Aging Livestock Guardian Dogs Deserve Special Care & Consideration
As increasing numbers of failed hobby farm endeavors sell off livestock, move back to town and bail out on country life and agriculture, a recurring, ugly theme is their callously dumping and abandoning "old timer" LGDs. After a lifetime of loyal service, aging LGDs deserve respect, a rest, and a safe, comfortable home - not fickle uncaring owners and rejection in their Golden Years.
Above, my re-homed aged Spanish Mastiffs Pia and Zaca living out their Golden Years in their semi-retirement home. I proudly gave these girls to Chuck Avila who had been a huge Pia fan since she was a baby pup. These girls still keep wolves and coyotes at bay from his small herd of goats but are given plenty of "in house" time, plenty of rest, good food, loving care and attention. They are never pressed to do more than they can do. The perfect home for retirees!
These sad ads running on an agriculture "for sale page" below, share a common theme:
"Motivated" owners' epic fail as hobby farmers/ranchers toss in the towel, and dump older LGDs as if they were dirty paper plates or yesterday's news:
ANATOLIAN SHEPHERD LGD Annie is a 7 year old purebred Anatolian Shepherd female. She was raised with sheep and chickens and is currently guarding sheep and chickens. (We are selling our livestock) $250... Tel: | 55398 | MN | 04/22/2017 | More Information
GREAT PYRENEES LGD Bo is a 7 year old purebred Great Pyrenees male. He was raised with sheep, cattle and chickens since birth. Bo is currently a guardian for sheep and chickens. He is very family friendly. $250... Tel: | 55398 | MN | 04/22/2017 | More Information
5 YEAR OLD MALE GREAT PYRENEESFor sale due to financial reasons. Intact male 6 year old great pyrenees, not registered. Been with goats, horses, and deer. Great guardian dog. Let him loose and he'll get the job done. $400 obo Moti... Tel: | 49419 | MI | 11/30/-0001
In nearly 9 years of raising and training Livestock Guardian Dogs I have placed a handful of select older females who's breeding days for me were done or, they were never bred, and thus were spayed and carefully placed with responsible, caring, working ranch/farm homes in semi-retirement status where they could still fulfill their duties, get much needed mental and physical stimulation, but on a much less stressful scale that did not tax them beyond their aged capabilities. With the exception of one home, all of them were and/or are still able to feel a sense of purpose and mission, in a loving, compassionate and responsible environment where they are well-cared for and appreciated. No outrageous expectations, no cheap filler dog food and freezing joints and aches and pains because the owner expects them to "tough it" in extreme elements, and do the job of a younger dog.
Just like humans, dogs get old. With old age comes lessening mental acuity and aches and pains from an active, often pressing and tough life spent keeping predators at bay from cherished livestock. It's important for LGD owners to respect the limits that old age imposes on their hard working dogs, accept reality, and provide their old timers with the care their sunset years require later in life. Thoughtlessly dumping them off as they are no longer needed is never the right answer, unless as I have done, they are placed in carefully screened homes with the acute understanding that the older dog is not to be pressed and used as if it were a rambunctious and vigorous 2 year old. If that is not possible, it is always the more humane alternative to have the dog professionally put down by the owner's vet so he can go peacefully into the night, and escape pain or neglectful circumstances.
This is also why it is so important LGD owners have up and coming youngsters in their line up to take the place of aging dogs - and stop expecting the impossible from their old timers. Because most well bred LGDs have such a strong, ingrained work ethic, it's often hard to make them slow down even when they old, and are in pain or suffering, but responsible owners will bite the bullet and do just that. They don't mercilessly overwork dogs until they are 12 or 15, nor do they breed females after 5 years of age. This is not the sign of a compassionate owner. They set things up so oldsters can slow down, retire, and have less of a work load. Let the youngsters pick up the work load, learn from their mentors, and keep the ball rolling while the old timers can watch from the couch or porch and know "it's all covered" and they don't have to shoulder the whole shebang alone! Common sense…..
One could write a book on the care, feeding and responsible ownership of older dogs - this brief post will touch on some of the highlights. I recommend readers turn to Amazon.com and search term senior dogs or older dogs books to see what is available to read; I also strongly recommend checking out the Dogs Naturally Magazine website as it is a great resource for holistic remedies and feeding options for all dogs, no matter their age. On my Resources Page on my website is also a great website for difficult end of life decisions for older canines. Another helpful aging dog link is here. Let your fingers do the walking - there are many many books and websites out there with good advice. Go find them.
8 1/2 year old Pak and Pala still call the shots around here but are also allowed to sleep undisturbed at night in my comfortable kennel house facility so the youngsters can guard at night. They still are strong and pack a punch. They still get in scraps - Pak is nursing a bruise under his eye right now - but they also know they don't have to push themselves beyond what's needed - they've paid their dues!!!
ACHES AND PAINS
Anyone over 55 knows what comes with age: your joints, muscles and bones begin to 'speak' to you of more rowdy, rambunctious, tougher days of yore, and in short: you start paying for playing in your youth. Dogs are the same. Thankfully there are tons of remedies for aches and pains for dogs. Older dogs will slow down and suffer pain just like humans do. When you see them struggling to get up or whining or showing discomfort over something, check it out. Don't rely on armchair Facebook psuedo-experts - do it right or don't do it at all. Take your dog into your vet for an assessment. Once you have a diagnosis, either follow your vet's advice or, if you need to, obtain a second opinion, and/or seek alternative, holistic remedies to pharma-type solutions.
