The old adage that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is often applied to older humans who are so determined to resist change. This inability to change is seen not so much as the product of an aging brain, but as a recognition that lifestyles are becoming firmly fixed.
I think of this saying when Daisy, my literally old rescued golden retriever, slowly climbs the stairs of my restored farmhouse on her own to find her bed in the room where we both sleep.
Until recently, she would spend the evening sleeping somewhere downstairs, not necessarily near me where I was watching TV, or maybe reading on the sofa, or sitting in my chair working on my computer. portable. Wherever she was, I could hear her snoring.
I stay up much later than my snoring companion.
When I called her one day and went up to bed, I would wake her up, if she hadn’t moved on her own, and she would follow me to the bedroom where she would find the padded fabric dog bed with which she had come from the relief society.
Climbing those stairs, however, had become difficult for her. She worked. Sometimes its hind legs would collapse, presaging a fall back. She wanted to come with me so that she could join her snoring to mine, but she needed help.
A friend I described this to gave me a harness which he used with his old black Lab. It has a soft surface to place under the dog’s stomach and two sturdy handles that the human, in this case me, can hold and thus provide support for those annoying hind legs.
Daisy accepted this help. But I remained worried. Besides the stairs, she sometimes had trouble hanging on to stand on the exposed wooden floors downstairs. Her vet, after diagnosing her with arthritis, which caused her hind legs to bend in pain, prescribed two pain relievers.
This combination improved Daisy’s mobility to the point that I no longer saw the need for the harness. She seemed able to stand up with less difficulty and manage the stairs unaided. So, we went back to our previous pattern of snoring her on the floor downstairs until I called her to ride with me.
But one day a few weeks ago that pattern changed. At first, I realized that I hadn’t heard her snoring while watching TV after supper one night. What I heard was his laborious footsteps going up the stairs. Worried about her recklessness, I rushed for the stairs, there to see her climb slowly, but without help.
Dogs, perhaps more than their owners, are creatures of habit, living their lives in structured patterns. Maybe this fact gave rise to the old adage of not learning new tricks. When I let Daisy out after dinner to relieve herself, she returns expectantly and sits next to the kitchen counter where I keep her box of goodies. She knows she gets one every time she comes back.
But now, after receiving her treat, she walks up the stairs to her bed, arguably more comfortable than our hardwood floors, leaving me alone. When I go up those steps, I start to hear him snore.
I wonder if there is a message for me in having been able to change her model, that maybe she is teaching me a new trick, suggesting that I too can change a model of life.