Your Adult Dog: What to Expect at 5 to 6 Years

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At age 5 and 6, your dog should still have plenty of energy and, with proper care, many years left to enjoy with you. Many think of these as the most enjoyable years with their beloved companions. There is huge individual and breed variation in life expectancy, but your 5-year-old dog is generally considered to be approaching middle age. During this stage, pay close attention to your dog’s signals. Early intervention for many medical conditions is key to ensuring a long, happy life with you.

Physical and Mental Development

Your dog’s metabolism may start to slow a little during this time, so be careful of middle-age weight gain. Many veterinarians use body condition scoring systems to help tell if a dog is overweight. You can make some of these observations at home, too. For example, feel your dog’s body all over, paying particular attention to the ribs, tail base and sides. Ideally, you want to be able to feel your dog’s ribs easily with only gentle pressure. The tail base should be obvious without a fatty skin roll. Stand over your dog to evaluate his tummy. From above, you should see a defined waist, and from the side, a tuck in the tummy should be visible.

If you suspect your pup may be turning into a porker, schedule a checkup with your veterinarian. There are some medical problems that can cause weight gain, but even if your dog just needs to lose a few pounds, your vet can help you develop a plan for doing this safely. Also, pay close attention to any unusual bumps, lumps or growths. If you find a bump, bring it to the attention of your veterinarian promptly. A veterinarian should evaluate any changes you discover.

Behavior Changes

Your dog’s behavior should be fairly stable during these years. He knows the house rules and is happy to show you that he understands your commands when you are out and about. Your daily routine is likely well established at this point. A medical condition could be the problem if there are changes in his behavior. A dog who suddenly throws a fit when you brush behind his ears may have pain, like with an ear infection. A reluctance to jump up into the car can be a sign of painful joints, and house soiling can be the result of a urinary tract infection, kidney problem or other medical issue. Your veterinarian can rule out a medical condition as the cause of any behavior changes before you look to training to correct the undesirable behavior.

Exercise is just as important for adult dogs as it is for younger puppies. Insufficient exercise and associated boredom are common reasons why dogs misbehave. A stroll around the block twice a day may be adequate for some dogs, but others may need more activity. How vigorous his exercise should be will depend somewhat on his breed, overall health and temperament. Check with your vet before starting any new exercise program, and remember to take it slow! Gradually increase the duration of activity week by week, keep your exercise sessions regular and don’t overdo it. You may be able to increase the intensity of your dog's activity level over time, but if your dog is sore the next day or lags behind and has difficulty completing a session, reduce duration or intensity (or both) until you're doing what he can safely complete. Not only do these workouts help his attitude, but they also benefit his heart and joints, control weight and help him deal with stress.

While this is not an age defined by bad behavior, some of your dog’s natural instincts may cause frustration. Barking, chewing and digging are part of a dog’s nature. You will have to make sure that he has other outlets for his energy and make sure that he is not left to his own devices too often; he will find something to do.

Health and Nutrition

Just like middle-aged humans, your middle-aged dog is apt to gain weight. Inactive dogs of this age will pile on the pounds faster than younger dogs simply because they don’t burn calories as quickly. Before restricting calories, consult your veterinarian to make sure other health issues aren’t involved. Your vet will create a healthful diet and exercise plan that is right for your dog. Depending on your dog's size, allow at least two to three months for a few pounds to come off — remember that one pound on a Chihuahua is more significant weight loss than one pound on a Great Dane. At home, you can follow these guidelines to help your pooch shed the weight:

  • Limit snacks and treats.
  • Make meals smaller.
  • Track his weight with weekly weight checks.
  • If possible, gradually increase his exercise with more vigorous games and longer walks.

Obesity predisposes your dog to a variety of health problems, including arthritis, bone and joint problems, liver and heart conditions, and overheating. You are your dog’s guardian and caregiver. Do not ignore weight gain or other symptoms of injury or declining health. It is your responsibility to provide adequate exercise and an appropriate diet. Don’t let him down.

Training Tips

Training is for life. Your dog needs to keep learning and keep using what he knows to stay vibrant and energetic. Be creative in your daily interactions. For example, when you play fetch, make him do a “sit” or a “down” before you take the ball for another toss. Keeping him on his toes engages him mentally and physically and reassures him that he is still a vital part of your family.

Another helpful training tool is substitution, which teaches dogs appropriate behaviors in place of inappropriate ones. For example, teach the dog who jumps up on people that sitting, not jumping, gets the attention he seeks. By ignoring him when he asks for attention inappropriately, turning your back (arms folded) to him when he jumps, you will be giving him the opposite of what he was seeking. If you then ask for a “sit” before he gets the attention he has been seeking, he will quickly change his tack. Be consistent. It is confusing to allow him to jump when you’re wearing jeans but not when you’re dressed up. With continual training, your adult dog will assimilate into your family and continue to enjoy his golden years with you.

Enjoy these special years with your middle-aged dog, and don’t forget to remind him how special he is.

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