Seniors- Fit for life

None of us like to admit that our dogs are getting older, but suddenly you are observing subtle changes in your senior dog’s day to day living. Are they gaining weight easier than in the past? Maybe they seem to be losing interest in playing or slowing down on your walks or their stamina is less than it was previously. Getting up on a couch or bed may be more challenging, or it no longer even exists in your dog’s daily repertoire. Perhaps you’ve noticed them hopping up or down the stairs when they used to move each leg independently and maybe you’ve started carrying them because you are concerned for their ability and/or safety. You are even noticing they are slower getting up from a down or a sit. When did this happen!?!

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10 years

Any or all of these things happen eventually as our canine companions age, along with vision and hearing loss, balance issues, urinary issues … and these are just some of physical things we see. There are a variety of diseases that can occur as they age too. UGH!

We love our dogs as members of our family and it is often very difficult for us to watch these changes happen. If your dog has led an active life over the years than we’d like to see them continue that activity level as long as possible. If they’ve been rather sedentary much of their adult life, we cannot expect to bring them up to a peak fitness level but what we can hope for in either scenario is to slow down the effects of the aging process a bit, maintain activity, decrease muscle atrophy, and encourage a good quality of life into their golden years. Fitness exercises can help keep your dog mentally and physically active as you keep your dog thinking and moving. On top of all of this, it gives you some extra quality time with them. What are you waiting for? 😉

Some of the things to keep in mind while exercising your older pet :
• Be careful about over treating a dog that may already be gaining weight – use some of their meal in place of a “treat” while doing your exercises or do some reps of one or two exercises before serving them their meal (ex: do 3-5 down/stands and/or a 5 second sit)
• Don’t over do it- exercise for short periods, keep down the number of sets and reps, and progress slowly

Muscles that may need strengthening :
Many older dogs have a hard time using the rear and gluteal muscles to lift their back end up after laying down and will use their front limbs to pull themselves up. Therefore, strengthening both the front and rear muscles will benefit them in their day to day living. Another characteristic you might see in some dogs (young and old) is a sloped back, which means they could use some core strengthening too.

Some suggestions for exercising senior dogs :

Keep them moving…

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13 years

 

Walking

– shorten your walk, split it up into multiple walks throughout the day if possible (ex. 2-3 ten minute walks) and slow down if needed
– Depending on your dog’s fitness level while walking- limit hills and increase flat surfaces
OR walk back and forth in a zig zag path up/down an incline

Strengthening

• Sit to stand
• Folding down to a stand

Body awareness and balance
• Curb walking
• Weight shifting
• Cavalettis
In this video, my 13 year old sheltie demonstrates some of the exercises mentioned above. Note: in the curb walking portion I’ve added in cones to help with flexibility and allow for some movement through the spine. I’ve used donut holders in place of cavalettis (with a smaller or less fit/capable  dog, I would use cavalettis in order to provide something lower to step over)

As always, watch your dog for signs of Fatigue but keep in mind with our senior friends, refusal to do an exercise may mean they are in pain and not just just tired. Modify your sessions for the dog in front of you each day. For instance, the day I made the video for this post, Jive was having difficulty standing as I walked around him during the weight shifting exercises. He kept putting himself in a sit position. At first, I thought he just did not know what I wanted (even though he has done this exercise before). I let him sit and proceeded with the exercise so that he understood. When I tried the stand again, he was able to do maintain the position for a couple of reps, but then sat again.  This was how we continued (and I decreased his number of reps) because this told me he could not handle the standing exercise on this particular day.

Like all seniors, taking on new challenges can bring some life to their world. Just as they have enriched our lives over the years, let’s continue to improve theirs.

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happy training

 

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Beat the heat!

It’s hot out there!

There are days I just don’t want to do a thing, let alone exercise because it’s so hot out! However, I’m pretty sure that my canine counterparts don’t really care about the “Dog Days of Summer”. Their needs and wants don’t change just because it is hot.
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I can make sure my dogs are still getting the exercise they need without risking dehydration or heat stroke, a very scary, very serious problem that faces all dogs in the warmer months.

