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Guest Post Friday SF SPCA Senior Scholars Class

A few months ago, I attended the first Senior Dog Seminar at the San Francisco SPCA. For anyone with an older dog, the class gave you valuable information on caring for your beloved, ensuring their golden years are as happy and healthy as they can be. One of the speakers at the seminar was Lisa Dossey, an instructor at the San Francisco SPCA. Today Lisa has contributed a guest post detailing her new Senior Scholars class, inspired by her dog Bonesy.

Senior Scholars is the first public class to be offered at the San Francisco SPCA catering to people (of any age) and their Senior Best Fur Friends (ages 7 and up)

We had a full group comprised of eager wise canines and people gather for our first set of classes starting October 29th, 2011. The class is designed for Senior Dogs and our first and foremost priority is your Senior Dog’s comfort and happiness. This is a four (4) week class - the first class is an orientation for humans only - and the following three (3) weeks are for you and your Senior Best Friend!

Delilah[Precious Delilah taking a rest on her plush cozy bed in her beautiful graduation necklace!]

The first week’s orientation includes an eye-opening (and surprise!) team exercise as well as a “Sharing circle” when we share our dog’s name, breed, age, and any medical and behavioral issues we should be aware of in order to make the class safe and fun for all attendees.

The following three (3) weeks include gentle stretching exercises (gentle and slow luring); fun scenting games you can try at home; “101 Things to do with a box” by Karen Pryor; gentle and fun tricks; basic review of recalls, take it/leave its, watches, etc....and more!

[Photo of Brenda and her Senior Best Friend, Finn in his graduation party hat! - Finn is 14 yrs old and recently became deaf, but as you can see, this has not slowed him down!  He responds beautifully to hand signals and still has lots of pep in his step!]

One thing we did not do in our Senior Scholars class was sit (the dogs that is!) Sit is a behavior most of our dogs have been conditioned to do before meals; before having their leash placed on; before heading out the door; etc...

But as our pooches get older, sitting can be painful on those arthritic and stiff joints, so they get a pass. Asking our Senior dogs to sit and stand, sit and stand, etc.. may be akin to asking our grandparent to sit and stand, sit and stand, .....so remember that next time your older Best Friend may be slower to sit next time.  They may be trying to tell you something.  I love a shirt I saw on one of my student’s dogs for a class graduation many years ago; it said ‘YOU SIT!”  - Enough said!

We also tried out a number of homemade and store-bought food puzzle toys in class also! Here is a great idea from the Marin Humane Society’s “After Eight’s” Senior Dog Seminar - 

*use a muffin tin and hide some tasty treats your dog loves (or their kibble if they love that!) inside where the muffins would usually go; then place a plastic, lightweight ball in top and let your dog have fun moving the ball to get to the treat!  This is a fun, easy way to add some mental stimulation to your dog’s day   *(Note: make sure toy balls you use are the appropriate size for your dog so they do not choke!)

Another fun, easy way to help make your dog’s meals more exciting is to simply scatter their kibble and allow them to use their incredible canine nose to go on a “scavenger hunt”! 

[Our surprise guest speaker Shelah Barr, of Happy Hounds Massage, sharing tips on gentle massage for your Senior on willing (and relaxed!) participant, Harleigh]

Some other fun puzzle toys we tried out were the “Seek a treat” wooden puzzle toy - orange tricky treat ball and the Senior Kong (yes, they do make a Kong especially for Senior Dogs!) They are purple and white swirl colored and are made of a softer rubber material that is more gentle on your Senior Dog’s jaws and tender teeth.  Some stores may not keep them in stock, so simply ask a sales associate and they can order you one!

Again, you want to choose treats, games, and activities that are comfortable and fun for your senior dog!

In addition to having an opportunity to spend some extra quality time with your Senior Best Friend, Senior Scholars is an opportunity to learn some new, easy and fun physical and mental stimulation activities you can try.  The class also includes a take home folder with many interesting articles/handouts specifically addressing your Senior’s needs. 

We will be offering the Senior Scholars class again in the new year - and the information will be on-line soon! Go to  www.sfspca.org for more information and to sign up!


More about the author: Lisa Dossey graduated from the San Francisco Dog Trainers Academy and completed their shelter in-house internship program. In 2005, Lisa attended the SF SPCA Public Class Curriculum workshop. Lisa is the current owner of Pups at their Peak Dog behavior consulting: offering private training, individual dog walking and dog and cat sitting, and she runs puppy and adolescent playgroups in Pacifica. Lisa has written and introduced some new classes at the San Francisco SPCA: “Rocket Recalls” and “Loose Leash walking.” In loving memory of her beloved Bones, she recently offered the “Senior Dog Seminar” as well as a new class for just senior dogs and their people called “Senior Scholars” starting Fall 2011.

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