Senior aged Sheltie, Terrier, Daschund and Boston Terrier

Showing their age L to R: Charlie, 12; Henri, 11; Dirk, 6; Sophie, 6

If Henri were a person, he’d have qualified for AARP a few years ago. In fact, he’s now approximately the same age as my Dad. With rapid aging comes rapid change, and though Henri has the blood work of a healthy, younger dog, the white on his face tells a different story. So, too, do his actions and reactions and the biggest changes are in his endurance, tolerance, and recovery.


Endurance is probably the thing we, as humans, are most aware of in our aging dogs. A pooch who used to fetch for hours is content with a few throws; the lab who could swim all day is tired after 20 minutes; and the dog who used to be your morning running buddy would settle for a nice evening stroll.

This means planning adventure and travel days with downtime.

After an activity, downtime used to be lounging on a shaded patio with a cool bowl of water while listening to music or chatting with strangers. These days, it’s going back to our room for an afternoon nap. It seems to me that Henri appreciates the quiet and he’ll often bolt into our room and run straight to his bed. Sometimes I take a nap too but, if I can leave him unattended in the room, it’s a great time to check out things that aren’t necessarily dog-friendly.


If your pup is as mellow as Henri, you may not think of tolerance as a factor because most things just don’t seem to bother him. However, the more I ask Henri to tolerate- noise, city traffic, people, interactions– the less amount of time I can expect him to do it. In addition, if something goes wrong, he doesn’t get over it as quickly or easily as he did when he was younger. It might require that we remove ourselves from the situation or hurry up with that downtime.

Tolerance and endurance are indirectly proportional.

An unfortunate example of this occurred during our trip to Port Aransas while attending a turtle release. In all the excitement, a little girl startled Henri by dropping her plastic sand shovel on him. Then I left him with my buddy, who Henri has known since the day I got him, and waded into the ocean to snap pictures. I really thought he’d be ok for a few minutes but when I returned, he was trembling.

Henri was done. He wanted off that beach and away from the crowd. We retreated to the car and I gave him some Rescue Remedy. Old dogs want their Mamas, familiar surroundings, and a low level of BS.


Using the same example from above, it took Henri at least ten minutes hiding in the floorboard of the car and us getting off the beach before he began to relax again. A short walk elsewhere and some chill time in a quiet spot helped, but it doesn’t always.

Henri can’t just ‘get over it’ like he did when he was younger.

Henri also requires a lot more physical rest after our adventures. If we spend all day on the water, he will sleep on/off most of the next day and may not even pester me for a walk. When we return home from a road trip, it might be two days before he’s fully back to normal.

Changes and Choices

There are things you can do to increase endurance and tolerance, and speed up recovery. Here are my personal tips for making your senior dog comfy on the road:

  • Take your dog’s stuff. Things that smell like home can help your dog relax in unfamiliar surroundings.
  • Limit car time and make periodic stops. Seniors may get stiff and need a stretch.
  • Older dogs are more sensitive to heat (and cold). Make sure rear air vents are on in the car and/or invest in window shades. Gel cooling mats for outdoor lounging, and cooling bandanas, whether for hiking or city walking, are invaluable.
  • Carry your own bowl and offer water frequently to prevent dehydration.
  • Schedule breaks from stimulation/activity.
  • For dogs with hearing loss, take the time to teach a few hand signals, and for those with vision loss, try an LED collar* when the sun starts to set.
  • Book hotels that allow your pet to be left alone in the room, have elevators instead of stairs, and/or first floor accommodations.

*A note about the LED collar

I bought the collar last year for a camping/floating trip because I thought it might come in handy at night. I’ve used it everywhere from the river to the beach, and it’s great for keeping tabs on your dog in the dark. However, it also directly benefits Henri.

Soon after purchase, I began using the collar on our evening walks so any neighborhood traffic would see Henri. This summer I noticed he seemed to walk and move with more confidence when he was wearing it vs. when he wasn’t. His eyes are just beginning to show the cloudiness of age and I am of the opinion that the collar casts enough light on the ground in front of him to counter that.

Do you have tips and tricks for living and traveling with a senior dog?

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