Dogs don’t have the ability to sweat like we do and when they are overheated they can not always fully cool down by panting. Some breeds are more susceptible to overheating or do not tolerate the heat as well as other breeds can. Signs of overheating include, but are not limited to:

  • excessive panting and drooling
  • a bright red tongue or gums
  • thick saliva
  • increased heart rate and body temperature
  • skin around the muzzle or neck doesn’t snap back when pinched
  • Glassy eyes or fearful expression
  • stumbling

So what can we do to keep our dogs active and fit, yet safe?  Some might suggest restricting exercise and while this may be an option for some, it is not for everyone. If you’re like me and train and compete in performance sports, then keeping your dog’s endurance up is imperative.  (I would also argue that ALL dogs need to  stay fit and trim whether they are performance dogs, seniors,  or “just a pet” -but that’s another topic for another day 😉

27450C6A-8400-4661-88C5-7D46BF9433D1One way many of us enjoy our time while conditioning our dogs is by walking with them. In the summer heat this can be dangerous so keep in mind the temperature outdoors. More importantly, consider the temperature of the pavement. With direct sun and no wind, although the thermometer might say 77 degrees outside, the pavement temperature may be 125 degrees! (data source James J. Bergens, MD contact burns from streets and highways, Journal of the American Medical Association; 214(11): 2025-2027.) Would you want to walk barefoot on that for long periods of time? While a dog’s pads seem thicker than the soles of our feet, they can still burn. Keep in mind that the temperatures may be cooler at night, but the pavement has soaked up the sun all day. Try walking in the cooler morning hours, or better yet, take them on a hike on a wooded path where it is shaded by trees or perhaps near a water source. Not all dogs like to wade in the water, but all dogs can enjoy walking by the cooler temps by the shoreline.BBBA52AD-E1C0-461A-BE60-5992EC12504B

If you’re hitting the road with your pal, always bring fresh water with you on your adventures.  If you’re romping around the yard at home, add some ice cubes  to their water bowl or consider a dash of low sodium broth to entice them to stay hydrated.

 

If staying indoors is more your speed, consider a doggy treadmill like Dogtread. The bed of the treadmill specifically made for canines allows them to fully extend and trot for longer periods of time than we can often sustain. Not in the budget? Try setting up cavelettis for a great cardiovascular workout for your pup.

Summer time is a great time of year to get outside and be active with our furry friends. Just remember, all they want to do is go, go, go! Know your dog when it comes to exercising them. Pay attention to signs of  Fatigue and how well they tolerate the heat.  Make wise choices when getting out there this summer! If you’d like additional information on any of the exercises options discussed here or to get a conditioning plan for your canine,Contact  me  🙂 

happy training

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Progress

Eight weeks of class training. Five runs in USDAA in April + 3 runs at AKC Nationals + 1 day at a local AKC show = 10 runs.

All of the hard work paid off.

Bolt (and Meg), have made the AKC United States World Team for the second time. And while that was one of the goals in getting Bolt back in shape, it is actually the icing on the cake. The ultimate goal is keeping him in top condition. When they had gone to tryouts, Bolt had only been back to agility for 2 months. Yet when he stepped into that ring, he was physically ready to go.Messages Image(31003666)

Even though he had an injury to a front limb (toe), it was important to give him a balanced plan and not just work the front assembly. Being on rest for so long would not only cause his front end to weaken, but also his entire body. It was vital not to overwork the one weaker area, as tempting as that may seem, as it can cause an imbalance in the body.

As you may remember, after veterinarian clearance, we began exercising Bolt as if he were just beginning fitness training (Find it here: Onward!). During the months leading up to tryouts, we added on various exercises that would strengthen and challenge all of Bolt’s body parts : core, front, rear, and back.

Initially, we did this exercise standing on a stable platform and progressed to the K9FITbone. image1.pngAmong other things, I had Meg ask Bolt to look right and left and watch her as she walked a circle around him. These variations caused him to shift his weight in all directions while working the small stabilizer muscles in his core.

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One of the exercises we did for the shoulders, chest, carpals and toes was to stand with the rear feet on the K9FITbone with the front feet on two pods. We included some variations using this same set up in order to challenge these muscles groups in various ways.

image1 2Many exercises will work more than one part of the body but often they will have a primary focus.

