THE first time we first met Girl, she was crunching ice cubes, begging for cheese and quietly bullying unwitting guests into sharing carrot cake with cream cheese topping at a barbeque party. That was back in 2007, and we’ve been admirers of this little dog ever since.

Back in the day, Girl was a well set up lady of mature age. We’ve never really known how old she was because she was either lost or abandoned by her original family. Her parents estimated her to be about six or seven years old back then, which means she’s about 14 or 15 now.

Girl is therefore a rather old lady now and she’s moved from our neighbourhood so we see her far less than we’d like to. When we did manage to see her again recently, we could see subtle differences.

In the past, she’d race around like a crazy dog, running to us and then her parents half a dozen times in sheer excitement. This time, she ran to tell her mum we’d arrived, but then she flopped down at our feet and demanded a tummy rub.

She demanded a bit our dinner (sausages on the grill) as always but when I dropped a piece, Girl had trouble spotting it. Later, when I took her picture, I saw that the usual green-eyed flash was different too: Girl’s one eye shone green in the flash but the other was significantly paler, suggesting cataracts.

We’ve always played games with this little dog, with grab-the-paw being an especial favourite. For this, you need one feisty dog, two doggy front paws, and a human with two hands willing to be toothed and slobbered over. I don’t play this but my other half is a master.

It goes like this: Girl sits on the ground, and human says, “Pat the paw, pat the paw” and tries to touch Girl’s paws. Girl then vigorously defends her paws with her mouth. If she pushes the hand away, she wins a point, and if you touch her paw, you win a point.

This has always been a wild game with lots of panting and Girl inevitably rushes off, running around the house in excitement, between bouts. This time, she came straight over to play, lying down in front of my other half and nudging his hands to say, “Come on! I’m challenging you!”

Usually the game goes on for ages, but this time we saw Girl was becoming tired after a few minutes. Honour being due, the human very quickly declared, “Girl wins!” and they sat together, with the dog having her ears rubbed in victory by the loser.

All in all, our friend was still herself but like an old lady, she was slowing down. We adjusted to her pace, and we had a blast but I must admit that I was a little worried. It’s always difficult to see fine friends age.

Girl’s mum told us that Girl has changed her habits a little. She spends more time in bed, gets up later and has more cuddle time than before. She still chases shrews and cats (Girl’s only bad habit) but she pants a lot more afterwards. Her walks have cut down from several long strolls to very short ones. All in all though, she still does the same things but just a little less. And she makes up for it with more cuddles. As a retirement strategy, it’s excellent.

So we were happy to see her having such fun but about a fortnight later, her mum called to say Girl wasn’t well. She had lost her appetite and didn’t want to get out of bed. The vet couldn’t find anything wrong apart from her claws being too long, so they did a few tests.

For about two days we bit our nails, hoping on the one hand to find out what was up, and fearing bad news on the other. Luckily, it was all clear and Girl got her bounce back. We think that what happened was that she had a tummy upset. Normally Girl is very tough, and it would slow her down for a day or so but no more, but now that she’s an old lady, it must have taken more out of her.

The long claws were a surprise, too. Girl has a big dose of Australian cattle dog in her – that’s obvious from the second you see her – and that breed is well-known for its long claws. Girl’s have always been long but she’s been very active, and all her running around has kept them neat and trim. Now that she’s older and less busy, the claws have grown too long.

When a dog’s claws (or those of a guinea pig, cat, rabbit or other pet) grow too long, they push up and it hurts the toe. As such, the claw needs to be filed or trimmed. It’s quite an easy job – if you know how (see below) – and the results can be remarkable.

With Girl, the results were certainly so. Her mum says the second the vet trimmed the excess, Girl got back a lot of her bounce. Our pal will now have to make regular trips to have her paws done, and at the same time she can have a check-up to make sure there are no medical surprises.

As for us, we’re hoping to see our friend again over the holidays. I’m planning a trip to the pet shop later this week to look for Girl’s favourite cheese treats. Our pal may be slowing down but when it comes to wolfing down the goodies, she’s retained all of her verve and enthusiasm.

When it comes to enjoying her sunset years, Girl is an expert and we look forward to many more long, fun times to come.

Ellen Whyte is currently ruled exclusively by cats but she sneaks out to talk to her dog friends.

Girl is partly Australian cattle dog, a breed well-known for its long claws.

How to properly trim your pet's claws

TO trim your pet’s claws, you need a set of clippers. If the claws are very small, you might be able to use some plain toenail clippers; however, it’s more likely you’ll have to buy a set from a pet shop or vet’s surgery. There are scissors as well as guillotine-type cutters.

The trick about claw-clipping is that you need to understand the structure of the toe and the claw. If you look at the paw of your pet, you will see that there is a nail and underneath there is a thick, fleshy type line. This is the quick, a collection of blood vessels and nerves that supply the claw.

When you clip the claw, you may only clip the actual nail. You must at all costs avoid the quick. If you don’t, there will be blood and your pet will be in agony. It’s like cutting directly into the pads on your own fingers or toes. Note: This is why declawing is illegal in some countries. It’s not merely removing the claw, it’s like removing part of your fingers. A cruel and extremely painful mutilation.

When you see the difference, you slide the scissors or clippers over the nail, avoiding the quick and then just clip. You need very good light for this, and your pet has to sit still. I sit my cats on my lap with their backs to me, hold up a paw and do it from above.

My cats let me do this because we trust each other, but they loathe the sound and feel of the clippers. As such, I do two paws at a time and then let my pet walk away. Some people have their partner hold their pet, and others say this just causes more stress. You have to decide what works best for you.

Generally speaking, it’s easier to see the quick in light claws than dark claws. Also, it helps to have your pet at waist level rather than on the floor.

Finally, if it’s your first time, take your clippers and your pet to the vet, and do it together. There’s nothing like expert advice the first time round. And if you think you’ll mess it up, just keep going to the vet. Getting it wrong and cutting the quick is just too painful!