First of all pay attention to your dog’s weight at all ages. Make adjustments to their diet and activity levels as necessary to keep them in the best possible shape. BEWARE though, no fad or starvation diets for our four legged friends. If feed your friend dog food there are various formulas available to keep them healthy. If you make your own dog food pay attention to what they need for their age and overall health. For example, puppies need both more calories and more feedings per day than an older dog. Like people, overweight dogs are more inclined to develop health issues, especially as they age.
Exercise is vital not only to a dog’s physical health but also to their mental state. Most dogs were bred for a ‘purpose.’ And so they feel that they need a ‘job’ to do. Some dogs will consider fetching a stick or a ball to be their ‘job’ while others might need to walk the perimeter of their property to assure themselves that everything is safe and in order. Dogs who are not physically and mentally satisfied by their activity level are more likely to develop what we see as behavior issues such as chewing, barking and digging. If your dog is misbehaving in such a manner it likely needs more exercise.
OK – so how does your dog tell you how much activity it needs? Consider what you’ve always done for fun and exercise with this pet.
Has your dog always initiated or recognized playtime by bringing you a ball, a rope, a stuffed animal or any other toy. As long as your pet still brings you the toy it still wants to play. But if you notice your dog is a little slower when chasing down the toy or a little slower returning with the toy simply don’t throw it as far and / or as many times. Let your dog rest a bit between fetches.
Does your dog bring you the leash when it’s time for a walk or become excited when he sees you get the leash. Great – he still wants to walk. This is easy to adjust. Maybe long walks should be cut down to twice per day instead of three times. Or you can take shorter walks or slower walks. Let your dog set the pace as it gets older. And pay attention to whether the dog slows down considerably more on the way home. That might be an indication that the round trip is too long. So cut it down a bit.
Did your dog grow up enjoying the agility track? You can still do that. Again – simply allow the dog to exercise at the pace it is comfortable at. Don’t encourage him to increase his speed. And if you’ve noticed any lameness or have been advised that your dog has arthritis or back issues avoid jumping. Jumping can not only cause severe discomfort for an arthritic dog but also severe injury for dogs with spinal or disc problems.
If you have access to dog parks it’s a great place to let your pet roam and set its own pace. Those that are still able and wanting to run and jump will do so. Others will simply enjoy walking around to investigate and socialize. Especially if your dog is an ‘only pet.’ I must admit it has been my experience that having multiple dogs seems to keep the older ones active and alert. I had a pug that lived to be seventeen and I really believe it was because she knew her ‘job’ was to teach the ‘house rules’ each new rescue pup that came into the house. She also acted as the mediator whenever we brought in a rescue or foster pup that seemed not to like one of the dogs already in residence.
I would offer the following cautions, however, when exercising any dog, especially your senior citizen furry friend:
- Don’t push a dog to do more than it wants to or is comfortable with. If your dog tires – STOP. If your dog does NOT seem to want to jump on or off something, don’t make it.
- If your dog seems to be slowing down or limping but still trying to play – STOP. Some dogs just don’t want to stop. Maybe because they don’t know when they’ll get another chance. Try playing more often but in shorter sessions.
- Beware of the surface you are playing on. Rough surface such as tennis courts, basketball courts and even streets and sidewalks can really damage the pads of a dog’s feet. If you notice that your dog’s pads are red, hot, split or cracked STOP immediately. Cool his feet down with cool wet rags, a baby pool, the bathtub or hose. Then be sure not to repeat the activity that caused the problem until the feet are completely healed. Remember that your dog’s pads can be damaged by hot surfaces in the warm weather AND by ice, snow and salt in the cold weather. In this case wash your dog’s feet thoroughly with warm wet clothes as soon as you go inside.
- Finally, keep your dog hydrated before, during, and after playtime. This statement is true for dogs of all ages. Clean, fresh water should be available to your dog at all times.