Ep. 82: Senior Dogs and Tough Decisions

Nov 4, 2022

Owning a senior dog means you must make some tough choices. This includes what activities you choose to do together. How to keep their age-related limitations in mind while still maximizing on the time you have together.

In this episode, we discuss Scent Work-specific considerations. This is a sensitive and emotional subject. These decisions must be individualized and customized. There are no right or wrong answers. As long handlers are mindful and thoughtful in their decisions, including an honest assessment of how their dog is faring, then all is good.


  • Dianna L. Santos


Dianna L. Santos (00:00):
Welcome to the All About Scent Work Podcast. In this podcast we talk about all things Scent Work that can include training tips, a behind scenes look at what your Scent Work instructor or trial official may be going through and much more. In this episode, I want to talk about the challenge that handlers who have senior dogs may have as far as knowing how best to cherish the moments that they have left with their dogs and knowing what decisions to make, particularly when we're talking about dogs that are still doing dog sports, including Scent Work. So before we start diving into the podcast episode itself, let me do a very quick introduction of myself. My name is Dianna Santos and the Owner and Lead instructor for Scent Work University, Dog Sport University and Pet Dog U. These are online dog dream platforms. They're designed to help you achieve your dog training goals and we are very fortunate to have a client basis worldwide. For Scent Work University in particular, we provide online courses, seminars, webinars, and e-books that are all focused around Scent Work. So regardless of where you are in your sniffing journey, we probably have a training solution for you. You could just be starting, developing some more advanced skills, be interested in trialing, and we have something that would be able to help you and your team achieve those goals. So I definitely urge you to check out Scent Work University. It is a pretty awesome place. So now that you know a little bit more about me, let's dive into the podcasts episode itself.

So in this episode I wanted to talk about particularly the challenge that handlers who have senior dogs face that as their dog is aging. There is obviously a finite amount of time that they have available with their dog and particularly when they are involved in a variety of different activities, particularly dog sports, there's a lot of routines and habits that go along with that. There's all your practice sessions, there's potentially the classes and then there's potentially trialing, right? And as your dog is getting older, it can be hard to know what choices to make as far as what types of those activities you should still be doing with your dog. And it is such a personal choice and it has to be a personal choice. This is not like some decree that can be handed down from on high . It's also not something that I think an outside party should be dictating to you.

You're the one who knows your dog best. You know the relationship you have with your dog, you know what they need and it's also what you're comfortable with. All of that is very important. However, what I did want to highlight in this episode is just some of the considerations that can be very difficult to keep in mind when you're going through it in the moment. But I still think that they are important and potentially shifting where your priorities are as far as what is going to offer the highest quality of memory creation that you have with this dog that you may be saying, you know, my dog is now 14, 15 years old. If you are fortunate enough to have a dog that lives that long, that's amazing. Kudos on you that you know that it's not, it's very unlikely that you're gonna have another five years with them, right?

It's possible there are people who do, but it's not really all that likely. So you're really trying to cherish every moment with your dog. The issue is, is that when you have potentially 15 years of routines and dreams and things that you both did together, it can be very hard to now shift into doing different things. Maybe you had 10 years of doing things right? Dog came up to 10 years of age, they're going to several classes every single week. You're taking them for hikes. You know, two times a week they get to go to the beach. Once a month you're doing trialing every other weekend you're traveling with them, you're going to hotels, you're doing all this stuff and that's great, right? And they love it. They're having a great time, they're doing really well. You're doing really well. Life is awesome . But then as their body starts, their age really just starts catching up with them.

All of that stuff becomes harder. Maybe getting even in and outta the car can be painful depending on what's going on with your dog. And again, people are fantastic, right? They get ramps or they get stairs and things like that. It could be that your dog starts developing some dementia where maybe getting into the car isn't such a big deal, but they kind of lose themselves in the car. So they start to panic when they're in the car cuz they're not really sure where they are. So it could be a stressful thing every time they go into the car. It could be that they're just tired, right? It's just their body is, you know, worn out. So when you're trying to just go through the day, they would like to sleep a lot because they're tired and, but we have class and we have our walk and we have our this and we have our that and they're like, I just need to take a nap for like the next five hours.

. So where this all kind of weaves in with Scent Work is people can have an easier time. I think making that shift of, okay, my dog is starting to age out of certain activities like agility, I think agility definitely affords itself to people saying, you know, my dog jumping 20 inches or whatever else, they're 10 years old, maybe we shouldn't be doing it. That kind of thing. You know, they're getting slower, they're dropping bars, okay, you know, the writing is on the wall, I get it. We're gonna do other things. Maybe we can do fun little agility things maybe in class or at home. And all the bars are like on the ground basically. Maybe we're doing hoops, maybe we're just doing tunnels. There's lots of different adjustments that you can make. But making that adjustment, making that shift when you have a super physical activity is sometimes easier for handlers because Scent Work doesn't quote unquote look like much .

