When our dogs get older and unable to do performance any longer, what then? Often we all get new puppies to train. It is important to continue to pay attention to the physical and mental needs of our retired dogs.
There are a few things that I think are very important to keep in mind.
Number 1-WEIGHT: I believe it is VERY important to make dietary adjustments when older dogs become less active. A less active dog does not need as many calories and the single most important thing you can do for your older dog is keep them THIN. Extra weight on the joints can cause pain, inflammation and deterioration. If you are unsure how to tell if your dog is a good weight, please refer to this fantastic article written by Chris Zink, DVM. (other useful articles found on this page)
Number 2 - STRENGTH: What about K9 Conditioning for the older dog? Depending on the age and activity level of the dog, a conditioning program will help your dog gain muscle, maintain muscle and or reduce muscle loss caused by inactivity and age contributions.
Number 3-MENTAL: Old dogs CAN learn new tricks and many of these tricks will help to strengthen, or maintain muscle mass as well as mentally challenge your dog.
My oldest dog Stanley is 12 years old and he has not lost much muscle as he ages. When I am working the other dogs on new tricks, conditioning exercises and even agility practice he is right there waiting his turn. Do I make adjustment for him, sure I do. I modify the difficulty of the exercises and time spent. If we are doing agility, we skip the A-frame, lower the jumps to half his regular jump height and have fun.
Performance dogs are not generally happy just to BE. They want activity and challenges in their life. Finding the balance that works for your dog is Key. Don’t over exercise your dog until they are sore and limping the next day, even if it is a trip to the beach and they are having a blast. Don’t allow your older dog to get fat and make sure you are providing mental challenges.
And by far the most important things is to take a few moments every day to hug your older dog and thank them for being your best friend, for doing all the things we ask of them, for being our guinea pig in training and for loving us even when we make mistakes.
Bobbie Lyons, CCFT, KPA CPT