The Happiness Center

Lifestyle Choices for a Senior Dog’s Health, Safety, Comfort, and Happiness

The site suggests many ways you can keep your senior dog safe, comfortable, healthy and happy.  Here are some practical — and fun!! — ideas that will be a bonus to your efforts.

Steadying Those Paws

Arthritis and decreasing muscle mass make your senior less stable on her paws.  Cover floors with non-slip mats and stairs with a non-slip runner to prevent slipping, sliding, and falling. Some dogs will tolerate wearing non-slip socks or nail attachments designed to prevent slipping.  Regular nail trimming to the proper length will also help.

If your senior regularly walks a flight of stairs, use a harness or vest with a sturdy leash attached so that you can assist as needed.  You don’t want her to slip and tumble down the stairs, and a vest or harness will help you prevent that — a collar won’t do that safely or effectively.  At the Senior Dogs Project, we like to use the kind of vest that has velcro attachments, making it quick and easy to get on and off.


Holding Onto the Leash

Dogs can get into trouble when eyesight and hearing start to go.  Cognitive decline is another condition that can lead to accidents.  One of our Goldens stepped into a deep pothole that was directly in front of her because she didn’t see it;  another of our dogs, while walking offleash, stopped to sniff and then headed off in the wrong direction at top speed when he lost track of where we were.  Since he was deaf, he could not hear the calls to him to come back.  We had to do an exhausting sprint to get to him.  As soon as you notice diminished sight or hearing or mental confusion, it’s time to take action:  if you’ve been using a collar and leash, switch to a harness or vest and non-retractable leash, and, unless you’re in a very controlled environment, hang onto that leash.

Drinking and Dining

Photo by Izzy Gerosa on Unsplash

Fresh, clean water, free from contaminants, is critical to a dog’s good health.  At the Senior Dogs Project we place water bowls right next to food bowls and also at several places around the house where the dogs spend time, making them easily accessible.  Arthritis and muscle weakness can make bending over to food and water bowls problematic for your senior.  You may notice his hind legs shake a little as he tries to get to the proper position for drinking or eating. We put non-slip mats under and around the bowls and sometimes make a slight adjustment in the height of the bowls.  Such an adjustment might be helpful and can easily be achieved with a cardboard box that’s just a few inches high.  (There are also raised bowls commercially available, although, at a fixed height that might not be right for your dog, their use is controversial.) We wash food bowls in the dishwasher on the hottest setting and scrub water bowls with soap and hot water and refill with fresh water each morning.



Beds and Bedding
You really do need to indulge your senior dog in the best resting and sleeping environment possible.  Every aging body needs good quality rest.  There are many choices on the market.  Donut beds with an orthopedic mattress are a favorite of Senior Dogs Project residents, although some of our dogs select different types of beds for different purposes — a donut bed for resting during the day, and a flat, bolstered mattress at night.  We also like to provide a bath towel that can be scratched at and fluffed up into the proper arrangement before lying down.  Every part of the bed should be completely washable and dryer-safe.  If incontinence is an issue, any part of the bed that’s not washable should be covered in a water-proof sleeve.


Protective Gear

Your older dog will feel the effects of weather.  There are so many choices — both practical and fashionable — for protection from rain and the cold.  And don’t forget boots, if there’s snow or ice on the ground.  Salt that is used to thaw ice can be problematic, especially if your dog licks his paws.




You may be a fashionista and want to spoil your dog (and yourself) with the latest in designer dog clothes.  Feel free to indulge!  However, functional and protective clothing should also be on your shopping list.  Here’s a description of some of those items, along with a really funny video of dogs trying on their new boots…….





Grooming and Massage
An aging dog needs serious attention to grooming.  To prevent slipping, nails need to be trimmed regularly so that they do not touch the floor when the dog is standing.   Frequent brushing and, depending on your dog’s coat, regular visits to a professional groomer need to go on your dog’s schedule.  An important part of a grooming routine is running your fingers and hands over all the parts of your dog’s body to check for parasites, lumps, bumps, and swellings.  Many choices exist for the types of grooming tools that will be right for your dog.  Consult your veterinarian and a professional groomer to get some advice.  Massaging your dog is good not only for your dog’s relaxation, but for your own, as well.  And it’s great for bonding with your dog!

Car Rides!

Keep your senior engaged in life by taking him with you whenever possible, even on a short car ride.  One safe way to drive is with the dog in a harness attached to a seat belt.  This will keep him from distracting you while you’re driving, and will provide a safe place for him to ride.  For longer rides, we’ve noticed that our dogs like a donut bed to lie in.  The attachment of the harness to the seatbelt should be long enough to allow your dog to lie down comfortably.  If your senior has trouble getting up into your car, there are steps and ramps that will help.





13-y-o Tux going along on a hike in Maine in a dog-riding backpack

If you’re a hiker, your dog is one of the luckiest dogs in the world.  Gear of all kinds exists to make it fun for all.  Special backpacks that distribute weight properly and are comfortable for you to wear will provide an alternative, should your dog become tired and need to be carried. 

Great information on hiking with your dog at the American Hiking Society site




Travel Holidays!

12-y-o Golden Retriever “Gypsy” on a trip to San Francisco

No reason to leave your senior at home when you decide to go on a trip.  Many hotels, motels, Airbnbs, etc., accept pets.  More info…

And here are some tips on how to stay at hotels with your dog….






Old Dog, New Tricks!

Teaching your senior new tricks is far and away THE BEST way to keep her engaged in life and in her relationship to you and your family.  The more mental stimulation you provide, the more opportunities there are for counteracting the effects of cognitive decline.  Here are eleven tricks you can teach your senior….




Maybe Not the Fun Part…….

A bellyband helps with urinary incontinence

As dogs get older, just like humans, they are likely to  need more bathroom breaks during the day and possibly during the night.  Frequent “pee walks” during the day are one part of the solution.  And, at night, products like doggie diapers, bellybands, and puppy pads can help manage the size of needed clean-ups.  You will also want to keep clean-up and sanitizing supplies handy.   More advice on dealing with incontinence…..