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You CAN Teach an Old Dog New Tricks: Tips for Adopting a Senior Dog

Adopting a furry family member can be an exciting — and nerve-wracking — experience. There are so many options to consider! Big or small? Long or short hair? Purebred or mutt? Puppy or adult? Well, let me propose another possibility: A senior dog.

Senior dogs are a great option to consider for many reasons: You know exactly how big they are going to be, they have already been through all the crazy puppy stages and have a well-developed personality. They typically have a lower activity level and less intense need for supervision and management than an adolescent or young-adult dog. The best reason, though? Senior dogs are often overlooked at the shelter or rescue, even though they typically end up there due to their previous owner’s sudden change in lifestyle or circumstances than any behavioral issues (which is a frequent reason for surrendering adolescent dogs). These older guys and gals have had a home where they were loved and cared for a significant amount of their adult life, which makes the transition to a shelter or rescue that much more jarring for them. Senior dogs want nothing more than a warm cozy couch or dog bed to snooze on, a leisurely daily walk and evening cuddles while watching TV with their new owner.

If an older model sounds exactly your speed, then here are five tips to keep in mind when adopting a senior dog!

Old dogs do learn new tricks.

Dog trainers have a saying – when you change the environment, you change the behavior. This means that when a dog enters a new home, previously learned behaviors and routines are thrown out the window. You have the opportunity to create your own schedule and behaviors in older dogs without the struggle of adolescent energy and learning stages. Embrace this more level playing field, and find ways to capture your new dog’s appropriate behaviors (catch him doing something RIGHT) and when he’s showing a behavior you aren’t fond of, let him know what you’d like him to do INSTEAD. It won’t take long for your senior dog to figure out what works (and what doesn’t) in his new digs. Investing in some training can help both your dog and your family get started on the right foot!

It takes time.

Senior dogs have been through a tremendous upheaval in their life. While puppies are quick to adapt, older furry friends may be slower to adjust.; they may have been extremely bonded with their previous family, and it will likely take time for them to acclimate to their new way of life. Some seniors may appear depressed or agitated while transitioning into a new home. Pacing around the house, staring out the windows and whimpering on occasion are all very normal in the early stages of settling in. Give your new senior dog time, a safe and comfortable space (such as a dog crate with an orthopedic pad) and extra love during the transition.

Establish a routine.

Dogs, like people, find comfort in routines. Help your adopted senior pooch find his new groove with consistent boundaries and a schedule of set feeding times, potty breaks, daily walks, playtime and quiet time. Your senior dog likely was potty trained before, so help him learn where the appropriate bathroom place is by taking him to the same location each time you take him out. A bell hanging from the door can be a big help in teaching him how to let you know he needs to go. It’s worth keeping in mind that older dog’s kidneys don’t work as well as they did when they were young — a constant supply of water and regular potty breaks will be appreciated!

Get a great vet.

While senior dogs are typically long past the stage of needing vaccines every 3 weeks, they will still need regular veterinary care. Semi-annual booster vaccinations for canine distemper, parvo and rabies should still be on your radar, as well as annual heartworm tests and preventative. He or she is likely already spayed or neutered, but regular physicals will help identify potential health issues before they become serious. Senior dog teeth often need attention, so an annual or semi-annual dental prophylaxis will help keep the bacteria of decaying teeth from affecting her overall health. Many older dogs may also be overweight, which can negatively impact hips or elbows that may already be developing arthritis. Working with your veterinarian on identifying a goal weight and deciding which formulation of dog food is most appropriate for your pooch’s needs.

Embrace the oldness.

Instead of a 10 or 15-year commitment of a new puppy, a senior may only have a handful of years left, but those golden years are frequently the best part of any canine relationship. Enjoy the more relaxed pace of your old furry friend. Embrace the greying muzzle and cloudy eyes, and help a displaced senior live out their days in a comfortable, loving home – like yours!

This story was originally published in Women's Lifestyle Magazine, February 2018 edition.

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