What our old(er) dogs can teach us

October 1, 2013

Little He collage 9 2013Our sweet and loving Little He is now more than 15 years old. That’s early 80s in human years, and he’s beginning to show it. Lateral movement is nearly impossible without falling down, and he’s been treated for a couple years now for canine cognitive dysfunction, otherwise known as doggie Alzheimer’s.

After a way too cursory annual exam at our regular Well-Known-Big-Vet clinic, we decided consult a specialist in orthopedics and neurology. It turns out that the vet is one I knew 30 years ago, when he cared for my (late) cat at Well-Known-Vet-Hospital.  I liked him then and liked him even more when he actually recognized me in the waiting room–after not seeing me since the early 1990s.  I’m sure he most remembers my neurosis, which hasn’t gotten any better with age.

Anyway, we were concerned that in 2010, Little He weighed 44 lbs. but is now only 33 lbs, something that Well-Known-Vet-Hospital wasn’t particularly worried about and actually, didn’t notice. Because Randomly-Assigned-Vet didn’t look at the extensive records. Things would be different with Dr. S.

“Have you noticed that every 60 year old we know is a little overweight but those in their 80s are underweight?” Dr. S pointed out. “That’s how it works with aging. Little He is now in his 80s and some weight loss is to be expected. But let’s do an exam.”  Dr. S. spent the next hour walking our dog, asking us question after question about his behavior, pain level, eating, eliminating–it was an extremely thorough hour and we were pleased to turn Little He’s care over to someone so skilled at senior dog issues. Watching Little He respond to the exam got me thinking.

What factors got our mellow fellow to a ripe old age? What might we learn from him?

Here’s what I’ve observed:

keep-calm-and-go-to-sleep-zzzz1. Get your rest. Little He is an inveterate napper.

It’s as if he knows that his body needs rest to keep going. And when he’s not feeling well? He sleeps it off.

Sleep is restorative and it shows in the Little He’s youthful approach to life.

Humans tend to think sleep is a waste of time, but dogs know better. Sleep is good for us.

So, make like a dog and get some. That is, if you want to live to a ripe old age, like Little He!


kcs_d2704fee2. Get moving. Daily, mile-long walks were his routine until recently.

Now, he can only do half a mile in the morning after his pain pill. But he does it enthusiastically and happily.

Dr. S. suggested we take him on several shorter walks each day, as well.

“With back issues, keep moving,” the vet advised.

And it’s true. Fresh air and moving keep his spirits high and lubricate his joints.

keep-calm-and-be-sweet-313. Be sweet. I’ve never heard a growl, seen him bite or even threaten another dog or person.

Little He is the nicest dog I’ve ever met–and anyone who knows him will attest to that.

His vibe is 100% sweet.

His energy is never expended in a negative manner.

He shows by example that it’s much easier to be sweet than it is to be nasty.


W0TlSa4. Live in the moment. Little He is quite old and we know he doesn’t have that much time left on earth.

But that’s not something he worries about.

He takes every day as it comes and enjoys ever minute, whether he’s eating, walking or having a visitor, he’s joyfully in the now.

Yes, his life will end one day and probably sooner rather than later.

But he doesn’t think about it. Ever.


24029465. Love your family. Little He has lived with my husband his entire life, since he was abandoned as an 8-week old puppy.

He might have been the offspring of feral dogs that run wild in Coral Gables, FL and M. suspects his mother was killed.

Little He always lived with multiple dogs and been low man on the totem pole of his pack. Maybe that’s why he’s so sweet. Or maybe that’s just his nature.  He loves M, but adopted me and Riley without hesitation and clearly loves us, too.

Each night that it’s cold, I cover him with a blanket. He makes an appreciative, contented sound that I just love. Little He takes his responsibility as Riley’s protector very seriously and will step in if there’s any sign of a threat to his little brother. Little He loves his family wholeheartedly and unconditionally–you can see it on his face. Yes, he’s kissing Riley in one of the collage photos above.

So, those are the most important lessons Little He has taught us.

And most of all:

Keep_Calm_-_Red  Just keep calm, that’s what Little He advises.  And smile.LH doorway

7 comments on “What our old(er) dogs can teach us
  1. Helen Knight says:

    Beautiful tribute. Little He is a wonderful dog; I’m glad I’ve had a chance to get to know him.

    • admin says:

      As Riley’s guardian, YOU have YOUR work cut out for you. We know you wish you’d been Little He’s guardian, but hey, you don’t always get what you want. 😉 Thought of you all day here in Santa Fe. Lots to talk about!

  2. Carla J Gardiner says:

    How sweet and I can certainly tell you love your Little He as much as we love our Dexter. We too found our canine friend suffering from signs of aging. Although Dexter is only going on 10 years old his breed (Boxer/Pit Cross) typically live to not more than 10-12…we cringe at the thought. He is like a member of our family. We found a product that has helped his hip issues and it has given him back his puppy like health. His appetite is back, he is limber and bouncing like Tiger on Winnie the Pooh again. I thank my friend every day for sharing this helpful tip with me for my baby, Dexter.

    • admin says:

      Let me know what you have him on. Little He starts acupuncture when we get home and right now he is on a pain pill only in the a.m. and Xanax when he starts getting anxious in the late afternoon. That seems to be working but we’d like to know about any other options. I know that “cringe” as they get up there in age. But 15-16 is a great age to reach, more than we expected, but we are preparing ourselves… we don’t want him to leave us…

  3. Karen says:

    Little He sounds like a darling. You’re so lucky to have him…and you’re right, our pets have so much to teach us!

  4. Susan Cooper says:

    Our furry friends do teach us so much and I love the analogy the Dr. used for the weight loss scenario. You must have many wonderful memories of Little He and that is so wonderful. 🙂

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