Kate Titus, CCFT, FPMT, CTMT, CSMT and author explains how you can recognize and support your dog’s mobility changes.
Do You See What I See?
Mobility is life for any dog. Movement—supported or not—allows a dog to participate in his world independently. Smelling the base of a tree, seeing a rabbit run in front of him, hearing tiny feet scurry across the dry earth, nibbling on young tendrils of grass, feeling the smooth pebbles beneath his paws. These experiences are what make his life rich. Mobility allows him to explore his world and materially
enhance his quality of life.
Every year, I talk to hundreds of dog owners who come to A Loyal Companion Mobility Center in Tucson, Arizona, looking for help. Many clients have asked me this question in one form or another: “How can I help my dog continue to enjoy his life doing the things he loves without pain or discomfort for as long as his body and mind will allow?”
My answer is always the same: Your most important job in caring for your dog is paying attention. You spend every day with him, sharing simple things such as a living space and complex things such as emotions. By sharpening your senses, you can recognize subtle changes in the way your dog moves through his world.
Because you spend so much time with your dog, you are perfectly positioned to notice changes in his activities of daily living (ADLs).
These are the seemingly simple parts of his everyday life. Paying attention to these areas will help you see changes in his mobility and how he interacts with his world. Here are the five areas to focus on:
This is the ability to move or transition from one place or position to another. This includes sitting, standing, lying down, walking, and the ability to transition between any combination of these four activities.
This category also includes more complex activities such as boarding and offloading from a vehicle, and mounting and dismounting furniture or bedding locations.
This is the foundation for all other ADLs. When a dog struggles with any of these actions, he will struggle with at least one other area.
- Hesitation in completing any of these tasks
- Taking longer than usual to move into any position
- Pulling with the front legs to rise from a sitting position rather than pushing the rear end up with the rear limbs
- Provide traction support like boots or rugs to reduce slipping during the transitions
- Use a harness to help support him into or out of these positions (but don’t help too much!)
Eating and Drinking
In this area, it’s less about the action of consumption and more about getting to the food or water station and staying long enough to finish. This activity includes moving to and from the eating and drinking stations, and standing to eat or drink until finished.
- Sinking rear end when standing to eat or drink
- Longer drinks and less frequent trips to the water bowl
- Lying down to eat or drink
- Provide traction support like boots or rugs in the feeding and water areas
- Elevate the water and food bowls
- Provide more water stations through the home and yard
Grooming and Hygiene
Dogs provide more self-care of their coat and skin than people tend to realize. He keeps his coat healthy through appropriate levels of cleaning through licking, nibbling, scratching, and shaking off. As dogs age or their mobility changes, their strength, balance, and flexibility decline. They are unable to rid their coat of debris or water.
- Less frequent shake offs
- Shake offs that stop at a certain point of the spine then start again further down the spine or tail
- Excess oil, dandruff, or smell from the coat
- Gently support him as he shakes so he doesn’t fall
- Brush his coat more frequently
- Dry him thoroughly after water activities or walks in wet climates
For our purposes, the concern isn’t with the quality of output (pee or poop) as much as the action of eliminating. A dog who can eliminate independently will move to and from the elimination area and can take and hold the necessary position such as squatting or leg lifting. He will also have control over times and locations for pee and poop. Be careful not to assume incontinence when the problem could be your dog’s inability to move to the designated area.
- Dribbling or uncommon accidents near the exit to the pee/poop area
- The Walking Poop – He doesn’t squat, but walks while he poops
- Change in position to pee (females more standing position and males not lifting a leg to pee)
Mental engagement is more than thinking. It refers to a willingness to be involved and participate in the activities around him.
Pay attention to how your dog plays with humans or other animals, investigates his surroundings, problem solves, and navigates social interactions with animals and humans.
- Decreased interaction with those around him
- Not moving from room to room with you
- Behavior changes during interactions such as growling or snapping
- Provide toys, games, food puzzles and play sessions with you or family members
- Keep him with the pack when ever possible by helping him move from room to room
- Take him to a local park or new space that he can smell and experience something different
Changes occurring over time are often missed, especially by those who are closest to the dog. An occasional stumble on a walk or a slight hesitation in loading into the car can be easily chalked up to uneven surfaces or bad timing. Paying conscious attention to what your dog is doing—or not doing—will help you recognize key changes.
Consider change to be a neutral word without negative or positive connotations. As with all living beings, dogs progress through stages as their bodies adjust to internal and external circumstances. Remember, as your dog’s guardian, your job is not to identify the cause of a change but to recognize that the change exists. Recognizing and accommodating those changes will improve his quality of life and make him a happier dog. That’s what we all want, isn’t it?!
Want to Read More?
Now available at Walkin’ Pets, Sit.Stand. Go!: How to Help Your Dog Overcome Mobility Challenges by Kate Titus.
Kate Titus, CCFT, FPMT, CTMT, CSMT
Kate Titus is a Certified Canine Fitness Trainer (CCFT), FitPAWS Master Trainer (FPMT), and Certified Canine Therapeutic and Sports Massage Therapist (CTMT, CSMT).
In 2008, Kate founded A Loyal Companion to provide massage, exercise, and mobility solutions for dogs. In 2015, she opened the first canine fitness and mobility facility in Arizona, featuring an indoor swimming pool and complete dog gym. Since then, more than 2,000 dogs and their pet parents have come through the doors in Tucson.
In addition, Kate lectures to groups on fitness, massage, and senior dog mobility issues. Her work has appeared in various publications, including on the popular national dog culture magazine, The Bark.
Currently, she’s a board member and past chairperson with Gabriel’s Angels, where she was a therapy team volunteer with her heart-dog, Harley. Gabriel’s Angels is a nonprofit that provides pet therapy for at-risk children in Arizona.
Kate loves and lives with a joyful rat terrier named Half Moon, a sassy senior Dalmatian named Dottie, an empathetic and athletic boxer named Helen and her wife, Kathy