Living With Animals: Old Dogs, New Tricks

The trouble with clichés is, well, they’re clichés. By definition, they are trite and most often untrue. This is certainly relevant when it comes to animal clichés. Bats are not blind. Birds have voracious appetites, so saying someone “eats like a bird” is in fact the opposite of what’s intended. Having tried, I promise that you can indeed lead a horse to water and get her to drink. And most important from my perspective, old dogs are absolutely capable of learning new tricks.

Sweet Lorraine was the oldest dog I’ve personally adopted. We estimated her to be 12 years, if not older, when we brought her home. A gunshot victim (people can be so horrible), I told the shelter veterinarians that I’d offer a happy last chapter if they could save her – and save her they did! 100+ pounds of lovable dog, I quickly learned she’d not likely ever before been allowed indoors. How does one housetrain (new trick) a geriatric dog? It turns by using the same techniques one does with a puppy: patience, setting reasonable goals, consistency, and more patience.

Too big for a crate, we confined Lorraine to our kitchen when we had to leave her alone: the linoleum floor made clean-up far simpler, and the door connecting kitchen to backyard helped facilitate the messaging of what was and what was not acceptable. Clearly anxious to please, she loved the over-the-top praise when she peed and pooped outside on those long walks as soon as we woke and thoughtfully timed throughout the day (30 minutes after dinner proved reliable). Within a month Lorraine could be left to wander the house along with the rest of the pack without fear of a massive puddle or pile to clean up.

This old dog taught us that new tricks were definitely a possibility. She also taught us, again, how gratifying it is to help an animal of any age find her place in a loving family.

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