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!?!
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…
– 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
• Sit to stand
• Folding down to a stand
Body awareness and balance
• Curb walking
• Weight shifting
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.