The dog is just going around and sniffing that shift can be very hard for handlers to make, particularly if they're coming into Scent Work after retiring from something like Agility. So maybe they retired at agility at 10, they start doing, is that work? Because they still wanna be doing stuff with their dogs, which I commend. Fantastic, you brilliant choice. love all of it. So they're going to new classes now, right? They're not going to agility classes. Maybe they, they stick into one agility class and they just do little hoops and things and it's just, it's really fun. It's socialist to help the dog like still have fun, right? But it's super, super safe. But the actual, we're doing this to practice and to get better. That class is now Scent Work. They get bit by the bug, the dog is really good at it, the dog is having a great time, all good things and they're now they're competing, right?

Even better now we get the trial again. We get to have more titles. Show that my dog is just amazing cuz they are what an amazing dog. Look at all these memories that we're making. You can create a new little tribe. , you had your agility tribe as an example. Now you have your little stiffy tribe, you've got your support group. Ugh, all good things. Again, this is all fantastic unicorns of rainbows, all goodness. Now maybe you are trying to work towards a detective level title for AKC or maybe a elite or a summit title in NACSW. Just as examples. So you've been doing Scent Work with your dog, taking classes and titling and your dog is doing amazing for five years. So now they're 15 years old. This is where it gets really difficult because now you're talking about doing the absolute hardest levels that those organizations offer. Super, super challenging on a good day. That's not even if Mother nature decides to be even more challenging than usual and your dog is basically in the twilight part of their life.

And Swick is so hard, it doesn't look like it's hard, but it is. It's taxing both mentally and physically on the dog when they are young and spry , not to mention when they're in their toilet years. And that's just doing a search. Like if you were just doing a search at home, it's hard. Then you do a search a class, it's more hard. Now you're doing a search at one of these upper level types of trials. It's extraordinarily hard. What I wanted to bring to everyone's attention with this episode is that there are some really hard decisions that handlers have to make and they have to be a completely personal decision. This is not a one size fits all type of thing. But this is where I think having really trusted friends, instructors, if your dog came from our breeder, the breeder family members, if you have a really great relationship with your vet, maybe even your vet, if they're open to it, videoing your dog as they're doing whatever activity it is that they're doing, it could even just be, you know, practicing at home.

It could be your class, it could be a trial run and letting someone else give you their honest opinion. How does the dog look? Is the dog happy? Is a dog, maybe they're moving slow, right? Because they're 15 years old, right? But they still got it right? They're, they're loving it. They think it's the best or are they really struggling and they're trying as hard as they can because they wanna please you, but they're not having fun anymore. Now it's, it potentially is painful depending on what's going on with it all physically. It's mentally exhausting. And there could be a lot of pressure on your end of the leash because again, now you're at these really super high levels of competition and oh, we just need a couple of more qualifying scores in order to get this title for summit. You know, this is it.

You know, we got in, we've got to do this. Well, and I gotta tell you that that's where you need someone who knows you and your dog well to just say, Hey, I don't know if this is the best choice for the two of you. Have you thought about doing something else? Have you thought about maybe going into another organization such as United States, canine Sun Sports as an example, that allows you to go down a couple of levels because then way you can still compete, you can still get titles, you can still have the social aspect, which I'm gonna talk about in a minute, why that's so important for people. But it doesn't have to be this hard. And I'm sure there's lots of people who are not happy that I'm saying any of this , but it's a reality that we have to come to terms with.

I can tell you that trial officials, it's painful sometimes for trial officials to officiate some of these searches where the person is very gung-ho. Like they are. They're, and I don't mean this like they're gung Hoover, the title, no. Like they are so invested in the activity, they're so invested in this journey with their dog. They're so invested in putting in and getting all these cherished moments, right? That they've lost sight. That this isn't a good moment that to everyone else who's watching, it's almost painful to watch that the dog is just, they don't have it. They are tired, they're sore, they're worn out and the person is almost oblivious, right? They're just on cloud nine that they get to spend more time with their dog, but it's not the quality time they think it is. So I don't envy anyone who is in that kind of position.

I haven't had to do anything like that with my personal dogs. I started competing with valor and he passed away at six awfully from terminal cancer. But I got a little bit of a taste of it during those very few months that I had with him was what decision am I going to make with the very short amount of time that we're gonna have left? And I did not compete. You know, that was, I just didn't value, I didn't think that that was good time. That wasn't a good use of our time. Him sitting in a crate and me sitting there on my phone working, no , we're gonna go to the beach, we're gonna do hiking, walking, whatever. So I don't envy anyone who has had this dog in their lives for a long period of time. They've created this wonderful relationship with them.

