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Do Older Dogs Care Less?

Updated: Mar 15, 2023

You might be familiar with the adage about how, as we get older, we care less about what people think about us. I wonder if the same holds true for dogs. With Sierra and Bodhi, I have no idea what their attitudes were like as young pups, since they were each already between a year and two years old when I adopted them. At the time, they were adolescents morphing into young adults, which came with its own set of challenges. And from what I could tell, neither of them had had an easy start in life. In addition to giving them a stable environment with lots of love, I did plenty of training and behavior modification, and their behavior and compliance improved.

Over time, both dogs became very well trained. Eventually, I could let them run off leash on nearby park trails, and they would stop on a dime and come back to me when called, even if they were tearing off after a bunny. (I won’t lie; the bunny part took some time.) This went on for many years. Fast forward to Bodhi now being 13 years old, and Sierra 14. I’m not saying they’re not still well trained, but something has definitely changed, particularly with Sierra. At the park, when her name is called, if she deigns to raise her head, you can see her thinking, Can you not see that I’m sniffing something here? Or, the thought bubble simply reads, You’re not the boss of me! And she’s right. I’m not the boss of her, but I am the person who loves her and needs to keep her safe. She’s been ill lately, and I’ve naturally cut her some slack. Honestly, I’m just happy to see her out and about and enjoying life. I could care less if she stops on a dime any more. But, because both dogs are off leash on certain sparsely populated trails and do still need to do things like come when called, we’re doing a bit of easy, remedial training.

Granted, senior dogs may not run to us or respond to other cues as quickly as they used to. We have to make allowances for physical issues such as arthritis, pain, or plain old slowing down with age. No doubt mental processing slows a bit as well. As for not paying attention or coming when called, some older dogs begin to lose their hearing (as opposed to developing selective hearing!). But outside of physiological issues, what’s been your experience? Do you have senior dogs and if so, have they developed a bit of a lax attitude toward doing as asked? What say you?


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