For example, although this exercise has a main focus on the rear, it also works the core (as we are asking for a tuck sit and kick back stand) and front since Bolt is targeting his front feet on an unstable object.

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Even though Meg has been working with me for a while, we reviewed what she needed to watch for to insure proper form not only for safety sake, but also in order to get the most out the exercises.

This is only a snapshot of what Bolt did to get back to his old self. By having a variety of exercises to work from, we were able to challenge his muscles in a multitude of ways by changing the exercises and also giving his brain a mental workout at the same time.

Meg’s goal was met but the journey is not over. Today it’s a trip to the Czech Republic on the World Team; tomorrow, life. Canine conditioning is not just for the World Team competitor. The benefits are endless for our companions as we travel with them into their golden years.

happy trainingPS: If you want to continue to follow Meg and Bolt’s journey, visit them at Unstoppable dogs

 

 

Onward!

Let us turn back the clock ….
Rest,
rest,
rest.
I’m pretty sure if Bolt could talk he’d say,

                                          “ENOUGH! I’m done! I’m Fiiiiiine!”

Bolt’s injury was to his toe on his front foot. A joint on an outside toe, specifically. Initially, he was on complete rest. No more agility, no more jumping on and off couches, chairs or the bed, and no more running around freely after his daily walks. It was now time for short leash walks just to potty and his days were spent in an exercise pen. When things did not improve within a week, his daily residence changed: crate living was now his new existence. Less freedom means more rest. If you’ve ever met Bolt, you’d agree that he is a high energy dog.

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He needed to do something before his little head exploded!

Fitness training is not just for the body, but also for the brain. After all, it is just as important to workout the brain as well as the muscles. I suggested that Meg start doing some trick training that would not require Bolt to put any strain on that toe, would benefit them down the line, all while improving the close bond the two had already. She worked on things like nose touches, giving a paw and waving to name a few. In our previous conditioning sessions (B.I.=Before Injury), Meg would get Bolt to turn his head by using a treat, or physically lifting his paw. Soon, she’d be able to work his brain and his brawn at the same time while using less treats! After all, we didn’t want him to gain a bunch of weight on top of all of this.

Working on tricks helped to keep Bolt engaged and also tire him out because he had to think. Doing these “exercises” aided him in his rest because he now settled down faster while he was in his crate. As a side benefit, the bond between the two grew even stronger as they waited patiently for the doctors to give them the thumbs up to get back to “regular life”.

The time came that the veterinarians, specialists, and chiropractors (who were also veterinarians) gave Bolt and Meg the green light to get back to their regular activities. Yay! We could start back on the road to fitness! It is important to note that before embarking on any fitness program your pet should be cleared by a veterinarian. Bolt was getting back to his previous fitness level, NOT working with me as a rehab dog. As a Certified Canine Fitness Trainer I do not diagnose injury, nor am I a rehabilitation specialist. I work with dogs who have been given clearance by a veterinarian.

Even with the veterinarians’ blessings, Meg wanted to take it slow. Bolt had “laid low” for a long time, she did not want to over do anything, including agility, hiking or conditioning. Just as we would do if we had an injury, we would not jump right into running a marathon, but instead we would start our training with walking/jogging on a treadmill or outdoors, along with some light weight training for example. She began their slow return by taking short walks with some off leash playing, short agility sequencing with the bars low and limited turning, and conditioning training too.

We also resumed some of the exercises that we did when they began working with me in the past.

5019F589-56E6-4653-9F67-E88796BADB41We did some simple manual weight shifting exercises- first on the ground or on a raised stable platform (such as an aerobic bench or Klimb platform).

Bolt would stand in a natural position and Meg would gently add some steady pressure with her hand to each of his shoulders and hip joints. We then progressed these same exercises back onto the balance pads and then finally to the K9FITBone which increased the difficulty due to the unstable surface.

