There’s no denying that puppies are irresistibly cute. They’re small, rotund, furry, and adorably awkward. They even make cute sounds. But somewhere between puppyhood and adolescence, they begin to exhibit…behaviors. Sleep- depriving, property-damaging behaviors that make you question if all that cuteness is really worth it.
Case in point: Scout. Eight week old, female, black Labrador retriever mix.
I happened upon her in the grocery store parking lot of a rural mountain town, shivering in the back of a pickup truck. She and her siblings were being given away by breeders because they were supposed to be pure bred goldens. Oops. Scout was huddled in the furthest dark corner of the truck bed, away from her siblings, trying to hide behind a tarp and pretend this wasn’t happening. She looked like an anti-social scaredy – cat. She was also markedly smaller than the other puppies – - a true “runt of the litter.” Naturally, I had to have her. Sucker.
On the short, 15-minute drive home, she peed in my car. Once safely home, as I cuddled her close to my chest, she peed on me. I sat her down on my bed as I changed my clothes. Bet you can’t guess what she did there.
Welcome to the joys of puppyhood. Over the next several weeks as Scout was going through potty-training, I got to experience just a tiny bit how it must feel to have a newborn. I had to get up every few hours to check on her and take her outside to go to the bathroom. Mostly, I timed this wrong and suffered many a midnight and 3 a.m. floor scrubbing sessions for my folly.
Eventually, my adult dog, Rex, solved this problem for me. One night I woke up to find Rex sitting at the side of my bed whining. He had never done this before so I thought something was wrong with him. As I drug myself out of bed, Rex took off down the hallway toward the back door. There sat Scout, already having relieved herself on the door mat. Ding-ding-ding! Scout had figured out that when she had to “go” she was supposed to go out the back door; Rex had figured out how to tell when Scout had to “go;” and I figured out that, in Rex, I had an amazing new ally. After that, there were no more accidents in house. But as the saying goes, “no good deed goes unpunished.” Rex had unwittingly just promoted himself to Head Puppy-Sitter.
In no time, Scout caught on to the potty training and was able to tell me herself when she had to “go.” During those years we lived in a rural mountainous region where coyotes were common; so unfortunately for Rex, it didn’t matter if he had to “go” or not, he was Scout’s chaperone. Poor Rex. I did feel for him all those many nights he was roused from his warm bed in order to tromp outside in the snow to play guardian to little Scout. But I was glad it was him and not me!
Over the next few years, Rex would be an invaluable partner in raising Scout. From Rex, Scout learned where and when to go potty, where and when to sleep, mealtime etiquette, who and what to bark at and appropriate play and pack behavior.
Of course, Rex couldn’t teach Scout how not to be a puppy. There are just certain things you have to endure until they grow out of “that stage.”
Scout’s “stage” was primarily chewing, and it lasted two years. Two. Long. Years. During that time, nothing was safe, and if you let your guard down and left something within reach of Scout’s tenacious puppy teeth, you paid dearly.
Just a few examples of what my puppy cost me:
- One pair designer sunglasses (She reached up and got them off a table).
- Five pairs of shoes (Don’t ever leave closet doors open).
- The corner of one leather attaché (Again, a table reach).
- Three garden hoses (I came home one day to find her running back and forth across the yard, in joyous abandon, with about 10 feet of hose trailing, streamer-like, from her mouth).
- Two door mats (Surprisingly tasty).
- A sprinkler system (This one must have taken all day as she had to dig down into the ground to get the sprinkler tubing and then pull it all up from the entire perimeter of the backyard.)
- Various books and magazines.
Throughout all the missteps and catastrophes that was Scout the Destructor, the constant was Rex. My older, somewhat sensitive, teddy bear of a dog never seized on the opportunity to join Scout in her mischief. Rather, he comported himself as usual — teaching Scout the lessons of dogdom when he could and patiently tolerating her zealous puppy antics.
