Owners of old dogs: assemble!

I’ve got an old man dog who’s 11 this year, and just starting to really show/feel it. He’s a cattle dog mix, who had a rough start as a puppy (we rescued him when he was 5 months old), so between breed characteristics and early experiences, he’s always been a wary sort of fellow. As typical of livestock breeds, he’s very suspicious of…well, everything, but absolutely loves his people.

All that to say, he’s a big-ish dog (65lbs), but an absolute sweetheart who would let me do anything I wanted to him, because he knows I know best, and that his job is to serve. :slight_smile: The last couple of years, though, I’ve noticed a change. Specifically around medication, baths and nail clipping - all things he easily tolerated in the past. Heck, they’ve even started muzzling him at the vet, when he used to be a perfect gentleman there.

What prompted me to post, though, is the issue with meds. In the past, I could put anything in a hunk of cheese and he’d eat it. Then he started balking, so I did the muzzle grab/throat stroke maneuver. That worked for a while. Now he’s not having it, and he’s getting downright angry. The last time I had to give him something, he growled, bared his teeth and almost bit me. He absolutely would have done it. He would have hated himself afterward, but he would have done it and he really scared me for the first time ever. When I’m not doing any of those things to him, he’s the same sweet, people pleasing guy he’s always been.

As he gets older, he’s going to run into meds more often, I’m guessing. I’ve had friends with little dogs who got snappy as they got older, but like I said - he’s a big boy and could hurt me. I’ve never been afraid of a dog of mine, and I don’t like the feeling. Has anyone dealt with this? What did you do?

Sorry, I forgot the rule: here’s the old man, snuggling with Santa.

Santa baby

We have two old girls, they’re littermate sister basenjis. We got them from rescue at 2, they’ll be 13 this November. One has a thyroid deficiency, and takes a hormone tablet nightly. We stick a finger in the peanut butter jar (dogs only! not for humans!) and balance the little pill on top, usually about a pea-sized blob of PB. Zef gets first lick, including the pill, and Epi gets what’s left on the finger. If either dog needs other meds, it’s easy to just do another dip. It helps to use crunchy peanut butter, so they get used to just swallowing little lumps.

If this doesn’t work for your heeler, have you tried pill pockets? Any other favourite strongly flavoured treat, especially if it’s a bit gooshy and doesn’t need chewing?

You could also talk to your vet about flavoured meds. Just be careful to store them wellll out of reach, as an overdose can be all to easy and with terrible consequences.

The other behaviour changes you mention: make sure you’re giving lots of positive reinforcement when he complies with you. He’s beginning to notice that the costs are outweighing the benefits, so swing the lever back and give him a big jackpot. Even though this is something you maybe haven’t needed to do before, his priorities are changing. Here’s a great vid about desensitization training (you CAN teach an old dog!) and how quick and simple the process can be, and with such a huge impact on quality of life for dog and owner.

Pic: Imgur: The magic of the Internet

Awww, I love the head tilts!

Yeah, Pill Pockets (the duck ones especially), are his JAM. He still likes them as treats, but if I stick anything inside he refuses it. Peanut butter used to work too, but no more. Part of the problem is that he’s scary smart. Have you seen the video of the border collie who knows hundreds of toys by name? He’s like that, with an even bigger vocabulary. :slight_smile: It’s hard trying to pull one over on the dog equivalent of a rocket scientist.

My old rat terrier died at 20+. She did not like meds. I found boiled liver mashed up with crushed pill worked for her. She was a nipper, especially to me. We had alpha female disagreements. But, Mr.Wrekker had no trouble giving her the pills. Maybe get another person who is not fearful of dogs and has a calm presence.


The cheese you need to be using is Gorgonzola. You can find small tubs of crumbles at the store. It’s a soft, smelly, sticky cheese. It works great for meds since the strong smell is overpowering and the stickyness means the meds won’t come out of the cheese. Before you try it with meds, give it to your dog as a treat and sprinkled on food so he looks forward to it. I had an older dog who hated certain pills, but swallowed them with gusto in the Gorgonzola.

I’ve never had an older dog get surly, so I’ve been lucky in that regard. I know dogs can get dementia, so that may be happening. He may be confused and not himself at times.

Baths – try going to a dog park which has an outdoor dog washing station. He may tolerate it better being outside and not in a tub. Or give baths in your backyard with the hose.

Nail trims – Rather than snipping the nail, get one of those rotary nail trimmers for dogs and just lightly sand down the sides and front a bit on a more frequent basis. This will thin out the tip of the nail and it will naturally wear down easier. Your dog might tolerate that better. Give your dog treats before, during, and after the trim so he sees it as a fun time.

And I’ll mention eating. Older dogs get more finicky about food. One way I get my older dogs to eat is to make a puree of cooked chicken hearts that I pour over their regular food. I cook the hearts in a pressure cooker with a bit of water for 30 minutes and then use an immersion blender to make them like gravy.

