I remember meeting Daisy for the first time back in 2002: she was a lovely, gentle puppy whom Celine had just acquired from a prestigious line of Kildare Shih Tzus. She went on to live the healthy life of a fit active adult dog, and I rarely saw her until 2011.
It was during her annual check up three years ago that Celine mentioned a new problem: Daisy had started coming to a full halt on her walks. She would just stop, and sit down, refusing to budge. Celine had to carry her home to avoid being stuck out in the cold for ages.
When I checked Daisy over, I could find nothing dramatic wrong with her. She had a mild heart murmur, but that’s common in older dogs, and there were no other signs of heart disease. She had some arthritis, with slightly creaky joints, but it’s rare to find an older dog that is completely clear of this type of issue. I could find no single reason for Daisy refusing to walk, so I suggested that Celine try simple training methods to try to encourage her little dog to keep walking.
Celine did her best: she used tasty treats to try to tempt Daisy forwards. She tried walking her in new places to make the strolls more interesting and exciting. She tried a special harness to gently pull her along. She tried pleading with her. She tried getting cross with her. Nothing worked. Daisy is a determined little dog, and once she had decided that she didn’t want to walk anymore, that was that. She just stopped in her tracks and refused to budge.
As time went on, the problem deteriorated, to the extent that walks became an ordeal: Daisy hid under the chair when she saw the lead and Celine dreaded the prospect of carrying her yet again. She may be a small dog, but she’s a big enough bundle to carry in your arms. I discussed the problem with Celine and we decided to investigate the problem in more detail, in case there was some hidden illness lurking underneath the surface. We carried out detailed blood and urine tests: could low grade liver or kidney disease be depleting Daisy’s energy levels? When the results came back, they were normal. So what is going on with this little dog? Why does she just sit down and refuse to budge?
This type of case is challenging for vets and owners. The answer to the problem is probably a combination of the physical and the psychological. As the years have passed, Daisy’s heart murmur has become louder, and her joints are a bit stiffer and creakier. When she goes for a walk, it’s likely that she begins to feel tired and uncomfortable (just like many older people). Over the past three years, she’s learned that if she just sits down, she’ll eventually be picked up and brought home, which is exactly what she wants.
In theory, Celine could work hard to keep prompting Daisy to want to walk, but the reality is that an elderly little dog is never likely to want to walk as briskly as an adult human. Celine has made a practical decision: she heads out on walks with a buggy, and when Daisy gets tired and wants to stop, she lifts her into it.
Celine realises that she may look like a mad dog woman with her dog baby in a pram, but she doesn’t care. She has found the answer to the problem: now Daisy stands at the door wagging her tail when it’s time for a walk and both Celine and Daisy are able to exercise for as long as they want, at their own pace.
- Older dogs often become slower and less keen to exercise
- It’s important to rule out underlying conditions that can be treated
- Mobility aids – such as dog buggies – can provide a practical solution to the problem