Geriatric Care: Enrichment

Geriatric care is a topic that has become very near and dear to my heart. Having a geriatric animal (or four) is emotionally taxing, and expensive. Despite that, I want to be able to say I did everything I could to make sure those last years, months, days, and hours were well lived.

This topic will be broken up into four blog posts.
1. Enrichment
2. Exercise
3. Nutrition
4. Pain Management

Merriam-Webster says the definition of enrich is "to improve the quality of (something)." When discussing enrichment specifically for geriatric animals, it is important to keep the brain active, especially when the body starts to slow down. The Shape of Enrichment, Inc has created five categories for enrichment. The five categories are not mutually exclusive. The categories are social, cognitive, physical habitat, sensory, and food. I likely won't address all of these, but being cognizant of all five is important.

Sniffing-walks which I try to do daily, even if it is only for 5-10 minutes. Buzz loves to get out and check the pee mail, see if any new animals have visited, and it's good for both of us to breathe in some fresh air! I usually take him out alone.

Food toys use to be a huge part of Buzz's life. He LOVED to play with his Tug A Jug and especially chew on Kongs. Now that his mobility is limited (and he took a few too many headers into the floor after losing his balance following a toy on the floor) I had to find a different toy to stuff. The JW Megalast Bone has been a great alternative! I stuff it with canned food and freeze it. It can't roll away from him, he still gets to chew, and I can still control his diet.

Store visits are an option again now that Buzz is strong enough to walk on linoleum! We used to go to stores so he could look at the fish. He LOVED looking at the fish. Now we go so he can look at the small animals and check out the treat/chew aisle. Last time I took him to a store, we were in there for about half an hour. He had SO much fun! When we got home, he just crashed out--mission accomplished. That was a mental and physical stimulation visit! Social enrichment is typically part of store visits. I don't make people pet him, but I do encourage it now rather than discourage it. He had a very nice lady love on him for at least five minutes last time we were out. She pet his ears and told him what a good boy he was. It was really neat to see someone appreciate him like that.

Play isn't something Buzz has ever done much of. Occasionally he will show interest in a toy of Gabby's and when he does, I take advantage of that. He's much more likely to play with a toy if Gabby has already been playing with it. Just this morning I had a toy out with a gazillion squeakers. When he saw how much fun Gabby and I were having, he just had to join in! So we played the game where I put it on his head and then release him. He throws his head back and tries to catch the toy. Other variations of play are retrieves and holds. He will do those with enthusiasm for food!

Training is one of our favorites, now that I've thought of ways to modify most of the behaviors he knows. We'll often sit on the floor and do nose target/foot target discrimination games (where I feed him for every single correct response, because why not). A week or two ago he wanted to work on the pedestal while I had Gabby out. Standing on it was hard, so he elected to sit on it instead. It was so hilarious! We work on stand to down (because sit to stand is hard) and when he's in the underwater treadmill at work, he loves to practice his spins in both directions.

Resting places are changed as frequently as I remember. I move his bed around to different locations in the apartment and I rearrange the blankets on it almost daily. As much as that doesn't sound like a big deal, it's an indicator of his cognitive state that he can find the new location of his bed. Oh, and he prefers to be near people while he's resting so he spends a fair amount of time resting on some part of me when I'm home. Yesterday, he fell asleep on my feet as his bed is currently in front of the couch. He can't seek out other animals to cuddle with but is so happy when Gabby or Rasza choose to curl up next to him.


More Buzz Photos

(Every single one of these is from my phone. Because I broke my camera lens that I can use for indoor photos. Waah!)
Don't even try to deny the adorable!

Again, adorable!

Determined, he is.


Pro-Tip, don't attach a Flexi to the light loop on a young dog.

Oh winter! It wasn't even that bad yet for this photo!

More cuddling.

Cuddling with friends.


Choosing a Dog

Numerous dogs in my life have tugged at my heart strings. A few dogs not my own I've bonded to. And then there are the dogs that leaped into my heart when I least expected it and held on tighter than I ever imagined possible.
My first foster. The one about yanked my heart out of my chest. 

