Keeping an almost 10 year old dog in shape

05.10.2010 – the day I met Liv for the first time. I can remember how excited I was when I woke up that morning. The 5 hour train ride to Munich airport, the first cuddle, the car ride to the breeders home. Especially the car ride home, thanks to the smell of little Liv’s vomit over my jacket haha. We were (and still are) inseparable the next 10 years and we have experienced so much together. Liv is and always will be my baby girl. And if you have a soul dog, your first and forever baby, then it is especially hard to realize that time is going faster than you wish. And all in a sudden, Liv is turning 10 this year. Where did the time go?

Liv is coming to an age where it is common to retire sport dogs from their active sport carrier and of course I spent a lot of thoughts on this topic. Whenever I tell people that she is turning 10, I see surprised faces and disbelief. Liv has barely white hair, flawless movement, pitch-black fur and an unbelievable liveliness. Nobody told her that she is coming to an age where she needs to take it slow and I decided to keep it that way as long as possible.

I have some doubts to retire a perfectly healthy dog just because of age (which is just a number). And sometimes I get sad seeing people buying a bunch of dogs and dropping all of exercise and activities with their «old» dogs because they «need to retire». Or is it because some dogs don’t have the chances to win the first places on the big international competitions anymore? Don’t get me wrong – I believe that NO dog in the world needs competitions and there is nothing wrong with dropping them. And of course, prevention is better than rehabilitation. But to stop all activities, (including training and all those things we crazy agility people do to support our dogs to reach peak performance) from one day to another isn’t fair in my eyes. Do happy and healthy dogs deserve to sit on the reserve bench because they are not as successful anymore? I don’t have the answers but I didn’t chose this option for our Gronendael Ginny who I needed to take out of competitive agility and training due to severe stress-related epileptic seizures. A 7.5 year old working dog in the best age. Retiring – or worse, putting the dog down – is and never was an option. We started with canicross and she found her passion in pulling us through the woods. Away from other dogs, people and other scary things which she can not cope with. Liv on the other hand is fit as a fiddle and she loves the quality time with me. Just the two of us. We started training running contacts when she was 8 years old and we still learn something new every day we spend time together. No dog is too old to learn something new and I love to see the excitement in Liv’s eyes when she can use her brain and body.

To retire a dog is a difficult and highly individual decision, depending on size, body structure and co-morbidities of the dog, as well as ambitions of the owner. Liv is a small dog without any kind of anatomical/structural extremes. She gets annual health-checks and had an orthopedic and cardiologic check-up when turning 8. She never had a single severe or/and sport-related injury in her whole life. And I don’t know if this is due to good genetics or an efficient work-rest-balance. But seeing Liv so healthy and happy is making me think even more about this topic and this is what I am doing to keep Liv in shape:

Agility: We train agility 1, max 2, time(s) per week and most of the time we are just training sequences. Maybe every other week a full course, together with some friends.

Physio: Once a week, guided by a professional dogphysiotherapist. This includes balance, strength, coordination and swimming training. Look at the videos to see what kind of exercises we are doing and look especially at the feet. We spent a lot of time to work on proper feet position because Liv likes to step around like the penguin in happy feet. Proper position is important for the right execution of the exercises (which means more gains and efficiency, less incorrect loading).

Rest: Liv has 1-2 months agility break each year. This means zero agility and this is so important to have to chance to let potential micro injuries heal. When attending a handling seminar, I use to enter just one day – this because those trainings are usually very intensive and I don’t want to train with a tired dog, especially in that age. On rest days we go simple walks like everyone else. Preferably off leash and in the woods.

Liv @atletisk Hund

Here are some general recommendations:

  • Don’t overtrain your dog. Keep the trainings short, effective and remember enough rest days. Don’t repeat sequences and obstacles in training you and your dog already master. Don’t overtrain your dog.
  • Warm up and cool down. Before each competition, each training, each run.
  • Prepare your dog physically to upcoming tasks before adding too much speed and drive. Try to train behaviors without obstacles if possible, without involving too much speed, repetitions or concussion.
  • Give your dog an agility-break each year. This is so important for regeneration. Liv has 1-2 months of zero agility every year.
  • Keep the body of your dog strong and flexible. Invest some time to train strength, balance, coordination, duration and body awareness to prevent your dog from sport-related injuries! Be sure to have enough experience or get help of a professional dogphysiotherapist to guide you through the exercises. Some exercises can be contra productive if they are executed wrong.
  • Get check ups of a veterinary in regular intervals. If you wish for chiropractic treatments, I tend to recommend chiropractors with medical background.
  • Use your head and do some research before feeding your dogs supplements. Don’t spend a lot of money on supplements without any scientific evidence.

