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Old Dog, Escape Tricks

It was February of this year when Ty the Wonderdog began having problems with his back legs and hips.  It's been up and down over the months since.  He has good days, when he wants to do a few minutes of play-fighting or take a short walk, and he has bad days, when he has trouble doing much more than lying around.

Now...  now we think his mind might not be all that sharp.

It's little things, really. He will go wander around the house sometimes. Yesterday he walked around the dining table twice, then just stood on its farthest side and stared at the chair until I called his name. At night, our normally snooze-happy pup prowls from the living room to my room and back again. Sometimes he just circles around the kitchen two or three times before deciding to find us again.

The other thing that's happening is both scary and funny at the same time.

Since moving here some years ago, we've successfully used electronic collars to keep our pups from leaving the yard. Ty has always tested the boundaries, and has on occasion traipsed past them for a few moments -- putting up with the mild electric shock to get what he wanted. But three times in the last week, he has wandered off completely.

Our dogs are primarily inside dogs. When we're home, they're free to go outside or come inside at will, and we've established ways to communicate their wishes. In most weather, they'll stay outside for quite awhile until "asking" to come back inside. Our first indication that something was wrong was when Gambit asked to come inside, and Ty was nowhere to be found.

The first time, when I found him sniffing my neighbor's front porch, I assumed the battery in his collar had died and changed it. The second time, when I found him exploring a nearby gully, I assumed the system needed to be checked and reset. I wandered our property perimeter with the collar pressed to the palm of my hand in order to ensure it worked at the borders we'd set. I found no problems or gaps.

I thought all was well. But today, after a mere few minutes, Gambit was jumping at the backdoor to come inside. Ty was gone. I threw on my shoes and coat and started looking and calling and whistling. Eventually I spotted him wandering in the field between my neighbor's home and the river. Mind you, he wasn't wandering very quickly, but he'd managed to go about a quarter mile.

When I called for him, he twitched his ears but kept heading toward the river. When I started jogging after him, he starting trotting as if he wanted to outrun me. And when I finally got close enough to take hold of his collar, he snorted at me but came along quietly. The entire time, his massive kangaroo tale never stopped wagging. And when we finally walked into the house, he headed for his water bowl first, then flopped down on his living room rug as if nothing had happened.

Honestly, what it reminded me of was the year or two between the onsite of my grandfather's dementia and the decline into anger and violence, the year or two when the stories about him were sad and funny rather than sad and painful. There I was, under doctor's orders not to jog or run, trying to hustle after my dog who can't really job or run but who is determined to outdistance me for kicks and giggles. We must have looked ridiculous.

I wonder if Ty is thinking he's still out on the farm, with more than a hundred riverfront acres to wander at will. I wonder if he's simply trying to regain that freedom. I wonder if I'm trying to impose some sense of logic on the actions of a pup who is obviously and unstoppably aging.

And at the same time, I have to smile. Ty has always been the sweetest of dogs, and also the most determined of dogs. He's a Lab who'd gladly swipe a roast from the counter, and take the scolding with a tail-wag because it was SO worth it. I can't help but wonder if his internal monologue is something like, "Piss off, Nice Human!" with a tail-wag. "I'm going to the river and you can't stop me! Neener-neener, catch me if you can! Woo-hoo!"



( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 17th, 2014 08:07 pm (UTC)
Maybe one of those dog trainer sites where they are gentle and savvy would have advice?
Dec. 18th, 2014 04:09 am (UTC)
If I could, I'd fence part of the land for Ty to wander within but... sigh. We're going to try a new collar just in case his isn't working as well as we think it is. For right now the best we can do is make all outside time supervised time.
Dec. 18th, 2014 04:28 am (UTC)
Sounds like a good compromise.
Dec. 17th, 2014 09:04 pm (UTC)
How old is Ty now?

How are you after having to run to catch him?
Dec. 18th, 2014 04:09 am (UTC)
I'm actually fine. Ty can't move very fast. :) I'm sure my neighbors wonder why I didn't just dash after him since he was poking along!
Dec. 18th, 2014 05:09 am (UTC)
Whoop, didn't see your other question.

Ty is thirteen, with his fourteenth birthday coming up in the spring. Pretty old for his breed, alas.
Dec. 18th, 2014 01:21 pm (UTC)
Are you going to continue to let him out since he likes to wander so much these days?
Dec. 18th, 2014 04:17 pm (UTC)
Only under supervision from now on.
Dec. 18th, 2014 03:41 pm (UTC)
I hate to say this, but he may be getting ready to pass on. I've known several old dogs who started determinedly wandering away right before the end. They weren't sick; there was no obvious reason to take them to the vet - it was more like their instincts were leading them away.

There's really nothing you can do but supervise him outdoors from now on. I wouldn't rely on the collar to stop him any more.

*hugs hugs* I'm sorry. He sounds like such a wonderful dog.
Dec. 18th, 2014 04:22 pm (UTC)
I agree. Dev and I discussed that possibility this morning, once I made the connection between what Ty is doing and what often happens in hospice situations.

Hugs appreciated. He is indeed a wonderful dog. :)
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )


Blair MacGregor

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