Final Post: You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

When I first started ICM506, I wanted to write about web improvement. It was a practical choice at the time because it is what I do professionally, it is within my comfort zone, and it is safe. I still think that writing about web improvement is a lucrative venture, but as Professor Kalm pointed out, “there are a million people on the Web working on the Web and writing about the Web…What sets you apart?”

The question was fair. It pressed me to examine my own experiences and my passions.

In a time when sharing and accessing information has been made easy and commonplace through technology, I recognized that unique voices are more commonplace as well.

In an effort to more closely examine social media for another course, I had created an Instagram account for my 16-year-old dog. I wrote from his perspective. I thought I was so clever, but unbeknownst to me at the time, writing as your pet is a common practice on Instagram, and millions of people create their own pet accounts.

Again came the question: How could I stand apart from the millions of voices on the web?

As a senior dog owner, I knew that my experience of having a dog about to turn 17 was unique. I also noticed that the communities of puppy owners far surpass those with senior dogs. In my research I discovered that senior dogs are one of the most highly surrendered and under-adopted groups of dogs. I recognized this as a problem and thought about the ways in which I could possibly help.

As I researched, wrote, and rewrote within my new beat of senior dog advocacy and care, my persona of Old Paws came to fruition. Through Old Paws, I shared the challenges of having a senior dog and offered solutions. I examined why people most often prefer puppies, the issues of puppy mills, and the obstacles of senior dog care. My goal was to identify these issues as the underlying factors for why senior dogs are so underrepresented by society.

Beyond the course, I hope to continue to develop my voice and tie it into the voice I had created for my dog on Instagram. I want to expand my research on senior dog care and continue to raise awareness. I hope to be able to incorporate what I learn in the rest of the program into promoting this endeavor through a website and additional social media avenues such as Twitter. I may even pursue a partnership or role in a local rescue organization to help encourage the adoption of their senior dogs. I want to share my own experience, as well as tips and tricks to help welcoming a senior dog into your family a painless and rewarding experience.

This course has opened my eyes more on writing online. I learned that much of online writing is adapting to the outlets that people use to share and access information, such a social media. On the other hand, I learned that online writing is also about shattering cookie-cutter approaches to topics. By injecting my research with my own experiences on senior dog care, I can further add value to my voice.

Thanks for reading and remember, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

-Old Paws

“Can I Pet Your Dog?” Always Use Caution, Always

I’m walking my dog. His nose is to the ground in overdrive, breathing in all of the scents that a human nose would miss. We’re walking briskly. A car drives by and his ears perk up. His gaze follows it down the road and is quickly averted when he notices a squirrel. He lunges after it, barking.

A kid on a bicycle comes barreling behind us.

“Hey! Can I pet your dog?” he shouts.

“Sorry, he doesn’t really like to be pet.”

“Well, why not?” The kid pouts.

“Because he’s shy.”

A woman with a stroller walks towards us.

“Mom! I can’t pet the dog!”

The woman scrunches her face in a frown and ushers her son onward.

Not every dog takes warmly to strangers right away, and some dogs don’t work well with children. When a dog is scared or feels threatened, they may also react differently on a case by case basis. Some dogs may cower with their tail between their legs and try to avoid the person. Others may growl, and others may stay perfectly still, then react abruptly.

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when approaching a dog is assuming that the dog is comfortable enough to be approached. This is especially so with smaller dogs, which people see as cute and friendly regardless of whether the dog wants to be pet. Unfortunately, some dogs may bite when approached and the damage could be severe. It is therefore important to understand how to properly approach a dog.

How to Approach a Dog

The first thing that anyone should do prior to approaching a dog, is to ask the owner whether it is OK. The child in my example did the right thing by asking me first, but oftentimes people (and especially children) try to come pet my dog without even asking. It’s important to talk to the owner first because the owner has experience with their dog and will generally know how well their dog does with greeting strangers.

If the owner of a dog says that it’s not OK to pet their dog, you must be understanding. That owner is looking out for their dog and you. To dog owners: if you know that your dog does not take well to strangers or if you are uncertain, do not be afraid to speak up. Some people may unfortunately be offended; however, it is important that you say something to help prevent any unnecessary stress on your dog and any injuries.

If the owner of a dog says that it is OK to pet their dog, ask them how. Generally you will want to stand up straight and hold out your hand with the palm facing down so that the dog can sniff it. Be patient. If the dog wants to greet you, they will approach you.

I often see people crouch over a dog and put their faces in the dog’s face. This is potentially dangerous regardless of a dog’s size because it is an invasion of their space. I would also not recommend squealing at a dog or hugging it unless the owner says it’s OK. Even then, exercise caution when greeting a dog.

