Love and Enrichment for a Dog with Dementia

Jennifer and Yoda

Jennifer Fearing and Yoda

Enrichment is a win/win situation. Studies say that we **may** be able to slow the onset and progress of canine cognitive dysfunction by enriching our dogs’ lives. But even if we don’t, we certainly are helping them in the moment.

I have gotten to know Jennifer Fearing and her lovely dog Yoda through my book and this page. She read my book and prompted the Sacramento Bee to mention it in an feature article about aging pets. I’ve linked the article below.

What I want to highlight from the article is the movie Sue Morrow of the Sacramento Bee created of Jennifer and Yoda. It is a beautiful example of caring for a dog with cognitive dysfunction and keeping him active and engaged.

Our pets are living longer than ever before–Sue Morrow, The Sacramento Bee

Jennifer has loved and cared for Yoda since he was an abandoned pup, four weeks old. Even with the slight standoffishness that has accompanied his dementia, you can see how strong the bond is between them. The movie gives me goosebumps. Jennifer speaks so frankly of their relationship, the ways she helps him. Jennifer is working with board certified veterinary behaviorists at U.C. Davis to give Yoda the best life possible for his remaining time, and speaks about the importance of recordkeeping to track his condition and quality of life.

Jennifer told me that Yoda has had no small part in shaping the person she has become., and that she feels it is her privilege to care for Yoda. We should all be so lucky as he.

Related Articles

Keeping a Wandering Dog Safe and Happy at Night

Beetle, a brown and white Jack Russell Terrier

Beetle


 

My friend Jane Jackson has graciously agreed to share her story about her wandering senior dog Beetle and how she kept him safe at night. These are her words.

“I have a Jack Russell Terrier who will be 16 the day after Christmas.  In the last year, he had started to pace and wander at night and eliminate in the house. I had never crate trained him beyond the early puppy stage although I had tried a couple times. He hated confinement (this was before I had trained at the Karen Pryor Academy, so I didn’t know how to help him feel better about it). My husband was really tired of cleaning up the house or the alternative when he got up in the morning (he got up long before I did) though, so something had to be done. I put a wire crate in my bedroom, right next to my bed, put Beetle’s favorite blankets in it and when I went to bed, I put him in it with a treat or two and then dangled my hand through the wire in an effort to help him feel comfortable as I tried to go to sleep. Before long, I could feel and hear him start to shake, pant, and then whine, and so I opened the crate door. He walked a couple steps and pooped on the floor. That obviously wasn’t going to work. 

A brown and white terrier sleeps in his bed inside an exercise pen that prevents wandering

Beetle, cozy in his bed in his ex-pen, with night light nearby

Next I thought I’d try an ex-pen setup as I had seen another trainer do for her elderly beagles. I was afraid he’d howl and panic being confined but I gave it a try hoping he wouldn’t soil his bed. I put the ex-pen around his favorite bed in his favorite corner and made it about the size of two crates, putting pee pads on the bare floor. I waited until he was asleep and then closed it up. I turned a night light on right next to it, crossed my fingers and went to bed. Lo and behold, he was sleeping peacefully in the morning and the pee pads were clean and dry. The same thing happened the next night, and the next and so on. In the approximately nine months since we’ve been doing this, I’d say he has peed on the pads maybe once a month. I’ve never heard a peep from him (our bedroom is close enough I would) and my husband says Beetle is sound asleep when he gets up in the morning. He opens the pen so that when Beetle does wake up, he can get out on his own.

It is astonishing to me that this works and I can justify it in various human ways but I just wanted to share it in case someone else has a dog who can’t tolerate a crate and assumes that an ex pen won’t work. 

I got this particular ex-pen because it is plastic and I didn’t want a wire one scratching up our wooden floors. The thing I dislike about it is that it is REALLY loud when you move the panels. They don’t slide open and closed, but POP, POP, POP. I find it annoying but it scares the bananas out of Beetle. I open it all up during the day (as seen in the photo below) so I have to remind myself to get it set up for nighttime before he drifts off. I do always sit with him (the dining room table is right next to this) until he goes to sleep. I don’t know if it’s necessary but I prefer it to feeling like I’m locking him up and leaving. 

A brown and white terrier is in his bed inside an open exercise pen

The open pen during the day

My human best guess is that being confined reassured him rather than panicked him because it limited his options. Rather than wandering around the dark house looking for me or a way out, getting more and more anxious, he just went back to sleep. I didn’t use a webcam so I don’t know how much he paced in there but nothing was disturbed and as I said, I never heard a peep even though he was always one to squeak or howl if he got locked somewhere behind a closed door by accident.”

This is Eileen writing again. What works for individual dogs really varies. But Jane and I wanted to share this method because it’s worth a try for others who are dealing with night wandering and incontinence issues in their dogs. Beetle doesn’t normally like being confined, but he felt safe and comfortable in the ex-pen setup. Some of the rest of you may be so lucky with your dogs as well!

Jane Jackson is certified by the Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training & Behavior (KPA CTP), is a Certified Level 2 TAGteacher, and a member of Alexandra Kurland’s coaching guild.

You can contact her and read more of her work at The Dog Chapter

Webinar: Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Is your old dog starting to act a little…different? Or do you have a mentally healthy senior dog and you hope to keep him or her that way?

Join me in my webinar on canine cognitive dysfunction and dog dementia through the Pet Professional Guild on Monday, December 14, at 1:00 PM U.S. Eastern Standard Time.

Small black and white terrier stands in a corner with her head in a corner close to the wallI’ll be covering the definition and prevalence of the disease (much more prevalent than most of us knew!), common symptoms (including on unpublished videos), the treatments that show promise, and questions to ask your vet. I’ll also discuss the commonalities with human Alzheimer’s, and most important, how to keep a dog with dementia safe and enriched. I’ll include the subjects of euthanasia and quality of life. Euthanasia seems to be an even more difficult decision for owners of dogs with dementia than with a dog with most other infirmities.

Even though the behavioral symptoms that arise with cognitive dysfunction mostly can’t be modified with training, I’ll talk about how trainers can help their clients with dogs afflicted with this condition.

There will be resources galore for further information including links to videos, product descriptions, and assessment and decision-making tools. There will also be time allotted for questions.

The webinar will be recorded and all participants will receive the URL for access. This is a great option if you can’t come at the scheduled time.

Cricket with advanced cognitive dysfunction late in her life

Cricket with advanced cognitive dysfunction late in her life

Hope to see you there!

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction: What Dog Trainers and Owners Need to Know