The one pain medication I always keep on hand from my trusted vet is affordable Meloxicam. It is non-steroidal and an anti-inflammatory for dogs (and humans). A bottle of 100 tabs runs me less than $10. Ask your vet about it's proper use and if it can work for your dog, too.
Glucosamine is another favorite addition to older dog's diets. I also sprinkle Dr. Harvey's Golden Years - available through Chewy.com - on my older dog's food for a supplement. Dr. Harvey produces many great supplements. Check them all out - Chewy seems to have all other sources beat on pricing, too, and free 2 day shipping on orders over $49 is hard to beat.
FEEDING AND FOOD INTAKE
Oldster LGDs may change eating habits. Some eat more. Some eat less. As they age, their teeth deteriorate. The time comes when they may have trouble eating hard kibble; it can be moistened to facilitate easier consumption and digestion. Then there's the topic of what is best for them to eat. Some will prefer raw food, other owners will put their old timer on a senior variety of quality dog kibble. There are many out there. Chewy.com is my trusted source for shipping-free dog kibble that arrives here at my ranch gate via Fed Ex every other week or so. They offer one of the largest selections of quality dog food including many grain free choices - which are always the best - ranging in price. Because I'm on a budget, I can't buy $75 bags of dog food (I know very few commercial and working ranchers who can, frankly). But I've had tremendous luck with the Sportmix brand which comes in a highly appreciated 40 pound bag - is grain free, of excellent quality, NO recalls - and can be nabbed via Chewy for as low as under $27.00 a bag! Finding quality, grain free, filler free dog food in a 40 pound bag for that price is almost unheard of anymore. That's a deal I and my dogs greatly appreciate.
My original "fearless five": Pak and brother Pala (Anatolian x Maremma)
and three Great Pyrenees siblings Petra, Peso and Pinta. Born in 2009, the year I moved here and started my LGD program. Still here, still active, but decidedly slowing down - sleeping in front of my wood stove on cold nights, on senior supplements when needed for aches and pains, and cut a lot of slack and patience when as in Petra's situation, senior dementia starts showing up. Compassion, insight and sensitivity on part of owner is crucial when dealing with aging dogs.
Senior dementia in dogs can take on many forms. With my own experience one of the biggest 'starter' flags of it has been excessive barking over things that usually didn't bother the dog, and another one is food possession. Old timer Petra is often barking at nothing these days - Sally who's a couple of years younger, is also barking more too. Petra hyper-responds to certain vehicles who pass by that set her off. A gentle reminder to her that all is okay, and reassurance that she's needed and doing a good job, is what she gets from me. She also has shown increasing turf and food control and guarding. I assure her no one is after her food, and "her space" in the dining room by my kitchen is always safe and her's alone. Older dogs will often pick a spot to rest where they feel less threatened and safe. Let them do this! Don't push them out or scold for protecting their food and space. Redirect other younger dogs to respect it in a gentle way. Likewise, as he ages, my 7 year old EPI survivor Patron becomes more food possessive although this is also a trait that can come along with the fatal EPI disease. EPI and Patron's gallant story of his surviving EPI are discussed on a page on my website here.
It's still vital that your old timer gets exercise to combat obesity that can typically set in with older dogs. My Pyrenean Mastiff Sally who's coming up on 6 years of age, is a pudgy gal who I have to really make sure gets her leg stretching and calorie burning. She's still sharp as a tack mentally but just becoming "pleasingly plump" as she ages. This brings on stiffness. Because in my case I free choice feed my dogs, it's pretty difficult- with 12 dogs - to only feed her certain dog food that is low calorie. But I'm going to have to attempt it so she does not fall away to a ton! She still charges the back fence line alerting to threats. There are many senior variety of dog food brands out there which have less calories for less active dogs. Again, Chewy is a great resource for these.
THE IMPORTANCE OF YOUR DEVOTION AND COMPASSION
Dogs have feelings too. They respond to your care and love with devotion and loyalty. How you treat your old timers is so important. Do not disrespect them or dismiss their importance. Do not support or buy from bad, irresponsible LGD breeders who treat their old timers with disrespect, or work or continue to breed them far too long in their senior years.
My older dogs get the red carpet treatment here and are always placed above younger dogs in little ways that show them they are "still a part of the picture" so they don't feel abandoned emotionally. Whether backing them up in a scrap, or letting a younger dog know it's out of line pushing an oldster out of their 'favorite spot' or away from food, I am there for them. It is the little things like this that count. My females are typically retired after 3 or 4 litters. They are not puppy machines bred into their senior years. Far too many gutter-dwelling backyard LGD breeders are doing that. Don't support it.
This post is by no means meant to cover all topics with older dogs, but hopefully it will prompt those with older and aging LGDs to 'do the right thing' and care for their senior dogs as they should be - and to enlighten you about some great links and resources as I've posted for you to check out. Take the time to do it. Knowledge - not ignorance - is power.
Truly, times come when older livestock guardian dogs must die of old age, or be put down. If the latter, do it compassionately and with respect and care. Don't force an older LGD to suffer needlessly. Until that time comes, please show compassion and appreciation for your canine partners, and make their sunset years as comfortable as you can - after all, they have given you their lives in service. It's the least you can do for them.