National Adopt a Senior Pet Month

By KONG Guest Blogger, Michael Baugh

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Older dogs, sadly among the least likely to be adopted from shelters, make great family dogs and loving companions. Since November is Adopt a Senior Pet Month, read on for tips and insights on mature dog adoption and training. Don’t forget to check out the KONG Finder on our homepage to find toys suited to senior dogs.

I’m asked quite often how long it takes to train a dog. The answer: a lifetime. I’m also asked when it’s too late to start training. The answer:  never. The thing is, dogs are learning from the time they open their eyes (perhaps even before) until they take their last breaths.

If you want proof, get to know my friends at The Sanctuary for Senior Dogs. They rescue older dogs from shelters, care for them and then adopt them to loving families. Part of the care received is learning life skills. In fact, many of the senior dogs in their care go on to earn their Canine Good Citizen certificates and therapy dog certification.

Why were these amazing dogs in shelters? The answer is hard to wrap our brains around. Dogs get older, slow down a bit and people abandon them. Children grow up, leave home and the dog has to go too. It’s hard to think about people doing that, but it does happen. In some cases the owners die, and no one is left to care for the dog. That’s easier to understand, but no less sad.

Of course, there’s hope. Organizations like The Sanctuary make a huge difference. So does National Adopt a Senior Pet Month, set aside to remind us about the joys of living with senior pets. You can make a difference, too.  Adopt. As a professional trainer, let me tell you, there is nothing like a dog who has come of age.

  • Senior dogs have already passed the difficult (and often destructive) developmental stages of puppyhood and canine adolescence.
  • Senior dogs usually have well-adapted life skills. Those of us well into midlife can speak with confidence: you don’t know much about life until you’ve lived most of it. The same is true for dogs and older dogs are often better behaved.
  • Senior dogs are fast learners. Dogs (and humans) learn how to learn. Older dogs pick up on new tasks faster than younger dogs, simply because they have more experience learning from and interacting with humans. Each dog is an individual, of course. But, in general, I’ve found this to be true.

Can senior dogs still play? Yes, of course. Many dogs play actively late into their lives. All of them can learn to enjoyinteractive play with you and on their own. Play is a great way to keep your senior dog’s mind alert and engaged.

Will a senior dog’s life with you be short? Maybe. But, perhaps not. Could it be richly rewarding beyond your dreams? Very likely. I may be odd, but I look forward to my dogs growing up, and even growing old. It’s a genuinely beautiful stage of life to share with a dog. Dogs in later years become peaceful—noble even—symbols of the ancient wisdom of their kind. They are the icons of novels and poems, the fabled dog and his beloved companion.

Would I adopt a senior dog? In a heartbeat. I can, and will wait for my dogs to come into their own. I’m patient. But, I’m also human. Now is perfectly good time to find a treasure, a dog with history. It’s really the perfect time to make friends with a wise creature who knows most of life’s path, one who’s happy to share the remaining part of the journey with you.

How long do we learn? We learn all our lives, of course, just like dogs do. And, I have to wonder, what could an older dog and a smarter dog teach me? What could we discover together? And, is it too late to start? No, of course it’s not. It’s never too late, not for any of us.

Have you adopted a senior dog? Share your story and pictures with us on Facebook, using the hashtag #seniorpetmonth. Our favorites will receive a KONG care package especially for mature dogs.

Michael Baugh CDBC, CPDT-KSA is a writer and dog trainer in Houston, TX. He lives with Stella, a 4-year old adopted retriever mix, and Stewie, a delightful little dog from the streets with a graying muzzle (age unknown).