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The Life of Riley, Adventuring with My Senior Dog

“Go as far as you can, and when you can’t go any farther, I will carry you the rest of the way.” That was the promise I whispered into Riley’s pointy ears after he was diagnosed with hip dysplasia 11 years ago. 

I never dreamed that my perfect adventure buddy would live to be 16, and I certainly didn’t think that he would be adventuring with me deep into his senior years. But he has, and with a sparkle in his beautiful blue eyes to this very day. I truly believe the adventures we’ve had, and the deep bond we’ve formed because of them have played a major role in Riley’s epic life. 

Many years ago, I asked a woman who was in her 90’s (and still working), what her secret was to living so long. She said, “keep moving, because it’s harder to hit a moving target!” I loved that advice – and it resonated with me because sitting still isn’t in my nature, or any of my four Australian Shepherds!

And so, almost every day for 16 years Riley and I moved. Rain or shine, forest trail, river, or suburban sidewalk, we did something active. Keeping all the muscles in Riley’s legs strong would serve him well as he aged to compensate for his bad hips. 

As he went from adolescent, to adult, to senior, and now geriatric, I adjusted our activities to make sure they fit Riley’s ability and comfort level. I decided early on to focus on what we could still do in each stage of his life rather than dwell on the things we could no longer do. Lessening the intensity of our adventures was worth it because I still had Riley with me – his company still makes any outing enriching and fulfilling. 

That’s how we found paddleboarding. I discovered something where we could be together, I got exercise and Riley could just relax, swim, and play on a sandbar. Paddleboarding continues to be our special time together.

Sharing adventures with my senior dog has taught me a deeper level of patience, compassion for the aging process, and gratitude for a life well lived. Here are some of the ways I’ve carried Riley through his golden adventure years:

Remembering the Importance of Enrichment

Keeping Riley’s mind sharp has been just as important as keeping his body strong. As Riley has aged, I’ve watched his vision and his hearing decrease. However, his sense of smell is just as strong as ever. So, I make it a point to let him sniff whatever he wants for as long as he wants. This is a great form of enrichment for senior dogs – they learn a lot from scent, and it paints a mental picture of things they might not be able to see and hear anymore. Our daily walks are slow, but Riley gets a lot of information from smells that keep his mind sharp while we stretch his legs. 

Every time I think Riley might not be able to handle a camping trip or a road trip, he surprises me. Every. Single. Time. Typically, senior dogs do better with routine and familiar environments, but this seasoned adventure dog seems to thrive on a change of scenery. I suspect because he grew up on the road with me, he feels at home, it’s what we do, and it’s how we bonded to closely. Even if we don’t have a road trip scheduled, getting him out to local parks to smell new things and take in a different view has helped keep things new and exciting. 

Finding Fun Ways to Carry my Dog 

These days I do physically carry Riley up and down stairs, in and out of the house, car and camper. But the other ways that I carry him (which he always prefers) is by trailer, board or kayak. These tools give Riley a way to be out with me where all he has to do is sit back and enjoy the ride. 

Our Burley bike trailer converts into a stroller, and it’s a great option for getting him out and about on longer walks. Or we can do lots of miles together if I tow him behind my bike. 

The sight of a paddleboard or my inflatable kayak still makes his nub shake. He loves being with me, and he’s happy to share the experience with my son or Willow. Paddling with my best friend laying comfortably at my feet as I ferry him across rivers and lakes is still magical after all these years.

A Little Extra Special Attention

Having two other dogs and a toddler can make it easy for Riley to get lost in the hustle of life. But I make a point to show him he’s still an important part of our family. Some days Riley is treated as part of the gang and sometimes I give him a little one-on-one time. I like to mix it up – car rides, walks or just sitting together while I give him a gentle massage. I also make special meals and treats for Riley – he gets extra perky around mealtimes with the anticipation of something new in his dish. Finding ways to spoil Riley and make sure he knows he’s still my buddy keeps our bond strong. 

Gear that Helps Keep Adventures Comfy and Possible

Creating a comfortable environment for Riley and using gear to help his mobility has added years to his life. Since Riley still comes with us on road trips and camping adventures, I always make sure he has on oversized bed, easy access to water, and a quiet spot where he can nap. Bodie, Willow and my son creature a lot of noise, so I always like to make sure Riley gets quality rest and alone time when we travel. 

The Flagline Harness is probably the single most important piece of gear for Riley. The large handle on the back is perfectly placed for assisting him up and down stairs, getting him up from a long nap, and navigating uneven or slippery surfaces. The harness has the perfect amount of support on the chest, so at times when I need to lift him, I know that harness is distributing his weight evenly and not causing him any discomfort. 

We’ve also been using the GripTrex boots on his back feet for added traction. As he’s aged and his back legs have become weaker, he needs help on surfaces that are a little slippery. His harness and shoes have become his senior dog uniform, like a cane or a walker, but they help immensely and he seems to understand that. 

We know we’re at the last stage of Riley’s life, but because of everything we’ve done, and all the right gear we’ve found, he’s gotten more adventures with us than we ever expected. 

So, keep moving, and bring your senior dog with you! You may have to do less miles and adjust according to what your dog is capable of. The biggest lesson we’ve learned, is that it’s not how far or fast you go – it’s the company you keep that makes an adventure special!

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