Never Long Enough

A new system for converting dog years into the human equivalent

By Rob Breeding

The old one-human-year-equals-seven-dog-years formula has apparently been scrapped, replaced by a new system for measuring canine lifespans.

My English setter, Doll, turns 10 this month. By the old formula she’s the equivalent of 70 in human years, albeit a pretty spry 70. Sure, napping is her primary activity these days, and climbing into the back seat of the truck is more of a challenge than she’d prefer to let on. But set that dog loose in bird country and there’s not much difference between 10-year-old Doll and her 2-year-old version.

Actually, there is one big difference: when 10-year-old Doll gets birdy, it’s bank. Her younger self wasn’t always so reliable.

The one-equals-seven formula has been teetering for a while now, and never had a basis in science anyway. Humans live roughly 70 years, dogs 10, so folks did math. But female dogs are sexually mature by 10 months and that’s 6ish in human years.

Earlier this month the University of California San Diego School of Medicine announced a new system for converting dog years into the human equivalent, based on changes in the genes of both species. The study indicates that by the time a dog has made its first trip around the sun, changes in its genes are comparable to a 30-year-old human. And by year four, dog genes resemble those of a 50-year-old human. So dogs mature more quickly, then aging slows in their senior years.

Dogs and humans have other differences.

Human athletes peak in their late 20s. There are exceptions: LeBron James is 35 and remains, arguably, the best basketball player on the planet. Tom Brady — the GOAT of quarterbacks — is 42 and still going strong, though a move to Tampa Bay will test his age-defying voodoo, if the season even happens.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was 42 when he retired as the all-time scoring leader of the NBA. Martina Navratilova was 49 when she won the final major title of her career with a mixed doubles win at the U.S. Open. Nolan Ryan was 46 when an injury to his throwing arm forced him to shelve his 100 mph fastball.

And Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe, retired from the NHL at 52, playing every game of his final season, recording 15 goals and 26 assists while helping the Hartford Whalers earn a playoff spot.

But a 4-year-old bird dog — close to Mr. Hockey’s retirement age based on the new formula — is just entering its prime. Four is about the age Doll began to command the field, and other than a slight dip in her endurance, and a more considerable intolerance of heat, she improved in each of the subsequent six years.

At 10, she’s likely facing the downward side of the curve now, but she comfortably hunted Montezuma quail along the Mexican border in January. That hunt included Doll evading a pack of ornery javelina we stumbled upon while searching for coveys.

Doll’s sprint away from those sharp-toothed, collared peccary was the canine equivalent of winning a tennis Grand Slam event a day after activating your AARP membership.

The old formula never really seemed far off, other than that accelerated maturation for young dogs. The new UC San Diego formula seems more a refinement of the previous system, rather than an entirely new way of comparing the ages of dogs and humans. As I mentioned, the old formula pegs Doll at 70 human years. When I scanned the chart published with the UC study, I saw that a 10-year-old dog is, well, right about 70.

This research has a major oversight, however. No matter how you count the years, a dog’s life is never long enough.

I wish they could’ve fixed that.

Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.