Exercise and Your Older Agility Dog
No matter the age of your dog when you start dog agility, the day will come when it is time to retire them from the sport. And while you may not like to think about that day, you need to keep an eye on your dog as they get older to see subtle signs that they are slowing down or having difficulty performing. A healthy diet, good daily exercise, good weight and joint care will prolong the day as well as keep them more comfortable when that day actual arrives and beyond. And just because they can no longer jump and climb doesn’t mean they will no longer have the desire to please you with ground exercises.
When you dog starts refusing obstacles such as jumps, a-frame or dog walk it just may be that they are telling you they are uncomfortable. Or, they could just run slower and lose their original zest half way through the course. For the high drive dogs you will have to be the stronger partner and make that decision to slow down and stop “normal” competition.
There are many games now that do not require jumping and climbing if you find your dog just can’t live without some competition in their life. Hoopers, Tunnelers and Barrels are some examples that focus on directional and distance control only. These are great games to transition your older dogs from the high pace agility course to a low impact course they can still have fun on.
When the day comes that your dog is defined as a geriatric dog you must stay committed to their health and well being. A day may come when getting up just isn’t appealing to them, but they must continue to exercise to stay fit both physically and mentally. You will have to adjust to their abilities by doing things like walking slower, taking more but shorter walks in the day keeping an eye on what their body is telling you. Also keep an eye on them the next day, if they jog or run with you and they are stiff or uncomfortable the next day then it was probably over done.
You also need to pay attention to their sight and hearing. If they like to take hikes with you be certain they can hear you and see you so they don’t become lost or disoriented if they wonder off where they cannot see you. You really have to be more vigilant with them as you did when they were puppies. Some dogs are very stoic and you will have to know when to stop, take breaks or head home as they may not tell you.
You cannot drop exercise entirely because this will cause a spiral effect with the dog of muscle loss as it takes longer for older dogs to build up lost muscle mass. And when they lose muscle they will do less and the less they do the more muscle they lose and the stiffer the joints become and the more weight they will put on. So it is important to keep your older dogs active, but just as when they were puppies, you cannot let them over do it or you both will pay for it in the morning.