As much as we would like to prevent it, our agility dogs do grow old. As a matter of fact all dogs grow old, even if they were not once agility dogs. 🙂 If we are lucky, our dogs will grow v-e-r-y old. But, luck isn’t the only thing that will take them there.
I have owned nine dogs in my lifetime. Sadly, one I lost to a freak accident at a very young age but each of the others have lived well into their teenage years (of course excluding my youngsters I currently own that have not yet reached those teenaged years).
So far all of the dogs that I have brought into my home as puppies have lived close to 16 years with me. My current “older gang” includes DeCaff who is 13 1/2 and Buzzy who will be 17 years old next month.
Obviously there isn’t one single thing that has gotten my dogs to these ripe old ages, but I do believe there are things we each can do to help our dogs age gracefully. I remember my first dog, Shelby. She lived to be 16 1/2 years old. However, she was a very “old dog” from the time she was 14 years old. She required her first dentistry at 10 years of age and had one almost every year of her life after that. We did what we could to provide the best care for her in her later years but mentally she was not “with us” all of the time. She would check out and just stare at the floor. She slept almost all of the time and except for meals, I don’t think she looked forward to much in her life. We were told this was “normal” for an old dog and just accepted that was the way all dogs aged. I believe Shelby still had a good quality of life but nowhere near that which my Buzzy now enjoys. I have learned great lessons over the years and each successive dog has been the benefactor of these lessons.
I remember when my first agility dog, Shelby, was in her “prime of life” at 5 or 6 years old and I thought 12 or 13 years old would be a great age for her to reach. That was until that she made it to 12, then I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her! It doesn’t get any easier. For me, it isn’t just about having a dog “live a long life.” It is about having a dog living “a long enriched life.”
One of the lessons I learned about keeping dogs young at heart I have mentioned here on the blog in the past is their “Big Adventure Times” (BAT)! These are little sessions I try to give to my older dogs daily. Times when I am present only for that particular dog. The “Big Adventure Time” (or BAT ) I learned from my good friend and our Re-hab Veterinarian Dr. Leslie Woodcock. She has a fascination with the geriatric canine crowd. She told me with Shelby if I just took her out once a day to make her feel special it would make a huge difference to her state of mind. Wow was she right!
BAT doesn’t have to happen just when a dog is ancient. I actually start them once my dog is retired from the ring. If I am running to the store, that dog alone will hop in the car with me. BAT can be individual one-on-one outings such as car rides or they can be focused one-on-one time within a group outing. A BAT can take only seconds of your time. It can be as simple as a quick game of tug if that is something your dog enjoys.
If I am really rushed, a BAT will just be a walk around the outside of the house. If your dog normally does his business in the back yard, take him for a walk around your car parked out front or a walk to the neighbours and back. Often BAT includes getting a special treat at some point during the outing. Try to make sure your BAT takes the dog somewhere different than his normal daily routine takes him. It is an ADVENTURE, tell him you are taking him to a new jungle where there are wild cats to fend off as you walk him to the mailbox and back. Sometimes I would have my dog just do a short tunnel or (when they get too old for that) I will have them pop up on the end of the dogwalk in their normal two on two off position from yesteryear in the agility ring. I will then release them with a big OKAY proclaiming them as the CHAMPION OF THE WORLD. It is a big adventure.
Below is a video clip of a BAT for DeCaff and Buzz that happens at the end of a group walk. Even though all of the dogs got to go for the walk there is an individual focus for each of my old dogs at the end. It generally is only a couple of 30 seconds per dog.
A BAT can be done within the group if it is something that is completely out of the norm. So a group walk for a dog that normally gets a group walk is no big adventure. However, a group walk to a brand new location that has lots of cool smells and maybe even bunnies to chase IS a BIG adventure even if you are doing it in a group of dogs rather than one-on-one
Here is a video clip of how a recent group activity was a massively BIG adventure for Buzzy.
The key is to create mental stimulation. I have given you guidelines for my dog’s big adventures, but there are no rules; it is just about spending a quality moment with a dog you love while you still have the chance. Never allow life to get too busy that you don’t have time to tell your dog how special he is. Sometimes I will remind Buzzy of a great success we shared when he was younger and how I love him more even more now than I did then. Every day is a big adventure, it is all in how it roles out.
I will share more ideas about helping dogs enjoy this more relaxed time of life to its fullest in my upcoming newsletters. If you are not a subscriber, just fill in the form to the right and you will be!
Today I am grateful for the lessons my dogs have brought me even in their golden years. We never stop learning and they never stop sharing! Love the older guys and am so grateful to be able to have this time with them.
I know what you are saying about old dogs being old for so long. Old English sheepdogs get old fast and stay old for a long time. I just love old dogs. They are so easy to be with and love. Margie
Bless you! These anti-aging tips may be the most important information you have ever shared with us. Whatever I can do to let my two share as much quality time as possible with me is worth the effort.
