Give Thanks for Your Senior Dog

By Karen B. London PhD, November 2020, Updated December 2020
old dog
November is adopt-a-senior-pet month, and also the month during which we celebrate Thanksgiving. So, it’s only natural to ponder the many reasons to be thankful for the precious older dogs who share our lives, homes and hearts.

Older dogs know us well, and that’s as wonderful as it is comforting. In many cases, these dogs have been in our lives for a long time, perhaps even since puppyhood, and have seen us through both happy and dark times. Sometimes, we’ve lived with these venerable dogs longer than we’ve lived with our spouse or our kids.

There are many reasons for closeness with older dogs. For one thing, it’s easier to live in the moment with them. By the time dogs reach the later stages of their lives, we’re less concerned about spoiling them, sending them down the wrong path or creating habits we may wish to change later. Personally, if an older dog chooses to nap on the most comfortable piece of furniture in the house, I’m all for it. I’m not thinking about how I may regret it a decade on, when I buy a fancy couch or a new house. It’s natural to live in the present with a senior dog because, sadly, we know that our time together is limited.

On the practical side, senior dogs generally don’t need as much exercise—and certainly not first thing in the morning. (There are exceptions to every rule, however.) They are more patient and more easily satisfied. All hell will not break loose if we do not get our older dog out for a solid hour of exercise before work every day.

A walk with a senior dog is a chance for the proverbial stopping to smell the roses. Such walks are not about exercise so much as actively taking a break from a busy schedule to appreciate the beauty of life. When I’m with an older dog, I especially look forward to our post-walk time, when we just hang out, sitting together with some petting and loving. These lovely, low-key moments of peaceful togetherness, which are more common with senior dogs, are to be cherished.

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There’s also a beauty in older dogs that may not be obvious to people who have never lived with one. Age has its exquisite aspects. The gray muzzle, drooping face, scars, bumps and other cosmetic irregularities may seem like imperfections, but I view them as the markers of love and time for this particular, adored individual.

We feel a special gratitude when senior dogs reach these golden years—in many ways, they’ve beaten the odds. While it goes without saying that no dog lives long enough, not all dogs make it into advanced old age. When they do, it’s a blessing. There is beauty in a life well-lived, and older dogs embody that beauty in a special way.

Senior dogs are special treasures. If you have one in your life, be grateful, and celebrate their company and your time together. If you’re planning to adopt a dog, consider a senior, knowing that an older dog will enhance your life and add so much joy to it.

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life

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