The issue of greeting a dog properly is important because it can help prevent unnecessary stress and injuries to others. As your dog meets more people, they may become more comfortable and the experience may be become more seamless. Have patience. Only you can look out for your dog.

Social Media Campaign: #NotTooOld

Clear the Shelters

The Clear the Shelters campaign was a nation-wide initiative on July 23 in which participating shelters waived or reduced adoption fees to help get their available animals new homes. Using the hashtag #ClearTheShelters on Instagram and Twitter, the campaign promoted the adoption of pets across the country and has succeeded in adopting out tens of thousands of pets.

I believe that the Clear the Shelters initiative should be longer than just a day and recur a couple of times a year to increase adoption rates. Currently, the hashtag has been used in 22,893 posts on Instagram with 7,332 posts using the alternate #cleartheshelter.

The campaign also covers a broad range of adoptable animals instead of focusing on a specific group. As such, I think it would be advantageous to form a campaign for senior dog advocacy specifically.

#NotTooOld Campaign

WHAT
The #NotTooOld social media campaign is a prospective national campaign (with potential of international reach) encouraging the adoption and care of senior dogs. Senior dog owners will post photos and videos of their senior dogs doing the same activities as younger dogs. Photos and videos will be posted with the hashtag #NotTooOld.

WHY
This social media campaign’s purpose is to raise awareness about the adoption and care of senior dogs, one of the most surrendered and under-adopted groups of dogs in the US.

WHERE
Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram

The purpose of the #NotTooOld social media campaign is to reinvent the negative connotation associated with senior dogs and to show people that senior dogs can have the same capabilities as their young counterparts.

Examples of posts using the #NotTooOld hashtag include photos and videos of senior dogs, doing tricks, running, hiking, swimming, travelling, playing with children, etc.

The social media platforms Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram use hashtags to group posts of a similar topic, thus joining individuals in the same conversation. Most popularly used, Twitter and Facebook would expand the dialogue about senior dog advocacy in care among a wide audience. Instagram’s emphasis is on photos and videos, and there is a large community of users with pet accounts through which they communicate is if they were speaking from the point of view of the pet. This concentrated community would make for a focused target audience for the #NotTooOld campaign. The campaign would run year-round.

Script: Scene from Weenie Blocked

FADE IN: A HOUSE IN THE SUBURBS OUTSIDE OF LOS ANGELES – DAY

BEN, KIRK, and LINDA sit around a coffee table in KIRK and LINDA’s living room. A couple of toddlers run through the room chasing each other, screaming.

BEN
I need you guys to take Grandpa. I don’t have time for a dog and since you’re Stacey’s family it makes sense that you take him.

KIRK
I’m sorry, Ben. I wish we could take Grandpa off your hands, but with the kids and all, having a dog would just be too much.

BEN
I don’t know anything about taking care of an old dog. I’m not cut out for it. Besides, I’ve gotta take care of the bar and I’ve got other things to do.

KIRK
I want to help you out, really—

BEN
You guys have a yard. And he’s like a kid—

LINDA
Oh, come on, honey. Grandpa is a sweetheart. He wouldn’t be a bother at all and the kids love him.

The kids run through the room again, one screams “Die! Die! Die!” at the other.

KIRK
Hey! Knock it off! We are trying to have a grownup conversation!

The younger of the two kids starts to cry.

LINDA
Now look what you did. It’s OK, Caitlin, Daddy didn’t mean it. Isn’t that right, Daddy?

Linda shoots Kirk a look, picks up the little girl, and guides the boy out of the room by his hand.

KIRK
Look, man, Linda and I haven’t had sex in three months. All we do is kid sh**. Play dates…Sponge Bob.. Sponge Bob! Do you have any idea how many times I have to listen to who lives in a pineapple under the sea? I know Stacey’s my sister and all, and what she did was pretty messed up taking off like that, and with that loser—what was he, a trucker?

BEN
Biker. F*** that guy.

KIRK
Yeah, f*** that guy. I liked you to together, but Stace always has a weird way of doing things. Bottom line, we can’t take that dog. No way.

BEN
What am I supposed to do with him? Stacey took care of everything with that dog. She brushed his teeth for God’s sake. I tried brushing his teeth once when she was out of town and the f***er bit me.

KIRK
Jesus Christ. That dog’s still got teeth? See if the shelter will take him.

Linda walks back into the room.

LINDA
The shelter, Kirk? Do you know what they do to old dogs at the shelter? They kill them!