Can’t wait to hear some more tips.I have a 12 year old border collie who retired only the end of last year.H e has heart problems for which he is on medication and also has cataracts.His BAT time is in the morning sharing my toast while my other two younger dogs are hooning around the yard.
I have 3 dogs aged 3 7 and 10 and they did start being treated as a pack. So when wasn’t convenient to take all 3 it was easy to leave all 3 behind. Now I have a ‘Dog of the Week’ system! So that dog gets the little extras, the short trips etc etc. Applying this even more specifically to the older dogs is brilliant.
Susan, That is such a great reminder for our old guys. We have a 11 1/2 and 13 1/2 year old goldens right. My 11 1/12 golden has vestibular disease and is not happy about it. We are trying different remedies to make him more comfortable.
Thanks again! I look forward to your e-mails.
What a great topic! And timely for me as I just had to put down my 14.5 yo lab and have my 7 yo BC/Aussie cross left at home with me.
But I also feel this applies to the HUMANS in our lives, as we and our family members interact and age! Cross-species applications galore!
Thank you Susan!
Last weekend my aged Welsh Springer Spaniel (13 years and nearly 2 months) was placed third (and went clear) in Jumpers C (NZ) out of 23 entered. I am still stoked! Aside from the usual complaints of older dogs (cataracts, hearing loss, some arthritis and slight incontinence), Flynn is still healthy. We will never be competitive but we will keep doing some dog sport as long as he is sound and enjoying it. And his favourite thing to do with me – just go in the car somewhere, anywhere!
I should clarify…Flynn’s event was split so he was third in the midi group.
Awesome blog post and good reminder not forget the oldies. My oldie at 12 years 10 months went out a couple of weekends ago and managed the last track of her TD title. It wasn’t so much about the title but she definitely had a ball being out and being the centre of attention for a change.
I am still struggling on a daily basis to come to terms with my youngster BCs forced retirement from competition sports. Physical problems have taken a toll (ortho issues and exercise induced collapse) and its hard to give up the what we might have enjoyed and find something to replace it when she is still so young and with drive and enthusiasm to burn. The body just can’t cope by the mind is so very very willing.
Thank you so very much for sharing your lessons and learnings. It is more appreciated than I think you know!! I just gave my older fellow some extra special time. 🙂 And will do so daily from now on. 🙂
This is WONDERFUL! Thank you so much. My husband’s and my oldest Australian shepherd is only four, but when I was growing up, it was impressive if our dogs made it to ten. The idea that our two dogs could be with us for so many years later is a dream!
I have been doing BATs with my dogs every day, likely because you have been inspiring me with your training tips since 2001!
Great ideas Susan! Love the BAT idea!
We love seeing the older dogs and retired dogs enjoying the sport of K9 Nose Work! It’s great for pups (wonderful focus), competition dogs (K9 nose Work trials), but it’s a boon for the seniors! Based on their natural instinct to hunt, it’s so much fun to watch them enjoy this! The (almost) 15 yr old Border Terrier (retired from agility, and obedience), I train comes out prancing, so excited to start the game! His owner is so thrilled to be able to keep him active and happy! the seniors are a joy!!!!! Love live the seniors!!!! 🙂
I have a rescue retired 12 year old sled dog. I have been doing rally with him. A big change from being a lead dog pulling to doing rally. He has great character and makes everyone smile when it is his turn in class or an event. I make sure he gets “Bucky” time every day. My border collie just has to wait while we do our thing together. He has learned lots of tricks and commands. He has a great time when whe have a Border Collie “party”, he loves company to come over.
Thank you for this post, Susan. Even though I have a two year old, it inspires me to bear in mind how precious EACH day with him is.
Recently, after a tough agility class, I pulled out Shaping Success, hoping to garner some fresh insights by rereading Buzz ‘s amazing story. (My Marble is an over-the-top, hard driving boy, who has yet to encounter an obstacle he didn’t want to conquer! That intensity is often a bigger challenge than this novice agility handler is prepared to deal with!!) Wow, I gained so much from a second time through the book! In fact, I got so engaged, that I read cover to cover before catching a few hours of sleep. Subsequent training sessions have been much more productive!
As you might imagine, seeing Buzz in these videos, with his “childhood” story fresh in mind, was very touching. Thanks to your brilliant book, Buzz will be with us always 🙂
This idesa is very timely for us. We are looking at retiring our 10yr old and possibly our 6year old (because of hip dysplacia). One of their BAT’s is to get them down the beach and let them chase seagull shadows and each other. They think they are puppies again and convince us that we aren’t old or sore at all:. Finishing it off tracking bunnies in the dunes… heaven.