They've been on so many different journeys, possibly with this dog. They may have gone through various different sports and now it's, it's winding down because that's what happens. And it's so hard to let go and it's so hard to know what to do, right? Cuz you don't just wanna put the dog away, , okay, well you know, you're done. I'm just gonna ignore you and move on to the new shiny thing. Of course not. It's not what I'm trying to promote at all. And it would be detrimental to the dog too. You know, they're used to a routine, they're used to you doing everything. If you just say, oh well you know, I listened to that Sanchez lady and you're beyond a certain, you know, expiration date, now I don't get to do anything with you anymore. I'm not saying that at all, . But there's a very big difference between still engaging with your dog, doing things with your dog, maximizing all the time that you have with your dog, creating memories and doing these other things that are just a routine that you're used to. But this is the part I really wanted to get to because it's so important to you.

The classes that you go to more often than not, if you've going to them for a long time, you're going to have classmates, you're going to have friends that are there and losing all of that friendship, all of that socialization for people that are not like me cuz I'm very antisocial. I just live in my little office and that's pretty much it. But for normal people, that is very important. All of that social structure of your class, seeing your classmates, you may have witnessed them go through and add multiple dogs into their homes. You may have helped them through many puppies, , right? And together, you've all experienced these things together. You have grown up and developed as handlers and trainers together for that to just disappear one day is painful. But that's all happening in the background. Like we don't think about that in the forefront of our minds, but that's a reality. Like that's really powerful and important to the person.

Same social dynamic also applies at trials, particularly Scent Work trials. Scent Work trials are a big social event. people oftentimes will, you know, create next to each other or they'll create these little 10 city things and it's a, they have their support groups. It's wonderful. I mean that's one of the reasons why Scent Work is just so alluring to people is because of how welcoming it is and it's welcoming on the human side. And that's really important. And that could potentially go away. It would go away if you chose not to trial anymore. It's important to recognize the interplay all of that has. So try to wrap this episode up. This isn't like a, a decree . This isn't a, well no you have to go do this. It's more of a, maybe we just need to kind of stop and pause and think and consider what it is that we're doing, why we're doing it, and the effect that it has on our dogs.

That knowing and underlying and italicizing everyone's choice has to be individual. It has to be customized to what you and your dog need, what you're comfortable with. And that there aren't really any right or wrong answers in any of this. The choices that I may make with my dogs, maybe in stark contrast to what someone else would do. It's a lot to do about knowing your dog. I mean, there are some dogs that if you didn't do something with them every single day, you know, they would decline so quickly, right? They would just bms. So you have to do something. All I'm trying to say is that while that's true, adjusting what that something is may actually be a really good idea. So if you're just keeping it within the realm of Scent Work, instead of still going to class and practicing and going to trials, maybe doing little mini searches at home, doing mini searches at a friend's house, contacting your classmates and doing a mini field trip search to the dog.

It's still a trial. . They don't know. It's not a trial. And then just have a little day of it, right? Do a quick little search. Doesn't have to be anything crazy. And then they can just kind of hang out. You can do it at a park, you could do it at a beach, you could do it at someone's house and then just spend that time. So you are still getting that social interaction, but the dog is also getting an adjustment as far as what they can actually physically do. So I hope that makes sense. This is a very touchy emotional subject and I'm hoping that anyone listening who does happen to have a senior dog, doesn't take this as as a negative that I'm trying to talk down to you or anything like that. Again, I really do mean it. I do not envy anyone who has a, a senior dog as far as the types of decisions that you may have to make and the heartbreak, you know, that's coming, it's awful. But I don't want you focusing on that stuff either.

You have them now, it's just figuring out how to make that time the most valuable it could possibly be. So I hope that makes sense. As always, I'm always open to you guys letting me know if you have any thoughts or questions. If something wasn't clear. So we'll be posting this podcasts episode up on our social media sites, Facebook and Instagram, and also be up on our website. But again, I just wanted to put this out there again, just to get people thinking. And I wanted to give a big shout out to people who are, you know, engaging with their dogs for the totality of their lives. And they are working to create these really wonderful memories and they're celebrating their dogs. They and their dogs are rocking it, right? The fact that someone who could potentially put a lot of effort and a lot of time and a lot of investment into a variety of other sports or activities then allows the dog to quote unquote retire. And to play that Scent Work, I think is amazing. think that's awesome. And giving the dogs the opportunity to use their nose throughout the totality of their lives is fantastic. So pat yourselves in the back, but just think about some of these things and how, you know, open your mind to the possibilities that there's other things potentially that you can do as your dog is heading towards those twilight years. All right guys, thanks so much for listening. Happy training. We look forward to seeing you soon.

Leave a comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Join Our Newsletter