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.