Dr. Alisha Selzner of Companion Pet Hospital in Fishkill is dedicated to helping people understand how to work with their senior pets. “I always tell people that age is not a disease. Unfortunately, as we age and as our pets age, we start to accumulate more problems that have to be managed in order to maintain a good quality of life. Geriatric dogs can be prone to arthritis, loss of hearing, ocular conditions that lead to loss of vision, kidney failure, heart disease (leaky heart valves, thickened heart muscle, weakened heart muscle), thyroid conditions, cancerous processes, and other issues as well.”
One such condition that can be common in older dogs is Geriatric Dog Vestibular Disease or Idiopathic Vestibular disease. What exactly does this mean? Dr. Selzner explains, “In general, vestibular disease is similar to vertigo in people. A dog’s balance and sense of orientation in space can be altered. Patients with vestibular disease often have a head tilt, nystagmus (abnormal horizontal eye movements), and may vomit or decline to eat due to nausea associated with dizziness. Vestibular disease can be linked with an inner or middle ear infection, or in rare circumstances can be due to a brain tumor. However, the most common form of vestibular disease in dogs is Idiopathic or Geriatric Dog Vestibular disease, which occurs in senior pets for an unknown reason.”
I once had a woman at an event tell me that her dog was a disaster but that training him was such an “inconvenience.” She had a family to care for, two young kids, and no time to invest in training her dog. I understand that life can be busy, especially with young kids and a job, but I had to wonder… is this “inconvenience” worth resulting in a dog who can’t control himself around the kids, is destroying items in your home repeatedly, and that you can’t take out of the house? To me that doesn’t sound like a family dog; it sounds more like a family having a dog because they like the appeal of having a dog around but don’t really understand what is involved in making the dog a part of their family.
During our first session together, this client was delighted to learn that yes, there is a better way – and it doesn’t involve intimidating her dog into submission or any kind of hitting or pain at all. We discussed what was leading into her dog’s anxiety, how to teach him to cope with that, and how to use her own energy, body language, and clear direction to set him up for success. We demonstrated exhibiting leadership based on respect, since dogs are living, emotional beings with feelings and deserve as much respect as any of us wish to have from others. After less than 12 hours, my new client contacted me, thrilled, to share that she was already seeing positive results and a change in her dog’s behavior!
Sadly, I hear of this situation all too often. We are still surrounded by television shows, books, information from Google searches, and local dog trainers who still practice the traditional-style training methods that were created long before scientific research had delved into the psychology of how dogs learn and how they process information and emotion. Even though these traditional-style, dominance-based, punitive training methods are outdated and have been disproven, trainers who practice these methods are still out there practicing because they’re too proud to accept that there is a better way. A way that will instill confidence, security, and a positive relationship with our dogs rather than one that instills fear, pain and tension in the relationship.
Let’s take a look at the differences between these two methods:
It's no secret that dogs and humans are two completely different species, which means that even though they share their lives with us, there's a communication barrier we have to break through. Well, studies have shown over the years (read about a most recent one HERE that's used some impressive MRI testing) that dogs have the brain wave capacity to interpret the intonation in our voices.
Yes, it's quite true! Dogs will learn whatever words we use consistently to convey a message - they can't tell the difference between the words unless we teach them what a particular word means by making an association, so the tone we use is critically important!
This is why I tell so many of my clients that we have to say what we mean, mean what we say, and have that conviction in our energy and body language. How we say something is so important to ensuring we are getting our point across appropriately to our dog! If we understand this, part of our communication quandaries can be solved!
Chris and Monica Byrd each had family dogs growing up, but in their 20 years together, they had not found an opportunity to adopt fur babies of their own due to career obligations. Moving to West Point, NY offered them the perfect environment, time and resources to devote to nurturing a wonderful relationship with their canine babies. And so they contacted Howlin4Spirit when they found Duchess and Duke's pictures online.
They both recall the day they met Duke and Duchess as one of the happiest of their lives. It took over a year to treat the mange, but that didn't stop Chris and Monica from giving these babies all the love they deserved and the care they needed! Both dogs are now happy, healthy and beautiful! Duchess graduated from obedience class with Dad's help, and Duke is a "momma's boy" to the core. The entire Byrd pack enjoys hiking all around West Point (and the rest of the Hudson Valley), followed by long naps cuddling up on the couch or bed. They are now moving their lives back south a bit to Washington, D.C. and look forward to finding new hiking spots in our nation's capital city! I wish them all the best and know Chris and Monica will continue to help Duchess and Duke bring out their best selves on all their new adventures!
If you have an amazing rescue story to share, don't be shy - send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Maria Huntoon, CBCC-KA