Marcophiles: Old dogs – How old? Staying alive and learning new tricks

Old dogs – How old? Staying alive and learning new tricks

CHRIS CURLE
This wonder-dog named Callie is more than eleven years old, but her veterinarian, Dr. Beth Steward, says this Belgian Malinois is still not too old to learn a new trick or two. Chris Curle/Eagle Correspondent

This wonder-dog named Callie is more than eleven years old, but her veterinarian, Dr. Beth Steward, says this Belgian Malinois is still not too old to learn a new trick or two. Chris Curle/Eagle Correspondent

Manny Lopez, seen here with two of his pupils-students-“good boys,” trains a lot of dogs on Marco Island in his role as a partner with well-known dog trainer Mike Miller.

Manny Lopez, seen here with two of his pupils-students-“good boys,” trains a lot of dogs on Marco Island in his role as a partner with well-known dog trainer Mike Miller.

If you could wave a magic wand at your dog allowing it to answer one question in English, what would be your question?

Mine would be, “Hey you big sweetie, good girl, yes you are, yes you are! How old are you in human years?”

I realize that in non-magic wand conversations, all the dog hears is “good girl.” The rest is blah blah blah. The pet will respond based on whether it is a low information pet or is doggedly media-savvy.

But be careful. If the dog answers, “Well I’ve been alive for five years so five times seven is thirty five, so I’m 35. Now what’s my treat?” your dog has not kept up with current dog year-human year knowhow.

Or if your dog is female, she might tell a little white doggie fib.

The latest thing I’ve found in dog-year academe is by Dr. William Fortney DVM, at Kansas State University. He produced a “Human/Pet Age Analogy chart.” It says a five-year-old dog weighing 51 to 120 pounds is about the same age as a 45-year old human. That dog, same weight, at age 10, would be 80 in our years.

Dr. Fortney and other dog experts say pet owners can help extend their dog’s lives.

“We can encourage pets to eat with more frequent meals, hand feeding, adding water to dry food, feeding canned food, warming the food and mild exercise prior to mealtime,” he writes.

“Gene splicing may someday let our pets live longer. Until then, exercise, senior diets and antioxidant supplements are ... valuable anti-aging strategies.”

Dr. Beth Steward, a long-time Marco veterinarian, says some pet owners mistakenly downplay dogs’ need for dental care.

“Many dogs would be 10 times healthier if owners would just keep up with their dental care. We see dog jaws that literally are rotting. Owners don’t’ want to bring in the dog for teeth cleaning because we might pull a tooth. Imagine having this level of abscess in your mouth and having to swallow it.

“They say ‘Oh, he’s too old for anesthesia.’ But it’s much safer than it used to be.

“I see small dogs, say 12 years old, that should be healthy and living to 18, but their bones are being eaten up by infections. You wouldn’t say ‘Oh my grandma’s 80; she’s too old to clean her teeth.’

“People should look into their dogs’ mouths and ask, ‘What if my teeth looked like that?’

It’s unhealthy for their heart. Mouth bacteria tend to stick in heart valves, the same as with humans.

“People say ‘I just had my dog’s teeth cleaned a year ago.’ That’s like saying, ‘I had my teen cleaned seven years ago.’

We asked Beth about the “old dog, new tricks” adage. She says old dogs need to learn new tricks.

“Even rescue dogs with no previous training can learn as much as anybody, with patience. Teaching them new things helps you and your dog alike.”

As a well-known dog trainer, Mike Miller, told us, “Dogs are capable of learning new things until they draw their last breath. It just takes a little more effort and practice with older dogs than with puppies.” They often have to unlearn some bad habits.

“You can’t just say, ‘Don’t jump on people anymore.’ You’ve got to say ‘Don’t do that; let’s do this.’ You teach the dog to sit and stay and if the dog holds that, he can’t jump on people.” And timing is crucial.

“People take their dog outside to go potty, the dog goes potty, they come back into the house and the dog gets a treat. The dog doesn’t equate the treat with the potty but with being in the house.”

Oops, that could be said about our dog Callie and us. Still, treating for the potty at the potty spot seems odd.

For Dr. Fortney’s dog-year chart, Google “Geriatrics William Fortney DVM” or go to this link: http://www.delawarevalleyacademyvm.org/pdfs/nov07/DelawareGeriatircs.pdf.

Chris Curle is a former news anchor for CNN and for ABC-TV stations in Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Houston. Email chris@chriscurle.com. Don is a former ABC News correspondent and bureau chief and a former news anchor for CNN and ABC-TV, in Atlanta. His Farmer File column appears Fridays in the Naples Daily News. Email: don@donfarmer.com.

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