First things first: Playing

There are different ways to reward your dog. Playing, treat with food, treat with voice or treat with physical contacts. Not every dog is into all of it and not everything has the same value. Halli is a really good player, but when he was young he wasn’t into food. Tadaa is much into food but playing is not so interesting.

Not every dog is a natural born player, some dogs need to learn it. So this for sure the first thing I test with my puppy. How is it playing? What kind of play does it like? Is it more a chaser or a tugger?

Example: Tadaa

Tadaa likes to run after balls, but she doesn’t like tugging with me with the ball. She also liked chasing the long tuggy toys but again, not tugging.

What I did:

  1. Find out what she likes. She likes balls but nor tugging them. So I used a long tuggy toy from havohravo.com which has a soft part and a ball in the end. She got interested because of the ball, but likes to bite in the soft part more. After some time she realized that it was really fun to tug.
  2. Find secure surroundings and have at least distractions as possible.
  3. Separated training and just playing- No expectations, just having fun.
  4. Be interesting. Running like crazy with the toy from her, make her wanting it. Maybe even using a squeaky toy to get the attention.
  5. Separated playing and food (in the beginning). Once she got food she wanted that for sure more.
  6. Give the play a command. It helps getting in excited mode.
  7. Let her win.
  8. Cheer cheer cheer. It’s for sure exhausting running, cheering and playing at the same time, but she loves it.

Choose your weapon

There are many different kind of toys for different kind of players. The hard part is to find out what kind of player is your dog and what he likes most. The favorite toy can also change.

Chaser

Chasers like to hunt and run after toys. I recommend rewarding with long tuggy toys which can be dragged on the floor or just throwing balls. It will get the dog in hunting mode. You can try to make a tugging game when the dog has catched the toy or you let him win it.

My recommendation: Holee rollers. Because you can also tug a little. Long tuggy toys with soft (faux) fur.

Tugger

Tuggers like to pull the toys and have a little fight with you. Even though rumors say a dog should never win this tugging game otherwise he will be the «leader», I think this is bullsh*t. Some dogs loose motivation if they never win. Some dogs like to tug hard with you, others like more personal space. It’s important to make the tugging comfortable for the dog. I recommend short tuggy toys or holee rollers which you can grab.

My recommendation: Tug toys with a ball in the end. It’s easier for the dog to grab.

Healthy playing is more fun

Always make sure you are playing so it’s physically not harming the dog. Try to have the toy on the dogs height, so the head is not getting pulled up. Be careful with playing while puppies are changing the teeth. If playing is uncomfortable it’s less fun.

Our favorite dog toys are from floramicato , havohravo and dog’s craft.

Kairi Puppyclass

Kairi and me are participating at Silvia Trkman’s puppyclass at the moment and I can tell already that every minute is worth it. Especially for someone like me who is working (more than) fulltime and in shifts are online classes essential. I am trying to train 5 min x 2 everyday and this can be at any hour of the day. And although I do not have the time to record and edit every session we are doing, I am learning a lot by observing my classmates when I have the time..

Here are some videos what we have learned so far. I can highly recommend to take just 5 minutes everyday to teach your puppy tricks. Tricks improve coordination, body awarness and the BRAIN. Teach your pup to think on it’s own and how to be creative. How to use those legs, paws, nose and head. Try to teach useful, silly tricks and have fun together. 🙂

Happy New Year

We wish everyone a happy and healthy new year!

So much happened in 2019 – hundreds of days with happy memories. Some days of success, some days I’d rather forget. And a few days that showed me that life can be brutal and unfair. When I think about the past year, I don’t want to think about the moments I can brag about. I want to think about the moments I am thankful for. Thankful for being loved, being in love, being healthy, being able to work, being supported and surrounded by the best family, friends and dogs I can imagine.

I have no fancy new year’s resolutions this year. Life has been good to me and it’s time to give something back. Bring it on, 2020.

Ami