With proper care, sound genes, a bit of luck, and depending on size, the average dog lives from 12-15 years. Use the four chapters of your dog’s life to help understand his life cycle.
Larger breeds such as Great Dane, Neapolitan Mastiff, St. Bernard, and Irish Wolfhound most commonly have a 7-10 year lifespan.
Smaller and toy breeds, such as Chihuahua, Poodles, and Yorkshire Terriers can live 16-20 years.
Mid-size dogs fall in the middle.
Learn the four chapters of your dog’s life.
1. Chapter One: Puppy – Up to 1 year
2. Chapter Two: Young Adult – Depending on the breed 2-4 years old
3. Chapter Three: Adult – Most commonly 3-9 years old
4. Chapter Four: Senior – Most commonly nine years and older
Seeing the world through your puppy’s eyes is like seeing the world for the first time again. Everything is new and exciting. A well-adjusted puppy wants and needs to explore, learn, and challenge him or herself.
During the puppy development stages, every day is an adventure. Every day they are faced with new, exciting challenges, be it house-training, obedience training, going to the doggie park, meeting new dogs and people, car rides, visits to the veterinarian, going to the groomer, the list goes on and on.
A responsible dog person knows they have to be patient. Puppies are bundles of energy, that if not channeled in the right direction, can cause serious problems later on.
Uncontrolled barking, digging, chewing, fighting, cannot be tolerated. Instead, they know their puppy needs nutritional food, routine medical attention, obedience training, boundaries, and structured exercise to help them burn up that energy and not become frustrated, fearful, aggressive, or destructive.
They understand their new puppy may not have as much control over their bladder and bowels as they would like, but that comes with time and training. You may not get too much sleep at first, but if done correctly, you will be proud of your puppy’s progress.
Sensible dog people know their puppy needs to learn boundaries and rules. Since they cannot read the rulebook, their puppy will have to be taught in simple, positive ways, what behaviors are acceptable, and what actions are not acceptable. Positive reinforcement obedience training helps your puppy gain confidence in a well-mannered way.
Conscientious dog people recognize, to have a well-mannered dog, they have to commit time and energy to bond with their puppy and do as much socializing as possible. In this chapter of your puppy’s life, they learn to trust and respect. Here is where those walks around the neighborhood become so important. This commitment will pay off later with a well-adjusted dog that has little to no behavioral issues.
That first year may seem like a lifetime, but it passes in the blink of an eye.
Now is where you begin to enjoy your dog. If done correctly, you have survived the puppy stage with minimal damage, and your nerves and sanity still intact.
By now, your dog should be well mannered and well adjusted. Your young adult has established a credible bond with you, accepted you as their pack leader, and is willing to do everything they can to please you.
At this point, they are under control, yet still full of fun and energy. They respond to your commands routinely and without hesitation. They are always excited about meeting new people, dogs, and going to new places. They are still eager to learn.
Depending on their breed, some dogs love the outdoors. And at this phase, they can be great (and sometimes very energetic) outdoor companions. Activities like going to the beach, hiking a nearby trail or snowshoeing with your dog could be fun experiences at this stage.
Young adult dogs still require a lot of time and energy for training and structured exercise, but you no longer have to watch them like a hawk.
Chapter Two of your dog’s life is where the friendship begins. Your dog has learned to trust and respect you and vice versa.
You start to read each other, and communication is almost telepathic. It’s like making a new friend, you’re not quite sure of them, but you are going to give them a chance to prove him or herself.
At this point, your dog is putting forth the effort to show him or herself as trustworthy.
In return, you allow them to expand their world. You no longer have to keep them tethered at your side all the time during those long walks, where you discuss everything and anything with them.
You give them a little wiggle room because you know they don’t want to be too far from you. You are a team. You have formed a pack.
This is the beginning of a relationship you will never forget.
Chapter Three is where you and your dog know each other so well you feel you can read each other’s minds. You have put forth the time and energy, and it has paid off.
You can take your pal anywhere and know they will behave only in an appropriate manner. They have earned the privilege of long walks next to you untethered. You have become pals and confidants. At this stage, there is nothing you cannot discuss with your dog and get their honest opinion and vow of silence. Loyalty is paramount between friends.
Chapter Three is where your dog still has the energy and playfulness they once had, yet it is appropriate. They know what behavior is suitable for any given situation and respond accordingly. When you are silly, so are they. When you are serious, so are they.
This is the point where obedience training has paid off. Now is when you want to continue obedience training only because it is like fine-tuning an expensive engine. A tweak here, a tweak there, but mostly it’s fun, and the socializing isn’t too hard to take either.
Toward the end of this chapter is where we start to see our pet just isn’t quite what they use to be. They are in transition. They are beginning to slow down.
Chapter Four can be as hard as the first chapter. Your dog has reached the stage in life where there are physically visible changes.
Their muzzle is graying; their eyes are not as clear and bright as they once were, their hearing isn’t quite as sharp, they breathe a little harder, and they cannot run as quickly to you when called.
They may start having problems jumping in and out of the car or going up and downstairs. Just getting onto their feet, sometimes takes more than one try. Here is where you need to step in, to offer a helping hand, a little boost, and lots of praise for their efforts.
You will notice the walks you share become slower and shorter. But you both still look forward to them. This has always been a special time. You knew anything you discussed during your walks would go no further. And, your old pal loves hearing your stories, over and over again. Just the sound of your voice is reassuring to them. They never laugh; they never judge. Think of the money you saved on therapy!
When you come home, you’ll see even though they still want to jump up and greet you at the door, you have to be content with them merely lifting their heads, looking at you through loving eyes, and that wonderful, “I’m so happy to see you” tail wag.
You will notice their eating habits are changing. That may require a new diet with special needs. A dog that at one time ate anything may become a picky eater because their stomach just cannot tolerate what it could at one time, or their teeth are starting to hurt. They may not eat as much because they have become less active.
Some want to be with you ALL the time. It may seem clingy at first, but as a devoted friend, you know it’s important to them. They feel vulnerable when alone, yet safe and secure when they are near you.
You may find yourself losing sleep again, just like you did all those many years ago. You will be listening for changes in breathing, or the need to go out in the middle of the night. But you will drag yourself out of bed, and do it lovingly because you know your old friend needs you and doesn’t want to upset you with an “accident.”
You may note changes in their personality and disposition. Some get short-tempered and grumpy. Others may not be as anxious to socialize, especially with children and other dogs. Respect that change. Give them a place to feel safe.
Knowing when to let go
Life is slowing down. All the excitement your canine friend brought into your home is waning.
Then one day, you see it in their eyes. It is time to say good-bye. They look at you as if to say, “I have to go now, but I need to know you will be OK without me.” They have to be reassured that it is OK. After all, it was their job to look after you for all those years. Now you know, they took their job seriously!
You will look at each other with such love. A myriad of memories of laughter, fun, appreciation, pride, frustration, a little anger here and there, and most of all, endless devotion will flash through your mind. With your permission granted and promises made, they will close their adoring eyes for the last time.
You will feel as if the world just fell out from under your feet. And you worry you will never love another dog as you have this one. You fear there will never be another dog like your beloved pet. And you are correct. There never will be. Each is unique.
Most genuine dog people feel incomplete without a canine companion. When the time is right, and only they know when that is, they will find another puppy or dog endearing. The spell will be cast.
That will be Chapter One of a new book.
Glean the best from each of the four chapters of your dog’s life. To mark the time you shared with them, they will leave an indelible paw print in your heart.
Karen A. Soukiasian is the owner of Good Dog! — Dog Training in St. Augustine, Florida. You can follow Karen on Facebook.