I’m taking a significant risk at ruffling some feathers but I’m going to do it anyway. The age of eighty is too old to take on the raising and training of a puppy. There. I said it. I’m going to go one further. I believe the age of seventy is the cut off point for the average person. Now, before you go straight to the comment section, hear me out. This determination comes from years of observation. I have observed that around age 70 raising and training a puppy becomes precarious. There is cognitive decline, physical decline and an unwillingness, perhaps not intentionally, to be open to new or different ways of doing things. And I don’t merely have to observe it. My clients affirm what I’m seeing when they admit their shortcomings to me.
My newest client bares the grand age of 82. She’s fit and independent, currently. But she’s struggling as anyone of that age would be. Raising and training a puppy requires learning or relearning physical and cognitive skills that haven’t been practiced for most people since they took on their last puppy 15 years prior. Puppies move fast and with unpredictability. On the leash they lunge backward, forward, to the side and around. Off the leash they get under foot in the sneakiest of ways and they require A LOT of bending to the floor. Bending to wrestle them into their gear. Bending to put them in their crate. Bending to clean their messes. Bending to set their bowls down. Bending to pick their bowls up. Bending to clean their crate. I think you get it. It’s a lot of bending.
Paper-thin skin and balance are at stake as well as joint pain at an advanced age. My clients of a certain age often display their battle wounds received from a new puppy along their hands and forearms. These same wounds won’t be seen on someone with less years on them. Joint pain can hinder my client’s ability to sit on the floor or communicate with the dog in a kneeling or bent position as the training sometimes requires and frequently it can prohibit them from being able to outfit their dog in their training gear. I frequently make adjustments for my clients in an effort to help them work around these requirements, often with subpar results. Above all, my client’s balance gives me the greatest concern. Whether they are playing with their dog or walking their dog or just simply trying to move about their home with their dog, their ability to balance themselves when their puppy behaves erratically will prove to either save them or bring them great harm.
Beyond limitations of body and mind, the aspect of taking on a puppy at a certain age that I struggle with the most, is the likelihood of not outliving your dog. I understand we all take on a risk when we take in a dog to call our own that something unfortunate may occur causing the dog to need to be re-homed. But when the imminent is looking back at us in the mirror I wonder what some folks are thinking when they bring home a puppy in their golden years. Not everyone will be fortunate enough to count on a friend or relative to take in their dog upon their passing. There was a time recently when I was concerned that my father would take on a puppy as his last birddog went to be with Jesus this year. My father is 79 years old. I wasn’t so concerned for my parents health and safety in the near term as they are doing alright at this moment and are seasoned dog owners but rather I was concerned about what would happen 10 years from now. Would the dogs I currently have still be with me? Could I take on a third? Where would my brother, his family and his dog be in 10 years? Could they do it?
I never thought I’d be as old as I am now. Sometimes I think to myself “I may only have one more opportunity to raise a puppy after my current pair has crossed the rainbow bridge.” That’s a solemn concept to consider if you feel the way about dogs that I do. I could never live long enough to experience life with all of the breeds I fancy. But it’s my current reality. If I’m fortunate enough to live a long, healthy life it may only make sense for me to raise one more puppy if the two I have now are fortunate enough to live long, healthy lives. I’m already noticing the strain on my body as the years have piled up. I had to take a step back in my work load a few years ago because of back pain. My knees and joints ache from time to time and they most certainly ache when performing tasks related to the dogs. My sight weakens every passing year and I’ve noticed I’m starting to acquire cuts and bruises on my hands from working with dogs that I never had in the past. The question to ask yourself is this. “Am I comfortable with going before my dog?” If the answer is yes, I encourage you to take binding action that will provide for them when that time comes.
Halfway through writing this post the client I mentioned at the top texted me to tell me she needed to cancel our upcoming lesson as she has decided the puppy is too much for her and has relinquished her to a younger family member. I told her I completely understand and that I was sorry if she was sad. She responded that she was very sad and then listed a few factors that she hadn’t considered before acquiring the puppy in regards to how her life has changed since she had raised puppies in the past. In the past she had greater capability and she had help as her husband was still living. She even went as far as to say she expects she’ll be in assisted living before long. Such a sweet woman. Not all folks are willing to admit that they may have made a mistake as well as bare the pain of being without their beloved pet upon re-homing. She is better for it. She’s lucky she has someone that will take over for her.
Lastly, I want to point out that taking care of a senior dog can be very hard work. It can bring great disruption to one’s life and create a large deficit to a bank account. All of these aspects can be difficult for anyone let alone an elderly person. Would you be able to help a grown dog traverse its environment when it has joint pain while you’re suffering with your own?
I understand why folks want to raise a puppy. There’s nothing better than being completely in control of your puppy’s rearing. The likelihood of having to deal with behavior problems is greatly reduced when putting forth your best effort from 10 weeks on. And who doesn’t love a puppy? To watch them change and grow physically and behaviorally is a tremendous joy particularly, if you are considering it may be your last opportunity. But if you find yourself at a place where you’re considering bringing a puppy into your life in your 8th decade and beyond take a moment to consider your circumstances, 5, 10 and 15 years from that moment, in an effort to assist in the best possible decision.