 Buzz and Bailey are an integral part of my young adult life and I adore them. I have a very different relationship with each dog because they are drastically different dogs. They've taught me so much that I have been able to share with other dogs and for that I will be forever grateful. And because of them, I knew the kind of dog I would look for when the time came. Each will always hold a very special place in my heart, which is cliche, but true.

Buzz is stable, he's structurally sound, he is vibrant, and he is so cuddly. He also loves to do all kinds of stuff, but I wouldn't call him busy. I learned that my next dog needs to be socially stable--the kind of dog you can just take anywhere. I also really enjoy the fact that he can check out when I don't want him to be working. I didn't have to teach him to leave me alone, he just knew when I'd like his company and when I wouldn't. I used to take him to the local coffee shop that allows dogs. I'd bring a mat for him to lay on and that's what he'd do. He didn't try to work. He didn't pester me. He just let me drink my coffee and relax.

Bailey is certain the whole world revolves around her and she is hilarious. She lives to do stuff and is a very busy dog (although, around age 12 she finally started settling in the house better). Her idea of a good time is to be with her people 24/7. She has gone many places with me just because it makes her so happy. I learned that my next dog needs to be up for anything, anytime, anywhere. I love most though, her innate love of interaction with her people. She loves to fetch, loves to tug, and loves to just roughhouse.

From both Buzz and Bailey, I learned that being comfortable in the car is a big deal. I do quite a bit of driving and can't stand having dogs pant in my ear (I'm looking at you in your younger years, Bailey). Being able to coexist with others happily (not just peacefully) is a key factor for me. Buzz is that dog. Bailey is not. It is something I struggled to acknowledge and accept for a long time. Once I did, I knew that I could never put another dog through the stress that she used to endure daily. I needed to choose a dog who enjoyed the company of other animals.
Golden foster Reba quickly learned how to ride in the car.

I have a list of my necessary qualities in a dog (mentally stable-enjoys cats, dogs, and people-rides well in the car), a list of qualities I don't feel as strongly about (plays with toys-goes hiking-competition dog), and the deal breakers (not friendly with cats, dogs, or people-separation anxiety-expensive medical conditions). I've done my research and spoken to numerous breeders about their dogs, their breeding programs, and their goals. I've learned as much as I can about the breed, and the different types and lines within the breed. I was so sure my next dog would be from a very carefully planned litter, from a responsible breeder, out of fabulous dogs. And it would be perfect.
Rasza is Buzz's cat.

And then I got this photo in an email about a foster home request.

I was drawn to her because she needed a lot of help. I didn't like or dislike her. When I got her, she wasn't really a dog, more like a living, breathing, rock. As we went about life getting her fixed up medically, I remember saying "she is the easiest dog I've ever lived with."

She is an agreeable dog. If she understands what I'm asking, she'll do it (despite a lack of reinforcement history). Life continued on and my boyfriend took a special interest in her, unlike my previous three fosters. He, and our friends, started making jokes about me keeping her. When I said "someone else deserves a dog this easy," he replied with "then I'll take her." That gave me pause. My boyfriend enjoys dogs, but I never really thought he'd want a dog of his own. That, coupled with the interest ESRA was starting to get in her made me look at that list.

  • Stable-check (she'd gone on vacation, stayed in someone else's home, met strange dogs, allowed grooming, and more)
  • Enjoys "doing stuff"-check (hiking, vacation, bonfires, playing in the water, etc)
  • Plays fetch and tug-check
  • Good with cats-check
  • Good with other dogs-check
  • Rides well in the car-check
  • Enjoys people-check
  • Healthy (relatively speaking, I guess)
  • Praise and play are reinforcing (from a competition stand point, I love this quality of Bailey's)
I couldn't have hand selected a better dog for myself at this point in my life. I wouldn't have known the perfect dog for me without also embracing Buzz and Bailey. Much to the pleasure of my boyfriend, and unlike my previous fosters, Gabby stayed for good.

Despite my best laid plans, this big tri-colored dog wiggled her way into my heart and held on tight. I am still amazed that she is such a perfect blend of Buzz and Bailey's traits that I adore.