Life Happens: Adapting to a New Normal

by Sara May, NCCMT

 “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn

I first meet many of my canine clients after their pet parents call filled with concern about their aging or convalescing pups.  After experiencing a health set back, injury, or the natural process of getting older, pet parents worry that their beloved companion will never be able to regain the spunk and spirit s/he had before.  It can be difficult to watch our dogs getting older or to accept that they may not be able to regain the same level of function following an illness or injury.  Some degree of mourning is natural and inevitable, but what our dogs really need from us at these times is unconditional love, acceptance, and support.  They need us to be ok with what is likely a new normal.

Life throws challenges at us, and what’s normal will continue to change.  Adapting to each “new normal” will benefit ourselves as well as our dogs.  Do what you can to help improve or maintain your dog’s optimum level of health; depending on the situation, this may include modalities like massage, acupressure, physical therapy, or new medications.  Understand that re-achieving your dog’s peak physical condition may not be possible, but dogs are incredibly adaptable and resilient.  Resist the urge to feel sorry for your dog.  They feel what we feel.  Take the time you need to mourn the changes that are happening, but don’t linger there.  Regain your positivity, and look at each “new normal” as an opportunity to find new ways to enrich your dog’s life. 

How you play and interact with your dog may need to change, but you can still have fun together.  If doing agility courses is out of the question now, try nose work.  Take rides in the car.  Go on sensory walks where your dog has unlimited access to interesting smells.  Play mind-stimulating games with your dog like hide-and-seek, or supply your dog with food puzzles to solve.  Most of all, though, provide your dog with lots of loving, gentle touch.  Massage helps keep muscles and other soft tissues supple, and helps prevent degeneration of healthy joints.  It feels good, and it strengthens the bond between you.   

No matter what life has in store, approach it like your dog does – head on and as a new adventure.  Live for this moment, and understand that every “new normal” your dog may experience is a new opportunity for creative approaches to enrichment.  The only part of your dog’s life that should always stay the same is the unconditional love and acceptance s/he receives from you.