The next lessons Sophie taught my family all had to do with the importance of incorporating our old habits into our new routine. So many daily activities changed after Sophie became paralyzed. It was way too easy to lose sight of the rituals your disabled dog loves.
For instance, we spent time making sure to turn Sophie’s body so she didn’t get a pressure from lying in one position for too long. But we would skip our nightly game of tossing a ball after dinner. It was all about keeping her healthy and safe and that wasn’t fair to her or to our other dogs.
Some of the activities needed to be modified for her limitations, but my family learned to play games again, run errands with a disabled pup and spend lots of time with buddies.
Play games with your disabled dog
Ken and I credit our dog Cody for teaching all of us how to play games with Sophie. He and Sophie loved to roughhouse every evening and he didn’t understand why the game should stop.
Each night the two dogs would go into the backyard and play tag. They’d stand at opposite ends of the lawn and then slowly walk up to each other until they were face to face. They’d move in close and cross their necks against each other, making it look like a big X.
Cody would wait until Sophie made the first move by pushing her body into his side. It looked like she wanted to tackle him, but she would dart away as fast as she could run.
Cody would happily chase after her until they both came to a stop. They would repeat this routine up and down the yard until they were exhausted.
One night after dinner Cody decided to play tag in the living room. He walked over to Sophie’s bed, leaned against her neck and gently pushed his nose at her. She forced the upper half of body up as high as she could from a sitting position and jabbed her nose back at him.
Before we knew it, the two dogs were jabbing and playing with all their might. When they were done, Cody gave a joyful cry that German shepherds make when something wonderful has happened.
We realized that during the game Sophie stopped being a disabled dog. She was her old self playing with her buddy. She was engaged in life and the activity at hand.
From that day, I made it my mission to find games Sophie could play.
Here are a few games Sophie loved:
- Tug-of-war – We modified the game so Sophie could sit and play. She adored pulling on one end of a thick-knotted rope while Cody or Shadow pulled on the other.
- Treat dispensing toys – My dogs were used to playing with a treat dispensing toy. They loved to roll it across the living room floor and watch little pieces of kibble fall out. But that wasn’t going to work for a dog who couldn’t scoot after it. So, I found a Kong toy that wobbled, but didn’t move far from her. We filled it with treats and kibble. Sophie was then able to push the toy with her nose until it fell on its side and sent goodies flying out.
- A game of catch – Sophie was great at catching a ball in mid-air, even when she couldn’t stand. She loved this game so much we could spend the entire evening tossing balls and stuffed animals for her to catch. We played this game every night.
Running errands was the highlight of the day
Ken and I have worked from home for years, so it’s a big deal in our family to run an errand. It gets us out into the world with other human beings. And we’ve always included our dogs in these outings.
One of Sophie’s favorite errands was to go to the bank. She loved it because they gave biscuits to the dogs. We’d pull up to the drive through teller and slip our transaction into the cannister. It would whoosh away and when it came back to us, there would always be three dog cookies included with the receipt.
Sophie, Shadow and Cody would watch in amazement as we pulled the biscuits from the cannister and handed one to each of them.
I honestly think they believed the only reason we went to the bank was to get them a daily treat.
We continued the ritual of running errands to the bank even when Sophie had to be propped up with pillows to see out the window. She loved those car rides.
Buddies are important
Sophie, Shadow and Cody were dedicated buddies and Sophie was their leader. At first, I worried how their friendship would change as Sophie became less mobile, but gratefully that isn’t at all how they acted.
They rallied around her as she got weaker. They would lie down next to her if we ran out for a quick dinner break. And they waited to eat until I sat Sophie up and put her bowl of food in front of her.
Near the end they were confused about why Sophie didn’t join them for a walk and they kissed her face when she cried. She was the leader of their pack and their best friend.