Rex didn’t buy into the chaos because he was a mature, adult, senior dog. Rex had “been there; done that.” Not with me – he was almost five years old by the time I got to him. Scout was the first puppy I had ever adopted, and although I love her dearly and would not change anything about her, she is definitely a cautionary tale. Aside from the lost sleep and property destruction, there was also her boundless energy. The time investment that went into keeping her from going crazy with boredom topped several hours a day. Long, brisk hikes and hours-long walks were a daily requirement, as well as games of fetch and obedience sessions in order to satisfy both her body and mind.
Luckily, I was young enough then to keep up with her. But having had that experience, I know in the future that any new dog I take into the family will be an adult, mature, and yes, senior dog. (Technically, a “senior” dog is around 7 years old, but this can vary with size). Having already adopted a senior, I can tell you they come much more ready to be integrated into the family than do puppies.
For one thing, with older dogs, you know what you’re getting. They’re already the size they’re going to be, and the color, and the temperament. They already know who they are as a dog and know how to act with other dogs and with people. They probably know basic commands and how to walk on a leash. They are calmer. They don’t pee in your house. They don’t eat your stuff.
I know the objections:
With an older dog, I will be inheriting someone else’s problem. There must be some reason they’re in the shelter. Something must be wrong with them. The truth is that the problem is with the owner, not the dog. Maybe their owner died, or got their house foreclosed on (a huge contributing factor to shelter volume these days). Maybe the owner’s situation changed in some other way, like they moved, their work schedule changed, got married, got divorced, had a baby, just “don’t have time” – all crummy but common excuses people use to say they can’t keep their pet anymore.
Older dogs cost more in vet bills. Not necessarily. Every dog is different. If the dog has received preventative care its whole life up to that point it may be perfectly healthy. Get a health assessment from a veterinarian before you adopt – this is sound advice no matter the age as puppies and young dogs could have health problems just as easily as older dogs. If you still think puppies and younger dogs are “cheaper,” please go back and read through my list of destroyed property courtesy of puppy, Scout.
Older dogs are not trainable. “Old dogs” may be even more willing to learn “new tricks.” They have more patience and focus than puppies and adolescents. I taught Boo Boo (at age eight) to “sit” and “stay” like a champion. It was much easier than training young Scout, who wanted to run around and chase the cat, chase a moth, chase her tail, etc. Rex trained himself to do something I didn’t even know I needed when he clued into Scout’s potty schedule! Dogs can be trained at any age and older dogs can come with valuable problem solving skills gained by experience.
Older dogs don’t have enough stamina to be active with me or aren’t playful anymore. Again, this depends on the dog. At nine, Boo Boo will wrestle and play with you all day long. At seven, Scout will fetch the ball and swim circles around you. For days.
I don’t want to have to say goodbye so soon. There are no guarantees about the life expectancy of any dog. I had Rex for seven fantastic years after I rescued him. Losing him was (and still is) gut -wrenching. Boo Boo is nine and I’ve only had her for one year. When her time comes, I know it will be no less devastating. Scout is now seven and I’ve had her for all of her seven years. Someday her time will come and I will be crushed, but no more or no less than with my other dogs. No matter how long or short the time period I’ve had with my dogs, somehow it works out to me loving them all equally. Grief and loss are extremely personal issues but my philosophy is that dogs have shorter lifespans so that more dogs can be helped.
When I decided to adopt eight year old Boo Boo, it was because I knew I could give her a happy 2nd chapter and that is deeply fulfilling. When you adopt a senior dog, you know you are saving that dog’s life and there are many, many deserving dogs awaiting this chance.
Adopting a senior dog was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done and I get to relive that warm and fuzzy feeling every day when Boo Boo enthusiastically greets me.
Scout is now a senior herself, and has grown into a well-mannered, sweet girl who is a joy to be around.
She still needs daily walks and frequent games of fetch in order to maintain her sanity, but she is also happy to cuddle with you and just hang out and enjoy your company. She also still LOVES to chew but does so only on her designated toys.
Coming into her “senior” year, Scout is finally in that perfect place between adorable and manageable. Just like Boo Boo in her ninth year. Just like thousands of adoptable senior dogs. Some things really do get better with age.
Have you adopted a senior dog? Share your story and pictures with us!