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.

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