My dog McCoy lived to be 16 years and one month old. I got him as a four month old puppy. He was an Australian Shepherd.
I believe that his long, healthy life was a result of several things and not of just of genetics as we always want to think.
McCoy did not have perfect health all the time. He had entropion in both eyes, one worse than the other which means that his lower eyelid turned slightly into his eye so that it was continually scratching his eyeball. This caused it to water off and on. The vet and I decided it was not severe enough to warrant surgery, so we left it.
He also had a mild hip displaysia in his right leg and a luxating patella (kneecap moves out of position. This was not diagnosed until he was 15 though). I believe these things happened because of McCoy being too active during puppyhood, which ultimately was my fault, not the fault of the breeder. He just wanted to move. Fortunately these things did nothing to prevent him from being active later in life.
Having raised, trained and lived with several Australian Shepherds and other breeds of dogs, and experienced many client’s dogs of other breeds, I can say one thing for certain,
— attitude goes a long way to creating a good life for a dog.
Following are the lessons I learned from McCoy and his outlook on life.
Know Your Own Mind
McCoy was not one to be convinced that what we wanted him to do was more motivating than what he preferred. He was very direct in letting us know what he enjoyed. He wasn’t super pushy like some dogs who jump on you for certain things, and he wasn’t one to beg for petting because he didn’t really seem to care much for that but when he liked something you knew it.
He loved to look at the environment.
We often called him the “happy wanderer” because of his habit of lying with his back to us, inside or outside and watching the cars go by or looking at the sky, walking the fence line, looking out at the things on the other side of the fence. He was always looking at things.
We used to watch birds fly overhead, which is something that a herding dog does very rarely. He was definitely different from the others dogs.
He liked being with us, no question, but would not be one to sit around and wait for us. He wanted to see things. He knew his own mind. He knew who he was.
McCoy was a mover.
He definitely had two speeds — stop and go. And he was fast. And talented. I believe that it was his continued walking and moving that kept his joints able to carry him until he was 16. He did have a visit from “ol Arthur — itis” in his later years, but was never stopped by it.
He kept walking and looking at things and this kept him healthy.
McCoy, as I said, was always looking at things and for things. He was interested in his environment more so than any of my other dogs. He was interested in learning. His mind was always thinking about something. You could see it in his eyes. I believe this kept him from getting dementia that can occur with older dogs, especially if they have not had much to think about in their lives.
Don’t let things bother you for long (low stress level)
McCoy accompanied me in a half time show performance at a Winnipeg Blue Bombers football game many years ago. He was two and a half years old at the time.
For touchdowns, they had a cannon, which we were pretty much right next to while waiting to do our routine for the fans.
Of course there was a touchdown and they set off the cannon. McCoy didn’t even really hear it because he was just staring at the frisbee in my hands with his face all lit up with his doggie smile. I was so proud of him. He was such a good boy.
McCoy never had a fight himself and was afraid of nothing. Absolutely nothing.
He wasn’t bothered by anything that happened in our lives. He didn’t take anything seriously or hold a grudge. He let things come and go because he was a truly happy dog.
McCoy liked going places and seeing different things. Even though he new what he liked he still did all kinds of things with great gusto, whatever he was able to experience.
Be Genuine And Show Appreciation
Dogs can’t be anybody but who they are. They can’t fake their feelings.
When someone would come over to visit, especially a person whom he had never met, McCoy would leap into the air and, without touching the person, would put his face right into his or her face and give a kiss.
He would also shriek at the top of his lungs with excitement when he met someone. Have you ever heard a dog shriek? It was the unmistakable sound of pure JOY.
These two things let people know that he loved them and was so happy to see them.
McCoy was always fit and trim. I even had trouble keeping the weight on him at times because he was so active. He ate everything and always ran everywhere.
I believe his slim physique helped him to live a long life, as it would most likely assist many other dogs to do as well.
This is something that us humans should really take into consideration. His fitness also helped him stay mobile in his later years, and even though he couldn’t go as fast as he used to, he still tried.
And he had fun.
“The McCoy Factor”
These are the things that I believe kept McCoy going for so long.
For people, the key to doing this is of course that you have to do it genuinely and truthfully, and not pretend that you are like this when you feel different inside.
I would like to call McCoy’s way of looking at the world the doggie equivalent of human “spiritual maturity”. It is something none of us are to start with, but something that we can all achieve if we want. Some people do this without much effort and others have to really work at it.
Dogs can’t consciously change their attitudes, but through training and lifestyle we can help them modify behaviours, which can affect their attitudes, which in the long run is better for their health likely by reducing stress levels.
If this works for dogs, then imagine what it can do for us humans, since we have control of our attitudes and perceptions.
At least for McCoy, his outlook on things enabled me to enjoy having him in my life for many years, however selfish that may be. In the end, only his kidneys prevented him from contnuing his amazing and productive life.
I think taking some of his advice would be a good idea for anyone. It would be worth it to give it a go, anyway.