years. With our guy Cody, arthritis is his biggest issue. We see a veterinary pain specialist who helps us keep him as pain free as possible. (Pain can sometimes be the cause of behavioral changes. We all get grumpy when we’re in pain.)

Our beautiful gray muzzled girl, Abbey.

When your dog becomes a senior, he will need to see the veterinarian for health checks and blood work more often so that any issues can be dealt with as early as possible. This can prevent the problem from becoming worse (which can also keep veterinary expenses lower for you).

Along with more frequent vet checks, there are other things we can do to keep our dogs healthy, active and comfortable. Managing their weight is critical, especially if they have any joint issues. Proper and senior-appropriate exercise can help. While they may not be able to run all day as they once could, your senior dog shouldn’t become too sedentary. Mental stimulation is also vital. You can keep your senior dog’s brain active with easy training games. Feed meals out of an interactive food toy, for example, and play simple nose games around the house.

As our dogs age they may become less tolerant of things they once accepted.

They may be more sensitive to noises like thunder or fireworks. Strangers or children could begin to annoy them. It’s our job to recognize these changes and act to keep the dog feeling safe and not overwhelmed. Be your dog’s advocate, no matter their age.

If you’re considering adding a puppy to your home, you’ll need to take extra steps to make sure your senior dog is not overwhelmed by the puppy’s energy.

This is something we’ve experienced firsthand. Seven years ago, Cody handled the addition of a puppy very well. Now that he’s older, he had a much harder time adjusting when Cailie came home, which meant we had to manage her energy and playfulness to keep Cody comfortable. Now that she’s an adolescent he’s more accepting of her. 

With some extra attention and care as your canine companion ages, you can embrace that gray muzzle and recognize and honor a life well lived.

Brad Waggoner is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, a KPA Certified Training Partner (CTP), a Dogbiz Certified Dog Walker, Faculty for the Victoria Stilwell Academy of Dog Training and Behavior and Partner of Cold Nose College in Murphy, North Carolina. He enjoys providing behavior consulting and training solutions to clients in the tri-state area of North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, as well as offering educational opportunities for dog trainers and dog hobbyists throughout the U.S.


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