Those of us who live with senior dogs that have what most people would perceive as limitations, disabilities, age-related illnesses and disease often have a difficult time deciding whether to sing the “Poor Baby” song or act as cheerleaders encouraging the dog to be the best version of himself that he can be right now at this time in his life.
If you’ve adopted a rescue senior dog or are providing a permanent foster home for Old Dog Haven it’s hard not to fall into the “poor baby” trap because you know your dog has either experienced grief, abandonment, neglect, abuse, or all of the above and has ended up as a throw-away shelter dog that hasn’t been cared for physically, mentally or emotionally. Or, you may have a dog that came from a family who loved him but he’s been suddenly become homeless because of circumstances beyond his control.
Here’s what’s important to remember: Dogs live in the moment and you need to be in the moment with your dog too. We have no control over what went on in the dog’s past, so treating him like an invalid or a wounded warrior serves no useful purpose. Feeling sorry for the dog doesn’t allow the dog the freedom to be happy about today. Your pity contaminates what’s possible. Celebrate your dog’s spirit and help him live his life happily and productively. Once a dog feels safe and loved his ability to cope with his limitations is impressive—especially if he has someone he trusts acting as cheerleader.
I could give you dozens of examples of dogs that are thriving because their people don’t feel sorry for them and are interested in helping the dogs use whatever abilities they have to function and be happy but I’m sure you get my point. Please understand too that I’m not suggesting that sympathy and compassion aren’t appropriate emotions to express to your dog because it’s also important that he understands you know what he’s experienced in his past, and what he’s going through now, but there’s a big difference between positive compassion and pity.
Dogs want to be valued as they are and with a little encouragement they’ll rise to the occasion and do just fine, regardless of their apparent limitations, IF you eliminate the “Poor Baby” song from your repertoire and sing “I Can Do That” as a duet with your dog. Then, as an encore you could both channel your inner Louis Armstrong and sing “What a Wonderful World.”