Great timing. I just got in from playing frisbee with my 9 1/2 year old retired Sheltie to find this in my email. She is a spring chicken compared to Buzz and Decaff, but needs Mama time just the same.
This is really nice to read. My older guy is only nine-years-old but had to retire early due to a knee injury. I’m always trying to find things to do with him. It’s normal to expect that the new puppy would get a lot of the attention, but I don’t want my old fella to be left out just because he isn’t training anymore.
I have a B/C bitch who is 14 years old and lost a hind leg last year to Osteo sarcoma. She is ” deaf” but otherwise very alert and fit, loves ball games and walks. My present agility dog, also a B/C is 7.
In N.Z. canine cancer is endemic and have lost most of my dogs at around 12 years. Old dogs need a good quality of life, just keeping a dog alive is not the point.
We always had the old dogs with us as long as they enjoyed it. They were part in our life as much as the young ones and they got their share in training as long as they wanted and the two I had both a bit over 16 wanted to do trick training, TTouch, Ottosson games until the days before they died. They enjoyed “puppy” SAR training, trailing as long as they wanted and their bodies could.
Still I have friends who did the best like we do and some dogs died as pups and others at young age from cancer or other reasons.
For my lab I do not know but she outlived vets prognosis of severe hip displasia,pancreatitis and heart problems, from my chessie`s littermates many lived to be about 12 and he outlived one vets prognoses for a back injury for over 10 years.
All great dogs, much learning and gratitude for each second young or old.
What a great post! Thank you Susan, can’t wait for the next one.
K9Nosework has been a great addition for us that can be enjoyed by older dogs and dogs w/ other issues as well. However we don’t practice everyday, I will be adding a daily BAT to any days we don’t play nosework for sure.
I really enjoyed reading what you do with your older dogs! I have 2 twin aussie girls of 14.5 years and I still do (not daily though) special things with them. They are still very playfull and it is a joy to watch them play every day. Your article made me ralize that I could actually do small things more often with them. They enjoy it so much and it is true that they do look forward to still be “working” with me for tricks, rallye-o or weave channels!
This is wonderful.I only have one dog so as he ages it will be a little easier to do BAT with him on a daily basis. He is only 6 now but hopefully I can keep him happy mentally and physically for a long time to come.
Very inspirational Susan, thank you!
I love your kind of BAT, Susan! I have seniors of my own, and thank you for reminding me to keep them in the game. Buzzy’s swim in the pond made my day!
I never realized that I was neglecting my older dog (she is 9 years old) when I was doing everything and going everywhere with the young dog (he is 2 now) until one day when I left the house and had to go back. I heard her outside in her yard howling. Just a low moureful howl. OMG. I then realized how much I have been neglecting her. From that day on I started taking her for walks down the street (just her and I) and started to always tell her how special she was. It made a world of difference!! Thank you Susan for reminding me to take the time with my older dog and I can’t wait to hear what other BATs I can do with her.
looking forward to you ways for the BAT, my bichon, Duchess is 12 + and she is still running in agility. She will do two events a day and we just go out and have a good time with out worrying about time. She loves going out on the boat for a cruise and we do take good walks. I have a younger dog that she will play with overy now and then.
I doubt I was the only viewer who shed a tear watching Buzzy heading into the water like a puppy. So great to see his joy. My oldest boy will be 14 on his next birthday and we do spend special time with him daily and take him on his special one-on-one outings and walks. His hearing is completely gone so he isn’t able to do off leash group walks anymore (he stays on leash) but we still keep him as active and happy as possible. I often wonder, now that he is deaf, if he misses hearing us talk to him. 🙁
You made me cry !! 🙂
Thank you so much. Not only are you brilliant, but you share that with each of us! You are soooo right. thank you.
Really enjoyed that, looking forward to hearing your ideas on making it better for the older ones. My oldest is 12 1/2 and in the last 6 months has aged fast. Hoping to get some ideas.
Thank you for this post Susan. My girl is now 11 1/2 & although she no longer competes I take her along as my younger dogs ‘coach & mentor’ to any trial where she’ll be comfortable. She loves these outings & always gets to sit with da Mama at ringside or bounce over a bar when no one is at the practice jump & she looooves a game of tug or doing a few tricks for a cookie. I like to think agility has kept her young to this point & hope her continued attendance through the season will encourage her to remain so. But I will make sure to give her a BAT every single day…thank you again for always being the little bird on our shoulder to remind us of how we can be that bit better a handler!
Just had a great time working my older gal, Callie. Love our senior dogs! She is still the light of my life at 12.5 yrs young. While she is retired from agility and flyball, we still enjoy doing things together. We had a fun time playing ball with my 5 yr old kiddo. It teaches him how to work with dogs and her how to have fun with the little guys. Here’s to our our seniors and to their ongoing health and longevity.
