I’ve noticed a trend, and maybe it’s not new; maybe I’m just more sensitive because I currently have a household of aging dogs, including three in their double digit years. Two of them are in the ‘people still asking if they are puppies’ stage, and the third guy is not wearing it as well as the others. People want to comment on his grey hairs, that hitch in his giddyup. “He’s getting up there.” YEAH, I KNOW HE’S OLD.
When someone gets a new puppy, they already understand that almost without fail, they are going to outlive that puppy. But with a puppy, it’s easy to be focused on their youthfulness, their energy. You don’t dwell on the end. Heck, you barely have time to sleep, and are just hoping the little monster survives to adulthood. There’s no need and no extra energy for worry.
Dogs age SO quickly. I have labs, and even with their seemingly endless adolescent behaviour, they are physically grown up in just two years. Some are starting to get a few first grey hairs on their chins by three or four years old. By 7 or 8, the grizzle may have spread to other parts but have likely just started acting like grownups. You can really appreciate this dog now, though the memories of their puppy follies are starting to fade. Around this time, your vet asks you about doing a senior exam, or suggests senior food; your dog becomes listed as a ‘veteran’ in competition – and it will just hit you. My dog is getting up there.
Now that’s not to say that a 7 or 8 year old dog is ancient. Heck, for my competition dogs, that’s usually about the time they start really getting good, and if they are a normal healthy dog, they are probably at their peak fitness with great muscle tone and energy to match that new found mental maturity. These middle agers can finally be trusted not to chew everything in the house and are decent, civilized canines. Historically, this is only about the half-way point in the lifespan for my dogs. But for me anyway, that is about the time I start to feel it happening. I’m starting to think about IT. The looming sad goodbye.
Maybe those thoughts are a little premature and I do try to avoid them. Especially when things are going well and your furry buddy is in great health. The truth is though- you don’t really know how much time you’re going to get. If you’re like me, you are socially connected to a lot of other dog lovers, and all to frequently, get the news that another doggy pal has crossed over the rainbow bridge. There are very frequent reminders that dogs never live long enough and each loss a friend experiences brings up the emotions of my last sad goodbye. My heart hurts when a friend hurts, and my heart hurts in anticipation of when it will again be my turn to grieve.
Dogs are really lucky, in that way. They just live in the moment. They don’t think about what tomorrow is going to bring, or a year or 5 years down the road. They don’t think about the fact that their uncle passed away at age x and their xth birthday is in 2 weeks. Even if they’ve experienced loss- they don’t know to anticipate that it will happen again. That burden is for the human. But, we humans can help each other out a bit here. Be a little compassionate with your fellow dog owners.
Please don’t comment about how your friend’s dog looks old. Unless you are a veterinary professional or dog trainer or you think your friend is totally clueless and their denial is putting their aging pal at risk- please don’t mention the whole aging bit. If you think the grey hairs are obvious to you, I’m sure the owner has noticed and been watching their spread since the first one arrived. If it seems like your friend’s dog has a little less bounce in their step- their human has probably been dwelling on the implications of that for a good while. Constructive assistance is one thing but just commenting on the appearance of oldness for the sake of making conversation- pass.
No one says “Wow, your mom sure looks old! Lots of grey hair now!” That would be ridiculously rude and no person needs reminders that their parents are aging. The same applies to our pets. As dog owners, we’re trying to emulate our pets here and live in the moment a little. Think of the future but not too far into the future…. Besides- everyone knows that grey hair has no correlation with longevity right? Looking old does not mean BEING old. And what IS old for a dog anyway- 10 years? 15 years? More?
Resist the urge to assert your amazing powers of observations on this one little fact. Give that whiskery dog an extra cookie when you see him, or remind the owner about that one amazingly awful but hilarious thing that dog did as a puppy. Tell your friend how fabulously shiny he looks. Help them see the strong and vibrant side of their aging pal and all the good times that are still to come.
We all desperately want our dogs to live forever and are equally aware that it’s not actually possible. No reminders are necessary.
I know he’s old. I am just banking on the fact that he’ll get even older.