Senior Dog Month: Ambassadors Francesca Smith and Ralph

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Francesca Smith talks to us about becoming a K9 Nation ambassador and looking after her senior dog Ralph.

Ralph and I live in Hull, Yorkshire. We absolutely love living in Yorkshire for its dog-friendly pubs and shops, amazing woodland walks and beaches. Ralph is a Golden Retriever who is now 11 years old.

My mum had given 8-week old Ralph to me when I was 17 and we have been inseparable since. When I turned 18, I had some difficult living situations but luckily with amazing family and friends, me and Ralph were able to stick it out together. I made it through college and university, studying animal care and zoology, and Ralph always had the most love any dog could dream of from those around me. He was my best friend through that awkward patch and still is now.

When I met my partner, we found a place together and shared the same love for cottages, walks and pub meals. We began taking short breaks around Yorkshire where we could bring Ralph along. 

As Ralph has got older, I would say the biggest hurdle he faces is mobility. As he turned 10, we would see a dog that was stiff every time he tested or walked. He would go lame just walking off the curb. The vet explained this was a sign of arthritis to come, so make changes before it sets in. Straight away he was at Hydrotherapy at Fit4dogsuk, which actually inspired me to change career paths and now it’s my place of work.

I changed his diet and started looking into supplements, not only for his joints but for his digestive health, and got him a new bed. If there is any advice I could give a dog owner, it would be to invest in a memory foam bed… I wish I had got one sooner. After those changes, within a month the lameness had stopped – it was in that moment I realised that in order for me to keep being the best owner I can be I must be able to adapt with him. If there is something he’s struggling with I need to question why and find him a different option.

With regards to walks, we’ve tried to pay attention to when he’s ready for a break. He’s always been more interested in smelling everything, when outdoors, so naturally he has always taken a more relaxed approach to walking which has been beneficial to him. He goes on two groups walks a week which he spends basically ignoring everyone and sniffing his way around instead. He also comes to work with me once a week and has his Hydrotherapy treatment. The days in between have to be rest days with smaller walks. Then, on a weekend, we try go somewhere different and exciting. This seems to suit him for now.

When we go away Ralph has ruled that pub breaks need to be more frequent, which is fine by us! He will walk for a lot longer when we’re away because it’s exciting, but ultimately he still becomes quite stiff so we make sure we have our wheat bag for heating, pain relief for the following day and obviously the amazing bed I actually wish was mine.

Aside from physical exercise, and trying to keep him as fit as possible, I focus a lot on keeping his mind active! All the tricks I’ve taught him over the years, we go over to retrain his memory. I then teach him new tricks or develop those he knows into hand signs in case he goes deaf. And even now I’m still training him to be good on walks because the grumpiness can come out and senior dogs without a doubt are the most stubborn and sassy dogs you’ll meet, just because they know they can be. So yeah, training still happens, which I think is important in keeping his mind active and behaviour in check.

I found out about K9 Nation through my manager at work as she knows I’m passionate about keeping Ralph as fit and healthy as possible on the walks we love so much. This is why I wanted to become a K9 Nation ambassador – to show what a senior dog’s life can be like if they’re give the best chance possible. I think it’s an amazing way to build a community for lovers of the outdoors and their dogs. Not only is it inspiring, but a great tool for mental and physical health, for you and your dog.

What I’ve found living with a senior dog is that you have to find the balance of not treating them like they’re old but also understanding what they need and require is now different. At times It’s hard to know if you’re doing the right thing, and a lot of the time it’s trial and error, but the small efforts matter.

I honestly could not imagine life without Ralph. He is my everything. What I love most about dogs is how full of love they are about life. They’re so curious of the smallest things, and live life as it happens. Ralph will literally watch a woodlouse for 20 minutes moving in slow motion being so careful to not startle it and that will be him absolutely amazed. It makes me realise how fast-paced human life is and that we need to chill and be more like dogs. 

You can find more about Ralph on his Instagram account here!

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