13 September 2019
Like us, as our dogs age, their ability to do all the things they used to be able to take in their stride reduces but, with some careful management, a watchful eye and a lot of love and care, we can ensure we make their veteran years happy, healthy and fulfilling.
First of all assess your dog and his current fitness level. There can be many changes that come with age that appear gradually and because we see our dogs every day, we don’t always notice them. Ask a professional who doesn’t know your dog - especially if you think you might not be being objective, as often we either don’t like to admit our dogs are getting old, or else we just assume things are normal that might not necessarily be so.
Talk to your vet too. Often when a dog loses his enthusiasm for exercise or shows signs of ageing, owners just assume that it is an inevitable part of their dog getting older. This may well be the case, but often, dogs can be in pain from sore joints or be suffering from some other age-related conditions - and if treated, the dog can regain a far better quality of life.
Little and often is a great mantra for exercising older dogs. Long walks can put strain on joints, muscles and internal organs, and while many dogs will enjoy the walk so much that they not show signs of struggling at the time, they will wake up the next day stiff and sore. Far better to give your dog several short walks during the day that won’t physically tire them so much.
Think about where you’re walking – and what you’re doing, too. Steep hills or soft sand can put a strain on your dog – as can playing ball games or anything that involves quick acceleration, sudden stops or tight turns.
Exercise is still important though. In humans it seems to play a significant part in holding mental ageing at bay – or at least it seems to engender a positive mental attitude – and the research we have means we can safely assume the same for our dogs. So while our older dogs can’t do the great long walks they did when they were younger, they can still enjoy several short walks through the day. Not only will this give them the physical exercise they need but it also gives them more contact and interaction with you – and social interaction, especially with their owner, seems to play a definite role in keeping dogs mentally sharp with a more youthful attitude.
Do watch your dog closely though – and be aware when walks need to be shortened or maybe just skipped altogether for the day. Don’t get stuck in thinking that your dog must get out every day if some days that just isn’t what they want or need. This is especially true on hot days as older dogs do not regulate their temperatures as well as younger ones.
All of this can, however, mean that it’s easy to inadvertently spend less time with our older dog – as we are walking them less – at a time when they need our company and companionship more. They still have the same mental, emotional and social needs as they have always had, and indeed by paying attention to those we can keep our older dogs stimulated, happy and, if anything, deepen the relationship we have with them.
Article written by Agria's Behaviourist and Trainer, Carolyn Menteith as part of a series surrounding caring for senior pets.
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