Weight shifting is a seemingly simple exercise but it requires the use of many stabilizing muscles in the core, front and hind legs.  As we add in various components (such as looking right, left, up and down or lifting a leg), the level of difficulty increases.  Try it yourself.  Stand on the floor with both feet planted firmly and have someone apply pressure to your shoulder. Now lift one leg and look up to the ceiling.  Getting harder, right?  What if you did it standing on a pillow or balance disc? You’ll notice how many more muscles are engaged and how much harder it will get as you continue to add more challenges.

So what happened to those tricks we taught him while he was resting?

We were able to incorporate them into his fitness regime right from the start. For instance, while standing on the aerobic bench or K9FITBone, Bolt would touch his nose to Meg’s hand on the right and left side to shift his weight.

Instead of grabbing his right or left front paw, she would ask him to lift it himself.

We did the same with other foundation exercises, such as the folding down and kick back stand, starting on the ground, progressing up to bench, balance pads, and then a balance disc or K9FITBone. It did not take us long to add these progressions as Bolt already had a strong fitness base.

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And so began Bolt’s return to his normal, happy life. Onward and upward little man!

But I did everything right

Why do we condition our dogs?
Because our vet said so? Because we need to take weight off our 4-legged friend for their overall well being?
There are plenty of good reasons why :
We want them to have a good quality of life as they stroll into their golden years.
We want to strengthen our bond, focus their energy, train more “tricks”.
We want to keep our dogs in the best condition that they can be in for their given sport….

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And sometimes, it’s because we are coming back from an injury. Sometimes life has another plan, and no matter how “right” we do things, injuries may happen.

Agility has often been compared to (in some circles, on some level) olympic sports. So, take for example, French gymnast, Samir Ait Said. He broke his leg during a vault exercise in which he had previously qualified for in the 2016 Olympics.

Is it likely that he did not adequately prepare for the challenges his sport presented to his body every time he stepped into the gymnasium? No. Could he have also been injured doing a totally unrelated activity or just in his every day living? Possibly.
Athletes of all skill levels *should* take precautions to avoid injury. This is part of the reason why they train. Yet, injuries are common for people who train and perform fastidiously despite (we assume) high quality preparation. But, life happens. So does that mean we should never train or compete with our dogs out of this fear? Perhaps they should just live in a bubble? Or do we do our best to prepare our canine athletes for the demand of our sport? Our goal is to decrease the chances of an injury but if they happen we hope to lessen the severity and increase the possibility of fuller, speedier recovery. The choice is ours.

Whether our dogs are “weekend warriors” at local trials, or we have loftier goals of competing internationally, conditioning should be part of our regular training and preparation routine to keep them safe, happy and healthy. . This is why people often seek out a Certified Fitness Coach. Meg McCarthy started getting fitness advice and began training with me for her dog Bolt for exactly those reasons.IMG_1535

 

Before we started, Meg used to walk and hike Bolt regularly, along with foundation training and other agility training….and of course, competing. But she realized she needed more than that.

She wanted to try to keep Bolt as fit as possible, which is where I came in. We began with the foundations of fitness. The basics. Using correct form. Getting more bang out of each movement and position. Things progressed quickly and well. Meg was also getting herself in the best shape of her life and doing the same for her dog. Bolt’s performance in the ring began to reflect this work. In 2016 they accomplished many feats including a second MACh, a challenger’s round run at nationals, a second place finals run at Westminster, and, the ultimate goal, a spot as a member of the AKC World Team. Meg continued Bolt’s fitness plan into the fall, right up until they left to compete in Spain for the world championships. They were the strongest and healthiest they had ever been when they returned.

And then it happened. It can’t be. Is he limping? Oh no! An injury. An apparent tweaked, stubbed or wrenched toe on a rock? The A-Frame perhaps? Does it really matter? Everything stopped.

She had been doing all the *right* things! But, as we said, things happen. We can’t control everything (though try we might). So began the road to recovery. Long weeks of crate rest, IMG_1534vet visits, x-rays, visits to specialists, dozens of phone calls, second (or more) opinions, chiropractic visits, before finally…clearance from the veterinarians and specialists to begin the slow return to activity. Even then Meg built up slowly- short walks, gentle stretching, slowly raising agility bars back to full height, more chiropractic adjustments, and yes, conditioning – all while remembering to breathe while doing it.
—- to be continued….