Caitlin runs into the room crying.

CAITLIN
Don’t kill Grandpa!

KIRK to CAITLIN
No one is going to kill Grandpa.

KIRK to BEN
He’s ancient. He’ll probably die soon on his own.

CAITLIN shrieking
No!

LINDA
Seriously, Kirk. Ben, it’s just going to take some time for Grandpa to warm up to you.

Linda leaves the room with Caitlin again.

BEN
So, what? I’m just supposed to wait for this dog to die? And what happens if he’s some kind of super dog and lives to be 30 or something. That’s another 15 years! I can’t keep this dog, man.

KIRK
Join an old dog support group.

BEN
That’s a thing?

KIRK
I don’t know. You can start it. Chicks love guys who take care of the elderly. They’ll be eating out of the palm of your hand in no time.

BEN
Yeah, right. “Hi, I’m Ben and this is my Grandpa.”

KIRK
You’ll figure it out, man.

FADE OUT

Your Dog is How Old? What’s Your Secret?

When people hear that my dog is about to turn 17 they ask me what my secret is for his longevity. They anticipate a simple answer like “milk bones” or “carrots,” but the truth is that it’s been an ongoing process of research, trial and error, and probably good genetics.

One of the first topics I researched were medical issues specific to his breed. Due to their long backs, dachshunds and other breeds are prone to intervertebral disk disease (IVDD) which causes pain, damage, and even paralysis. Hard impact to the spine can worsen IVDD symptoms. With this in mind, I always took extra precautions to make sure that my dog did not do anything to strain his back.

Since he was a puppy, I did not allow my dog to jump on the furniture or climb stairs. I started this training at a young age because I understood that once a dog is permitted to do something for a long period of time, it becomes more difficult (though not impossible) to train him to do otherwise. As such, my dog no longer tries to jump on the furniture. As he got older, I also built ramps for him to get from the deck to the lawn and through any thresholds with a high step.

Not letting my dog on furniture was only part of the solution to prevent back strain. I also took additional measures to make sure that he felt comfortable on the ground. I bought a comfortable bed for him to lay in the living room and another for the bedroom. I also added blankets because he likes to burrow. Every so often I would join him on the ground to play or to pet him, to reassure him that being on the ground is still an enjoyable alternative to the couch or the bed.

In addition to preventing my senior from going on the furniture, I take care to manage his weight. As dogs get older, their energy level may decrease and they could gain weight, which often leads to joint strain and other medical issues. To maintain my dog’s weight, I take care not to feed him too much. I opted to feed him dry Science Diet kibble at the recommended serving size for his weight, and I progressed through the various Science Diet options throughout the years depending on his weight gain. Currently he is eating Science Diet Adult 11+ kibble, which has low calories and is high in nutrients.

Though some people feed their dogs people food, I choose not to. When my dog was younger, he would stand at the table and beg for food. His sad puppy eyes were tempting, and sometimes it was challenging to explain to others not to drop scraps, but today he no longer begs at the table and scarfs down his own food eagerly. To balance my dog’s weight, I also make sure he gets plenty of exercise. I walk him two to three times a day, and we play daily with toys and puzzles. This keeps my senior’s body and mind active.

Lastly, I am thorough about regularly grooming my dog and getting him checked out by the vet. I brush his teeth daily, clean his ears and trim his nails weekly, and give him a bath every couple of months (depending on the time of year and his odor levels). Then once a year I used to bring him to the vet for a checkup and any necessary vaccinations; though this has increased to twice a year at his current age.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to caring for a dog. Sometimes their longevity may not be affected by jumping on furniture, eating people food, or being groomed irregularly. While I know that others with senior dogs have their own regiments that also work, I must emphasize that key “secret” to taking care of a dog is to educate yourself, try your best, and make changes as necessary.

For my dog and I, my care has worked well so far. I look forward to celebrating his 17th birthday and several more birthdays to come.

Executive Summary Presentation

 

Weenie-Blocked-Presentation [ppt]

Background

  1. Allow me to introduce myself, I am Old Paws here to present to you an idea for the funniest upcoming movie of the season.
  2. When most people think about getting a dog, they say that they want a puppy. Why do people want puppies? Puppies are cute and entertaining, and it is often assumed that they are easy to train. Pet stores make getting a puppy an easy process. You go into a pet store, pick out a puppy, pay for it, and take it home. But where are these puppies coming from?
  3. Puppy mills. “A puppy mill is a large-scale commercial dog breeding facility where profit is given priority over the well-being of the dogs” (aspca.org/animal-cruelty/puppy-mills). In puppy mills, the conditions are inhumane. Thousands of puppies are kept in small poorly ventilated stacked wire cages. They lay in urine and feces, often become sick, and have little to no exercise or socialization. Female dogs are forced to reproduce with little time in between births and are often abandoned or killed when they can no longer give birth.
  4. Meanwhile, in over 13,600 shelters in the country, approximately 3.9 million dogs wait to get adopted. Of those dogs, the hardest to adopt out are seniors (aspca.org/animal-homelessness/shelter-intake-and-surrender/pet-statistics).

