Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Scent and the Aging Dog

As your dog gets older, he may lose some of his sensory abilities. You're probably used to thinking of him as getting hard of hearing, or maybe a little blind, but the nose can weaken too. His olfactory powers may not be what they used to be, or, as the Lady and the Tramp line would have it, "You mean you don't smell as good as you used to?"

This morning, we had a little evidence of this. I took the shepherds out to play ball, a perfectly ordinary morning activity. Tasha chased hers; McCoy (pictured in his favorite spot) danced out and looked back at me at exactly the wrong moment as usual. The ball bounced behind him, hit a tussock, and disappeared behind a tree.

And when I say disappeared, I mean disappeared. Half an hour of looking and we still haven't found it, though we all had a bit of exercise from trying. Usually I rely on the dogs' noses at least as much as on my sense of sight, but they couldn't find it either. Part of this is that Dustin and Tasha both figure McCoy's ball is his lookout and they aren't much help. Part of this is that he really doesn't have much sense of smell anymore. It's times like this that I really miss Sunny's help, as she was the only one willing to accept a possessive form in a sentence: she understood that "Find McCoy's ball," meant "I know that your toy is in my hand and you don't have to tell me about that one; look for the missing one."

Dustin, on the other hand, feels that if I have a ball in my hand, there's no need to go questing elsewhere for a different one. Tasha's feelings are less clear, but she's also less bonded to me, so the vibe I usually get from her is that if I can't find it myself I'm not good for much.

My best guess is that when Dustin looped behind the tree he came out the other side with McCoy's ball, then dropped it somewhere when I threw his own. Now, I thought his jaws were empty the whole time, but if they were, the aliens have beamed McCoy's ball away for DNA testing. I would quite sympathize if they want to replicate the German Shepherd on their own planet, and I'd much rather they beamed up the ball than the dog (and since he's neutered, the DNA may as well come from his saliva as anywhere), but since he never actually caught the thing today, those aliens are going to be working with some very stale spittle.

Most likely, though, it'll turn up by zinging across the yard next time we mow.

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