Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Accommodating Elders

This summer I had to do a little fixing at the cabin to help Vida stay safer.  Her vision is only so-so now, and her physical abilities aren't quite up to her belief in her own sportdog activity prowess (sorry ol' gal, your jumping isn't quite what it used to be). It hasn't been fail-safe, but it has helped. Here are some things that might help you out too.

Tread strips on the steps.
Vida was having trouble going up a few steps on a deck because her back paws were slipping on the wood, so I added inexpensive peel-n-stick tread strips. 

At first I thought I just needed a couple of strips but it turns out that when she goes UP the stairs she puts her back paws at the back of the step so she was bypassing the strips completely. I had noticed that when she goes down steps she puts her first front paw right at the front to find the edge of the step. 

Black isn't ideal, but luckily the wood is pale so there is some contrast. Dogs see the colors blue and yellow best, which is why agility equipment is painted those colors, so it would be nice to be able to get tread tape to help with visibility that way. This shelter painted their steps to solve this problem.

This hasn't stopped her from trying to just leap the steps or try to take a shortcut (note the large potted plant strategically placed at the corner). 

Quick-Fix Fencing
These stone steps were Vida's favorite - superior traction, with a soft landing below (since she loves to jump the last few to save her arthritic wrists).  Last year we had to block them off at the insurance company's insistence, but Vida remembers them and was walking to the edge of the new deck. With her arthritis and compromised sight (depth perception isn't often accurate) things can go wrong in this kind of setting, so I hurriedly bought some quickie garden-fence wires to spread across the front and sides of that area,blocking her from making the wrong decision. 

The deck wraps around (to where the other stairs are pictured), and I thought I would have to fence the whole thing, but she's only jumped off twice, luckily where it's not quite so far down (she used to really enjoy taking a shortcut that way).

Supervision, Supervision, Supervision
Dogs with compromised senses can panic more easily. One  minute your dog is happily galloping on open ground, the next they've decided to off-road it and end up charging through the woods not sure what to do next so they do what comes naturally - keep moving forward. The woods can make the direction of sound confusing so even when they hear you they're not quite sure where from. If they can't see well they'll turn back when faced with boulders and brambles and head the opposite direction, even if it's also the opposite direction from you. 

The most useful verbal cue, it turns out, is a Keep Going Signal. I developed one for agility and it's been invaluable for giving Vida a clue. "yes!" or "yep-yep-yep" (the latter from weave pole training) have helped her gain a moment of confidence. 

The most important advice - don't panic, and don't yell. Just get your shoes on and get down there. All the better if you have a harness and leash to bring them back because their stress might just make them reject your offer of assistance. I had to resort to carrying her a couple of times and she hated it! Excitement can mask stress.

Temperature Control
Elder dogs have a harder time with heat. Not only is it uncomfortable, it's potentially dangerous; not just heatstroke, but the effect that can have on chronic inflammation illnesses, including cancer. This problem is worse with high humidity, when it's harder for them to cool themselves. Get your dog a cooling coat, and let them rest on those hot days. If it's humid add a fan so that the coat can evaporate properly. 

Keeping Cool from Margarat Nee on Vimeo.

Thoughtful Hiking
I suspect that some senior dogs that wander the house at night are just awake because they didn't do anything all day. They accommodate us, when really, we should be accommodating them so they can have more activity. Your elder dog can enjoy plenty of activities if you just provide logical care and maintenance. 

  • Excellent food (fresh is best!), 
  • Appropriate supplements (especially natural anti-inflammatories - Vida uses DGP), 
  • Natural pain relief if needed (Comfort Zone from Pet Wellness Blends is my current go-to), 
  • Nails trimmed, 
  • Regular but moderate exercise (swimming is great for elders) 

Then when you go out on a hike make the right trail choice (easy to moderate), the right weather (cool!), the right pace (whatever the dog dictates), and the right equipment (leash please!). 

Vida climbed West Rattlesnake Mountain here in central New Hampshire wearing a Ruffwear Web Master Harness. This harness allowed me to comfortably help her up the steepest steps - I can't say enough good things about it with it's two padded belly straps and well-designed handle. We took it slow, pausing occasionally; it's one mile up and includes flat portions along the way. She's also been swimming once or twice a week this summer to keep her strong (right down there in that lake, to the left)

Even though Vida's not a big one for views I think even she felt good about getting to the top. The way down was much faster, I was the one holding her back. I did give some arnica when we got home, but she was ready for a new adventure the next day. Your old friend doesn't always need to stay home, don't let their accommodating ways let you off the hook.

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