Weenie Blocked-The Movie

  1. To raise awareness about senior dog advocacy and care, I present to you the funniest upcoming comedy–Weenie Blocked.
  2. In this movie, the plot follows Ben, a thirty-something-year-old bartender, whose girlfriend, Stacey, dumps him for a biker she meets at his bar. Stacey takes off cross-country with her new lover and leaves behind Grandpa, her 15-year-old dachshund, with Ben.

    Ben tries to convince Stacey’s family to take Grandpa, but they refuse. He brings him to a shelter, but upon seeing people’s indifference toward senior dogs and after the adoption counselor tells him that Grandpa’s chances of getting adopted are low, Ben reluctantly keeps the senior dog.

    To get over his broken heart, Ben brings home numerous women, but each time is met with a challenge from Grandpa. He poops and pees where he wants, tears things up, and growls at everyone.

    Ben must learn to train the senior dog, but ultimately, Grandpa teaches Ben as well.

  3. With sufficient funding, a Hollywood big name such as Chris Pratt would star as Ben. Grandpa the 15-year-old dachshund would be created by CGI to give him more character. The goal for funding would be to come from Media Rights Capital and Seth MacFarlane’s Fuzzy Door Productions. The movie would be rated R for crude and sexual content, language and brief nudity. Filming would begin immediately in Los Angeles and conclude within a year.
  4. By bringing laughter into theaters and homes all over the country, Weenie Blocked would show prospective dog owners that you can teach an old dog new tricks. The movie would give senior dogs in shelters a fighting chance.

How to Deal with Your Senior Dog’s Incontinence

Let’s face it, as your dog gets older, he may have more accidents in the house. Also known as incontinence, your senior dog’s bladder may simply have a more difficult time holding urine.

I was lucky in that my senior did not start having regular accidents in the house until he was about twelve, but when the time came, I knew I would have to make some changes.

Potty Training 101

Like when potty training a puppy, the way you react to an accident is just as important as the measures you take to prevent one. If you catch your dog peeing where he shouldn’t, say “No!” loudly and take him immediately outside. Once outside, do not continue to scold your dog. If he finishes his business outside, be sure to praise him, and if he does not, bring him back inside and away from the mess you will need to clean up. Do this silently. Do not yell at your dog or rub their nose in the mess.

Clean Up

Not all cleaning solutions are created equal. The best accident cleanup product I tried out and stayed with is Urine Destroyer by Nature’s Miracle. It’s pricier than standard carpet cleaners, but if you don’t want your dog to pee in the same spot again, it will be worth the long-term damage you will prevent. This product not only cleans up the mess and leaves a clean scent, but it also doesn’t leave behind any residue like most carpet cleaners do. You can spend a little more money on a product that works well, or you can spend even more money replacing your carpet.

Go to the Vet

Rule out any medical issues that may be causing your senior to go more frequently. Get your dog checked out by the vet. If it’s a medical issue causing incontinence, it could be handled medically.

Timing

If your senior is urinating more often, they need to get let out more often. This may be easier said than done for most people, especially those who are unavailable to take their dog out during the day due to work or other obligations. After several days of trial and error, I found that my dog could avoid having an accident in the house for four to five hours at a time. Unfortunately, I was working too far from home to let him out during my break, so I had to find someone else. A friend of mine worked in the area and so I asked if she wouldn’t mind letting him out. Then, when she couldn’t, I asked someone else. Talk to your friends, family, and neighbors, anyone you trust in your home if you can’t take your dog out. There is also the option of hiring a dog walker or leaving your dog at a doggy daycare.

Other Options

When all else truly fails, you may want to consider indoor potty training your dog on training pads, a washable Potty Patch, or a real grass patch like Fresh Patch. In extreme cases of incontinence, your vet may recommend doggy diapers. As with any dog training, switching potty methods takes patience, time, and practice. Keep at it. You can teach an old dog new tricks, you just need to get creative.

