Dog & I: Debbie & Rollo

Life can be stressful. Whether it’s a hellish daily commute, dealing with a demanding boss or desperately finding time to spend with friends & family, the daily grind can take its toll. And perhaps this is why canine companions have become such an important part of modern life — they bring fun back into our lives and remind us of what’s really important.

Our monthly series will explore the modern relationship between owner & dog — the challenges people face and the incredible benefits of owning a dog in this stressful, fast-paced world.

This week’s duo is Debbie & Rollo. Debbie lives in Market Harborough with Rollo her thirteen year old Working Cocker Spaniel.

We sat down with Debbie to discuss the changes she’s seen as Rollo has grown up, how she’s managed his health problems and why her relationship with Rollo is so special.

How did you find Rollo?

Our old dog Molly had just passed away. We had 3 children who all desperately wanted a dog so it wasn’t really a question of whether we’d get another, more what breed! My beautican told me that one of her clients had just had a litter of spaniel puppies. I did some research beforehand on the Kennel Club website — the breed sounded like a perfect fit for our family, so we decided to go and see them. He was the last one left in the litter and it really was love at first sight. When we picked him up, he sat on my lap the whole way home. He was the most adorable puppy, so tiny and fluffy.

What was he like as a puppy? What was his routine?

He slept downstairs for the first night and cried all the way through. To try and help him feel at home, we gave him a ticking clock, hot water bottle and a t-shirt of mine. Sleeping downstairs didn’t last long. He spent a week in his cage and then the next 13 years in my bed — we just couldn’t resist letting him in the bed with us! He was a very well behaved puppy and extremely easy to train. His favourite toy was an Andrex puppy that looked just like him and he used to like to play in cardboard boxes. We weaned him on homemade chicken stock and Natures Diet.

How did you train Rollo?

It only took a week to house train him — he was just really switched on & clever. When he was old enough, we took him to puppy training. He then did his good dog citizen certificate and a year later started gun dog training. I learnt that you should let spaniels mature a bit before training them. If you start training them too young, they switch off. The idea is that you train them quickly and sharply.

Why is your relationship with Rollo so special?

He’s my best friend. I have 3 dogs but Rollo and I have a particularly special bond. He’s fiercely loyal and will follow me everywhere — in 13 years he has never willingly left my side. He’s still perfectly happy if he’s left on his own with his brother & sister, but if i’m in the house, he tends to be by my side. My 3 children have left home and my husband travels a lot with work, so I’m often left alone in the house. I don’t know what I’d do without my dogs — they keep me sane!

What’s his personality like?

He’s very calm, loyal and bright. He’s a very intuitive dog and often seems to predict what I want him to do. Rollo’s very regal in his movements and slinks around like a lion — apart from when he’s bouncing through the long grass on his walks, then the resemblance is probably closer to a rabbit! He’s a typical spaniel in that he always wants to be by your side, trying to please you. I know it’s something that every dog owner says, but he really is a very special dog.

What is his naughtiest habit?

Digging in the garden. He will disappear and ignore my calls, when this happens, I know exactly where to find him. I’ll go out into the garden and see his little tail poking out of the mud. His mud covered face will pop out when I shout his name — he’s not the best at hiding his bad habits! He went through a phase of being quite dominant and attacking his brother. To solve this, a behaviourist advised that we get him snipped. The fights stopped after that. Rollo can also be quite a fussy eater — he will literally turn his nose up at certain brands of dog food.

What is his favourite thing to do?

His favourite thing to do is go on long walks. He would run for hours if you let him — even in his old age. He loves to lie down next to you and put his head on your lap. He’s never been obsessed about toys he’s always been more focused on people. He loves the whole family but he definitely is a one person dog — his mummy. He has a weakness for kisses. If you say the word ‘kisses’ he turns his face to the side waiting for them.

What has his health been like over the years?

He’s always been super fit and healthy but his mad spaniel nature has caused a couple of quite dramatic incidents. So we’ve had him stick his head into a bees nest and nearly die from anaphylactic shock, get a piece of wire stuck up his nose which severed an artery and then he managed to puncture his rib cage which left a wound that cut through to the bone. All of these occurred on walks where he pretty much turns into a different dog — mad and not one bit concerned with his own safety!

As he’s got older, he has suffered from several more serious medical conditions that have affected his health. He’s had 2 strokes, which has led to Alzheimer’s. He’s also got problems with his spine and he has cataracts in both eyes. So we have had some challenges along the way but he’s still a happy dog.

How has he changed as he’s got older? How have you had to change his routine?

He’s gone down hill rapidly over the past few years after having the lens from his eyes removed. It’s strange because with humans you have time to adjust because the ageing process is spread out, but with dogs it seems to happen overnight especially if they undergo surgery or have any serious medical conditions. It all happens very quickly and the changes can be quite dramatic.

You learn that you have to be quite patient with dogs in their old age. They become even more dependent on you and it’s even more important that you look after them properly.

Rollo got much fussier with his food, so I find him things that he likes to eat — chicken, salmon, eggs. It’s tricky because he’s naturally quite slim and loses weight easily, so to keep his calorie count up, I add olive oil to his food. With age, he’s become blind and deaf, so he gets confused easily. He likes to know where you are and panics when he can’t find you, so I really do always have to keep an eye on him.

I find that I spend more time sitting down with him so he can lie down more. At night he just wants to lie down with you so I make sure the evenings are as relaxing as possible. I’ll sit down and watch tv or go to bed early instead of being up doing things. It just helps him to not get too stressed and ensures that he rests properly.

Tips for looking after an older dog:

Take them on lots of short walks. It’s still important to exercise them but make sure they don’t over do it.

To help them stay healthy and keep weight on, supplement their meal with oils containing fatty acids and glucosamine.

With food, be prepared to experiment to find something they like. I think it’s quite normal for dogs to get fussier with age, so make sure they’re still eating a healthy amount and that they’re enjoying what they’re eat. It can also help to feed them strong smelling foods and to warm their food up.

If possible, try and be around in the evening for them. Rollo gets tired early and wants to relax and sleep by my side. Sitting down with him on the sofa helps him stay calm and relax.

I asked the vet for ways to help Rollo cope as he gets older and he recommended that we try Adaptil. He explained that Adaptil can help older dogs cope with changes that they may have taken in their stride as younger dogs. Having the diffuser plugged in around the house really seems to help him. He seems calmer and more relaxed.

Get them groomed and have their claws clipped regularly

Dogs teeth tend to get worse with age, so make sure they have soft loopy food that’s easier to eat. Maintain their oral hygiene by brushing their teeth regularly and feeding them dental chews.

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