Ah, he’s a sneaky one. I think it really helps to have a routine - even if your dog doesn’t need meds right now, making Delicious Treat Time a regular part of the day can help alleviate his suspicions! And, yes, try lots of potential treats: cream cheese, butter, even pate, if your budget will stretch to it. (Or the paste style cat foods, for a cheaper alternative)

There’s a few more suggestions here, and in the comments too: http://patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleash/making-the-medicine-go-down-giving-a-dog-a-pill

Buster, our 3d golden, turns 10 this Sept. Never gotten much more than 10-11 out of a golden, so I know he can go downhill fast. Which is a shame, because right now he is just about perfect in terms of what my wife and I want in a dog. Taking him up to a lake in Mich tomorrow, to let him swim and run the woods…

We are both in out late 50s, but have already discussed that we’ll get another golden when he passes. They are just what we like in a dog.

Aaaah. My soulmate dog was a golden, and I’ve still not recovered from his loss even though it was over 15 years ago. I’ve also had a golden/great pyr mix, and he was pretty magical too.

Thanks for that video, araminty.

Filmore, he loves feta, so I have no doubt he’ll dig gorgonzola as well. Rest assured, delicious treat time is already a part of every day. :wink:

Beck, it’s just me, and I’m definitely still “alpha” in all circumstances but these. I think it’s his fear of discomfort/pain outweighing his need to submit. Almost reflexive, which has made me wonder if it’s dementia setting in, as filmore suggested.

I really appreciate all of the suggestions. My last two dogs passed when they were younger, so it’s been a while since I’ve had an old fella.

I lost my old dog Widget last summer from a huge liver tumor at age 11. Meds were a big part of his life and I had to get sneaky with his pills but mostly he was pretty good–he only refused because he was in pain and food wasn’t fun for him any more.

Current old dog Bear is ten and quite hale and hearty so far knocks wood but can sometimes be a butthead about swallowing pills–best trick I’ve found for him is to take several pill pockets, nip them into smaller pieces, hide the pill in one of the pieces then toss the bits to him quickly so he has no time to inspect each one before the next one’s in the air. He’s very competitive and there’s a young dog around who’d be happy to snag those away from him so this works very well. He’s getting grumpier as he ages too, but his grumps are mostly directed toward other dogs although he gets stroppy with me treating his hot spots (he’s such an ass chewer!) and likes to pretend he can’t hear me calling him. I’m careful handling him when he’s in a mood, though, because he’s a big dog (about 75 lbs) and can be snappish although it’s about 99% show–I don’t want to have to go through a bite, thanks.

Obligatory pics–here are Bear and Shoga, Bear’s the big brown bastard with the giant maw. He’s a lab/husky mix with gosh knows what else in there. Shoga is a red heeler mix–mixed with what we don’t know, but I suspect whippet or greyhound. She’s much less stocky than the typical heeler and I can’t make her gain an ounce no matter how much she eats.

And here’s Widget, taken on a trip some years back when he was still healthy and strong–he was a Border collie/Jack Russell mix and my heart dog.

Don’t just let him lick the peanut butter. Get a gooey glob and glom it onto his tongue or (even better) the roof of his mouth.

Oh my goodness, SmartAleq, Shoga and my guy could be freckly cousins! Forgive the ugly link - I’m on my phone: https://i.imgur.com/l4rgNzt.jpg

I noticed that right off–although your guy has a curmudgeonly look to him that goofy face Shoga will probably never manage. Her default expression is a big grin.

Here’s a pic of Shoga and Widget showing off their lasers, taken just a couple weeks before he died. I notice that Bear’s chest is in the background too!

Our nine year old Cattle Dog Beagle mix will still take anything with peanut butter. The Lab we had before her would spit out the pill unless it was in a glob of cream cheese.

Ask the vet if it’s a medication that can be crushed, or if it is available in another form like a liquid. I was always astonished at how they can take all the “good stuff” and spit out the pill. A crushed tablet (if it’s something you can crush) or liquid could be mixed into something really stinky, like sardines or something.

(my old dog isn’t with me any more :(. Luckily she’d kill for a piece of cheese and generally wasn’t smart enough to reject any pill-containing hunk, and she didn’t need to take much medication in her later years.)

My Murphy is 12 - and he’s been having seizures for two and a half years - when he started having them, we were told it was likely a brain tumor and expected he’s be around only for weeks - but they seem to be stress related. Unfortunately, the vet is super stressful - so for vet care he’s on hospice.

When he needs meds, the peanut butter trick works fine (or cheese, or butter, he isn’t picky), but since no vet, no meds - so he’s limited to OTC stuff.

He’s old, his back legs don’t always work and he’s not always interested in meals. He’s getting senile and I’m fairly sure he doesn’t see or hear too well. We are probably going to need to let him go this fall because not functional back legs and snow and ice are not a good combination - but I got two and a half more years of pets.

I’m sorry. It’s just the worst that they don’t live forever. :frowning:

I’ve used liverwurst for dogs that are very pill-averse. It’s strong-smelling, so they don’t smell the pill. It’s easily moldable and doesn’t take much. And the only time they get it is pill time, so if they want it in the wurst way, they take the pill, too.

There are pill guns to help get the pill down, but those may be more traumatic than what you’re doing now.

My GSD is 11, as best as I can figure. Got him from death row at 3.