An Old Dog CAN Learn New tricks

Out with Gipsy for our morning amble, can’t really call it a walk at her age, and I am suddenly struck by how much this old dog has learned and adapted in the last 4 years.

Gipsy has been our main dog companion for almost 12 years, since she insisted she come to live with us, or, if  I am honest, with my partner Prasado, when she was 3. She spent her first years with friends of ours, but they decided to move to Canada and despite initial reluctance on my part, (embarrassing as that is to recall now, but I had sound reasons at the time!) Gipsy moved in.

We lived together in rural Britain surrounded by green fields, open spaces, horses, sheep and various other dogs. She spent her days with the freedom of 200 acres, (not that she ever roamed) with long walks in the woods, chasing her ball, deer and squirrels. She invented herself the job of assistant horse trainer, helping young horses get over their fears when out on the trail and keeping a close eye on me when I worked in the arena. All day, every day she was out and about and busy with her pack.

Then suddenly one day, we pack everything up, go for a long drive in the car, and get out at this noisy, brightly lit place, where men carry guns (an airport), where she is then loaded into a crate and wheeled away (you should have seen the look on her face!) taken in an elevator (first time ever) and outside to the screaming airplane, where she is jacked up and loaded in. 5 hours later, after sitting in the belly of the noisy beast, she is put on a conveyor belt with the other oversize baggage and bumps along, till I finally find her and unload her with huge relief. She is bouncy and happy and doesn’t want to drink, seems fine. Journey over I think, actually journey just begun!

This is when I realised how fully a dog locates itself in time and place by its sense of smell. Here was my ten year old English country dog, with impeccable manners and refined tastes, dumped down in a place where none of the smells were familiar to her and most of the local citizens were loud and rude, coming straight up to her in the park and sniffing her aggressively. You could see the confusion in her face as she tried to figure things out.

We arrived in Israel in October, which means it hadn’t rained in 5 months at least, so the accumulated street and park smells were literally overwhelming to her, she refused to pick her ball up if you threw it where dogs had been, and didn’t want to leave her mark anywhere.  Her territory was now a suburban garden and she was dependent on us to leave it to go pee and poo (she refuses to this day to do it in the garden!).

I feed raw food, so smugly assumed I would have no problem switching foods, chicken wing is a chicken wing, well no, not to Gipsy who refused to touch Israeli chicken wings, they don’t smell the same……

Imagine yourself captured by aliens and dropped on Mars, that’s pretty much what moving country was like for Gipsy. She went through it fine, with the help of essential oils and the support of myself and Prasado, (I will share with you more of the adaptive process and what I learnt through it in other posts) and has adapted to her new environment completely and with much subtlety, without being actively taught for the most part.

A few things she has learnt:

  • She can see from a distance which people may be scared of her (there’s a fair few of them here in the Middle East) and tucks herself behind me, looking very small and submissive and unscary till they pass.
  • Garbage bins are where you collect the local news, she can now spend 5 minutes sniffing, when at first she couldn’t go near them.
  • Rude dogs mean no harm, they are simply uneducated, she can teach them manners in a 30 second exchange without aggression
  • Old food stuck to the pavement is irresistible (a behaviour that is really hard for her to over-ride, and one I would rather she had never discovered!)
  • How to cross dual carriage roads safely – at the pedestrian lights, and pausing in the middle to check the second set of lights, she does it automatically without being told.
  • That she needs to slow down and wait for me at all pavements, even if it is obvious to her that no cars are coming.
  • That fireworks are not a big deal (that may be because of hearing loss, not just because they come so frequently here!)

I have learnt a huge amount from Gipsy, which has informed and improved my work and at 14 years of age, Gipsy is a fabulously idiosyncratic old lady, who continues to learn and adapt with grace and wisdom, long may it continue.


3 thoughts on “An Old Dog CAN Learn New tricks”

  1. Johanna Jones

    I have a 17 year old that traveled from Philadelphia to Texas then to Puerto Rico and then back to Philadelphia. She was horribly abused before I got her and she lives everyday showing love and joy. I have two other dogs that are 3 times her size but she rules the ranch without ever a growl. I’m interested in learning about Aromatherapy to make Winnie more comfortable. She’s taught me alot about life.

  2. Thanks for this! Two years ago I moved to Washington DC after 18 years on small islands in the Bahamas. My older JRT, 12 years, has just been diagnosed with smoldering pancreatitis and I know that the stress of the extreme change has been hard on her! She STILL smashes her neck against the bed every morning when I go to put her collar on – she hates it! Didn’t have to wear one for most of her life! Now, her favorite place is the assisted living where we go every day to care for my mom. It’s her happy place- calm, serene and she hangs out with the other “old ladies” (who adore her). Still, we were “home” for a month recently and she was SO HAPPY to be back on the island. A lot going on inside our furry family members. Love your stuff – thank you!

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