Weenie Blocked the Movie: Opening Paragraph

People want puppies; they’re cute, entertaining, and factory produced in puppy mills by the thousands. Most people overlook the old grey dog sitting quietly in the shelter because they underestimate him. Next summer, Weenie Blocked the movie will raise awareness for senior dog advocacy and care, and prove that old dogs can learn new tricks. In this comedy to be funded and produced by Media Rights Capital and Fuzzy Door Productions, Chris Pratt will star as Ben, the thirty-something year old bartender, whose girlfriend, Stacey, leaves him to go cross-country with her new biker lover. Stacey leaves behind Grandpa, her 15-year-old dachshund, who does not get along with Ben or any of his lovers from the bar where he works. Ben must learn to deal with Grandpa or risk staying a lonely bachelor. Movie production of Weenie Blocked would begin immediately after funding and should not take longer than a year.

The Lump – Part 2

When I first found a lump on my senior dog, countless questions flowed through my mind. Will he be OK? Is it cancer? Should I have it removed? Is he too old for surgery? If I don’t have it removed, will it grow? If it grows, how will it affect him? If I have it removed, will it grow back? Can I handle this? What can I do to make him more comfortable?

The vet reassured me that it was not cancer and recommended not removing it unless it impeded his movement.

This was almost ten years ago.

I didn’t know how long my dog would live. The average life expectancy of a mini dachshund is twelve to fifteen years, and the risk of him not waking up from anesthesia outweighed the cosmetic benefits of having it removed.

Over the years, the lump grew. It grew slowly at first, and its growth was barely noticeable. Then it seemed to stop growing. And then it grew quickly. By the time he was 15-years-old, the lump was the size of an orange and an inch off the ground.

His mobility decreased. He tripped over it. He could not lay comfortably.

I knew it was time to discuss removing the lump.

I spent several days talking to my family about possible surgery and researching the procedure, prognosis, and possible side effects. Then I made an appointment to consult with the vet.

“We’ll run bloodwork on him first to determine whether surgery is a viable option. The procedure should not take long. We’ll administer anesthesia and monitor his temperature, heart rate, and respiration…” I swallowed the vet’s words carefully.

When the pre-operative test results became available the vet said he was impressed. “I rarely see bloodwork this good on a dog his age.”

I scheduled the surgery.

The weeks leading up to the surgery were nerve-wrecking. I second-guessed my decision every other day. If something bad happened, how would I ever forgive myself? How would my family forgive me?

The day came for my dog’s surgery and I took the morning off from work to drop him off at the vet. The vet assistant lead me to where he would stay before the surgery while they prepped–a metal cage. He trembled as I handed him over to her and looked back at me as if to say, “Please don’t leave me here!”

I could no longer stay composed. My eyes welled up. “Everything will be OK, buddy” I mumbled as I quickly swiped a tear off my cheek.

“Don’t worry, he’s in good hands. It’s OK if you cry.”

“I’m fine” I lied.

“We’ll call you in a couple of hours to let you know how it’s going.”

As I drove to work I thought I was going to have a panic attack. I pulled over in a Home Depot parking lot and just cried. A girl in a Camry pulled up next to me and started doing her makeup in the mirror. She looked over at me incredulously. I waved her look away to gesture I was fine.

But the truth was that I was not fine.

I wanted to roll down my window, tell her my story, and ask her if she thought I was doing the right thing. I needed reassurance. Instead I called my boss.

“I’m not going to make it in today.”

The next several hours ticked by slowly. I stared at my phone wishing they would call. What’s taking so long? I tried to keep busy to pass the time. I don’t know how people with kids do this. I tried taking a nap. But I didn’t want to miss the call. I guess no news is good news.

Then I called. “He’s doing fine, sweetie, we are getting him ready and will call you as soon as he’s done.”

I must have dozed off because suddenly my phone was ringing in my ear.

“He did great! You can pick him up in a couple of hours.”

__

My dog whimpered when the vet assistant put him in my arms. The excess skin was swollen and inflamed around the stitches.

“He’s going to be restless and groggy, so just keep him comfortable and give him his medicine…”

I was glad she wrote everything down, because her voice trailed off. All I could think about was how relieved I felt.

That night I held him until my arms went sore. It was the only way he would sleep. If I put him down, he whimpered in pain. I wanted to do something more, but felt helpless. I don’t know how people with kids do this.

The next day he slept on his own. The following week he was trotting again.

Today, my dog is running again. His arthritis bothers him once in a while, and a new lump has grown on his shoulder, but these haven’t slowed him down.

I look back at my dog’s surgery and feel proud. Though the risk of complications for a senior dog in surgery are high, having the lump removed was a good decision that improved his quality of life.