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Karen B. London
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Dogs Who Don’t Look Their Age
Surprises among the old and young

The other day at a park, I saw what I thought was a Pomeranian puppy. At just over three pounds, she was pretty small and had that fluffy look of those who are new to the planet. Additionally, she was leaping around with more enthusiasm than knowledge of where her body parts were. I didn’t just THINK she was a puppy. I was sure of it. Yet I was wrong—it turns out she was four years old.

Even though I know that teacup and tiny toy Pomeranians are full grown around the size of this dog, she still seemed like a puppy to me. It was not just her diminutive size that was misleading. Her coat and her behavior fooled me, too. She moved like a young dog and her fluffy coat was the result of having been shaved in the past. She was not the first dog whose age has been a surprise to me.

Several times, I’ve seen Golden Retrievers with full spectacles of white and thought they were probably at least six or seven only to find out they are actually just about to turn four or even barely three. Sometimes dogs who are naturally very calm seem older to me than they are, but some dogs, especially those who have been bred for high energy and high drive, seem young even when they are already a decade old.

I enjoy the variation in dogs, and that applies to their behavior, their temperaments, their athletic abilities, and even how they age. Some dogs behave as though they are puppies until the very end of their lives at which point they suddenly enter a brief geriatric phase. Other dogs lose the puppy sillies in adolescence and proceed to act like wise, respected elders for many years.

Most of the time, I really do correctly guess dogs’ ages within a reasonable margin of error. When I’m wrong, it interests me because it is usually a combination of appearance and behavior that throws me off.

If you’ve been wrong about a dog’s age, what was it about the dog that deceived you?

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Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

photo by Kaja Kozlowska/Flickr

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Submitted by Frances | June 5 2013 |

I walk a grizzle Border Terrier - her coat colour means that her muzzle and eyebrows are grey, and always have been. She is also slightly overweight, and tends to plod along at the pace of her elderly owner. All these things combine to make her seem much older than she actually is - and I do sometimes wonder if subconsciously treating her like an elderly dog is reinforcing her for behaving like one.

Submitted by Katy | June 5 2013 |

My male dog is always mistaken for a much younger dog than he is. Given that he is mostly white and an excellent physical condition, he has none of the physical characteristics that would tell you that this 65 lb boy is 8 years old. Additionally, he still plays like a youngster, with lots of bounce and excitement. Generally, people guess that he is 2 years old.

My female dog was (until her face went grey at age 10) frequently mistaken for a greyhound puppy. I think it is her short face and high, high, high energy that contributed to that.

Submitted by Eric Bates | June 9 2013 |

Everyone always thinks my dog is a puppy because she is an Old English Pocket Beagle and is almost two but everyone thinks she is a beagle puppy because she only weighs 7 pounds.

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