Listen!! all dog families. These insights will change your canine family life.
For 15 of his 17 years, Buddy has been our family — a bundle of joy, mischief, and love. We got him from the Humane Society of the Boulder Valley. We have climbed fourteeners together, visited Mexico, gone camping, and we have caught him gently getting off the sofas he wasn’t supposed to be on when we quietly entered the home. In his younger days, he routinely jumped our 6-foot fence and chased bicyclists down a bicycle path in the park behind our home. The memories warm the heart and place smiles on all our faces. When Buddy is on his daily walk in the park now, many of the Buddy’s chased bicyclists ask affectionately how Buddy is faring.
Now, in fact, is the time of glory. Pooch is old. He doesn’t run anymore. In fact, he has trouble walking. I am designing a walker to assist his necessary exercise. But Buddy’s true majesty and genius is only now in prominence. He lost his hearing two years ago. He has no vision in one eye and only partial vision in the other. His back legs are wobbly and he has difficulty keeping his balance. And only now his genius is shining, when the glitter of Buddy’s youth and mischief has passed.
Gloriously, Buddy is full of vital goodness. He still loves food. He snaps-up his meals. The vigor he applies to eating is unchanged. He loves being cuddled now. He had no patience for it in younger days. He wraps his face and tail around me like he rarely did before. And he falls asleep in my lap, even while I am on my work chair. Now, more than ever before, Buddy is a bundle of pure love.
Here’s the genius he has evolved. The reality of aging is not pretty. When Buddy lost his hearing two years ago, he stopped barking. When he lost his vision in one eye, he slowed his walking. When the other eye started to dim, he became even more deliberate in his movements. As walking decreased, his hind legs started to weaken. This is when he started teaching us new ways to talk.
Buddy is goodness to the core. He must know that if an accident happens inside the home, it takes us time and energy to clean up. Previously when he needed to go out, he would nudge us. Now unassisted walking is very hard. He is in his bed a lot more. So when he needs to go out, he moves his legs to make noises that tell us that he needs to go out. Then he shows more brilliance. If we do not hear his legs, he starts tapping his tail on the wooden floor. But Buddy’s brilliance does not stop here. We are always in earshot of pooch. Still, if only one of us is at home and we are not close enough to hear him, he has now invented a new system. He has developed a new “yelk.” It’s a combination of a yelp and a bark. So he keeps inventing new techniques to educate and train us.
Still, this not all. We know what, how much, and when Buddy eats. But lately, we have discovered that he now gets hungry at additional times. So our brilliant genius has invented another signal. When he is thirsty or hungry, he opens and closes his mouth and makes a new sound. He’s telling us that he needs food. The genius in our pooch has always been there, we have known. It is only now evident how deeply it is rooted and how it continues to reshape his communication as the body changes.
What a joy it is to have our “old” Buddy? What a blessing indeed that he gives us unconditional love. What a delight too, that the gorgeous pup is not just a dumb blond, but also a communication genius.
We are committed to growing with Buddy, as he trains us. Every day with him is a precious one.
Yes, our lives have changed. We don’t go without care coverage for Buddy. We missed a dear friend’s wedding in Taos, we miss out on dinners, we race back from appointments, someone from the family is always in town, and we rope in our friends to keep an eye on Buddy when we are not at home. We have a new designated place for Buddy lap clothes that we are not allowed to sleep in. He is in our laps more now. So we have a new Buddy lap clothes pile, in addition, to clean and wash-ready clothes piles. We are too dumb to know how else to manage life. But all the Rawats, my wife and children and I cry with love and joy to see our pooch teach us new tricks as he grows older and more beautiful in every way.
Listen when your loving canine companion is teaching you new tricks. It’s likely not that old dogs can’t learn new tricks, it’s more likely that when they are teaching us, we are the ones who are not listening and not learning. And we can change that!