Love this!! I haven’t had the opportunity to experience the late ages of a dogs life, thoughts of experiencing this with my current dogs brings tears to my eyes, yet joys, that if all goes my way I have many years yet to spend with them. However, as they are what my life is right now, I also plan that for their future, they are and will be nothing but the pinnacles of what makes my life be what it is. I thank my dogs for that, and thank you SG for sharing this reminder with us and giving us yet another opportunity to ponder and be thankful for what our dogs do for us and what we can always do for them!
L-O-V-E-D seeing (and hearing) Buzz’s joy with the pond swim! I actually went and pulled my copy of Shaping Sucess to see him as a wee pup again, his love for life is womderful! Thanks for sharing 🙂 caused a smile to occur from ear to ear for me 🙂
Great reminder. Aging poorly is so strongly connected to habituation in life. Doing the same repetitive things with no variation or enjoyment in life. It used to be thought that we had all the neurons we would have as a baby and they reduced as we got older. Not true, neurons die when there are no differences to pay attention to (everything is new as a baby). New ones continue to grow if you keep life interesting. You might be interested in work done by Anat Baniel and her book Move Into Life (similar to TTouch work and its origins).
What a wonderful post! I have a very special place in my heart for the older dogs. A couple of years ago I had 5 dogs – all within two years of each other. Sadly they all left us within the span of 18 months. They were all 14-15 years young when they passed and we always did something special with each of them daily. I considered it an honor. Thanks for sharing this beautiful post!!
Wow Deb, what a load of heartache in a short period of time. So sorry for that. I hope you have other dogs to fawn all over now.
What a great blog, I had to share it on FB. I have dobermans, 3 dogs in training and 2 double digit retirees. I throw a dumbbell or do a single go-out with my oldies and it makes them so happy to “be training” again. Looking forward to your newsletter, thanks for all the sharing through the years.
What a timely blog….we have 4 Border Collies…3 1/2…6….7 …10 1/2…… So thanks, Susan….will look forward to the other suggestions at keeping our dogs feeling special and in the best of emotional and physical health.We, too, have been there before and over the years have lived with 9 dogs….so we know the journey an look forward to new ideas and confirmation of what we are already doing to keep life special for all.
Love it I have several older dogs and one 16..I will always be sure and give her my time..thanks for the reminder !
This is just lovely 🙂 We already appreciate every day we have with our oldies and always make sure they get their own special time – they especially love pottering around the agility shows getting loads of attention from people who’ve seen them go from crazy characterful dogs through to the more sedate times of their lives – and it’s lovely to see your reminder of how important it is 🙂 FUN for oldies is the best!!
Timing couldn’t be more perfect! My dog is only 4, but I lost my last dog too young (only 7), and just this morning I was telling someone how my ultimate goal is for her to be a happy, long-lived dog like Buzzy.
Does “BAT” include teaching a new trick?
Absolutely Angela that is an AWESOME BAT!
Great to see your old dogs, Susan. John will remember my mini poodle Q (CH OTCH MACH5) who turned 17 in May. Although blind and mostly deaf, he will still enthusiastically take a dumbbell if held up to his nose then wants to carry it off.
This blog meant a ton to me. My old dog is 14 and I’m cherishing every moment with her as she has started that downhill slide.
Perfect timing! The old dog and I have been feeling a bit sorry for ourselves because we STILL don’t have a puppy here to add some joy and aggravation to out lives. News of the upcoming Puppy Peaks is bittersweet, so the arrival of this BAT series will really make it easier to find the joy here in Elder-Do Land. Very grateful for YOU!
This is wonderful! I remember realizing my old dogs needed special time when my I got my first “second dog”. It makes such a big difference! Thanks for the great reminder Susan!
Thank you for letting us in on this. Your experience is invaluable. I am looking forward to hearing about any supplements you may be using .
Thank you for sharing these Susan! What a great reminder that old dogs need attention too. Also how lucky we are to have these years with them.
Keeping our old dogs young at heart is such a privilege and a joy! My 14 year old rescued BC Brodie comes out and enjoys running 4″ in ASCA, with me modifying the course to give him a smooth path easy on his body. The whole crowd claps and cheers like he won the Grand Prix and we have a private celebration with wonderful cookies and parade around like he’s a champion, which he is! He loves running agility and making it safe and special for him is a true joy for me and the crowd. He’s still crazy after all these years, and letting him do what he loves shows him how much he means to me. I wouldn’t trade these times with him for anything!!!!!
This is awesome! I’ve really wanted a peek into the lives of your older dogs. I’ve done the past two Recallers with my (now) 13 year old dog in a addition to my baby-dog. He loves it and finally started tugging at the age of 12. 🙂 However, I need to work on balancing his training as it is easy to spend all my time on agility with the younger dog. We’ve been training his pt as tricks, but that gets old pretty fast.