We may have spent 1-2 years preparing them for this activity. But, within a too short period of time we are having to make decisions on cutting back on that activity. Perhaps it is moving them to a lower jump height in agility, doing fewer jumps, contacts and weaves in training or just cutting back on the intensity of our training work. Many dogs seem way too young when this happens…. Perhaps at 4 or 5 years of age or whenever we see that their bodies do not seem to be handling the stresses we put on them from training.
Often we see people thinking about or buying a new puppy when their dogs are around 5 years of age. Not only are our dogs pretty well trained for our sport at this time but we realize that perhaps within a short time we will need to change the way we train and show them due to their age and how time, injuries, and perhaps the way we trained has effected their bodies.
The new puppy comes and we start all over…. But what happens to our aging dog? Often they seem to get put aside as we now once again focus our total attention on the puppy, preparing and training them to one day be our little star.
The ways we change our relationship with that first dog may be in the form of excluding them from being around a training session since we don’t want barking. Or leaving them outside a room when we are doing our tricks and balance disc work. We might have to leave them at home when we go to a seminar, or perhaps take the puppy out for socialization in public or for trail hikes and walks alone.
Yes we still love our aging dog dearly and yes we do still work them in our sport and take them for walks and hikes, but … has it changed?
Does this sound familiar?
It does for me because in looking back at when I got my puppy Myst I see how much I excluded Kaffee from so much of my time with building a bond and training Myst.
Kaffee was my obedience dog. We did agility for a few years, did a lot of herding but finally moved to obedience after I had several knee surgeries and had could not run and had to train at home. I took what I had learned about making agility fun and applied it to obedience… lots of play with Kaffee’s favorite tugs and balls and of course great treats which he loved. Kaffee enjoyed obedience and never seemed to show that he would rather do agility …. He was just happy with whatever he could do with me.
This was fine as I started working and training Myst to someday be my agility dog. Late in the day we used a room in my house to do work on balance discs and to shape tricks. Kaffee was not included and lay outside the room waiting for us to finish… where he got a lovely treat for quietly waiting. I was concerned about one of the dogs barking or not settling quietly while the other was being worked.
Then it happened.. Kaffee was injured. A year ago while at an agility trial, Kaffee was running for a ball and when I turned around he was standing on 3 legs. He had an iliopsoas strain and as you can see in my earlier blog, we started a very focused program to help him recover. Now my attention was again on Kaffee. Each day he had at least 30 minutes devoted to helping him in his rehab. As he progressed it was time for some balance disc work to help build his strength in his hind end.
Rather than work Kaffee separately on the discs, I decided it was time for both dogs to be OK sitting and waiting while the other dog worked. They would be rewarded for being quite. I was surprised at how well this went and how quickly they both were waiting their turns. Now both dogs went to our canine gym for end of day fun with tricks and balance discs. Why had I not considered doing this sooner? Kaffee loved his work with the balance discs and very quickly progressed. He was 8 years old at the time and within a few months had developed amazing balance, strength and proprioception. I would tell him what a super star he was and he would jump in the air with joy and happiness… he truly showed how proud he was of himself.
Now I felt so badly that I had not included him in this time earlier… and perhaps could have prevented this injury.
It has now been a year with so many changes for Kaffee due to his iliopsoas injury. He had to stop competing in obedience where he had to jump 20 inches. After 6 months of my careful rehab he was back to hiking with us on trails without steep climbs and rocks and by 9 months he could hike off leash anywhere.
Meanwhile, my agility with Myst was slowing down and I was focusing on obedience work with her. She and I had had a year of fun in showing agility but my knees were not doing well with all the running. Obedience is much kinder on not only humans bodies but also dogs… This was not the option I would have taken but I decided that I could be happy with hiking, obedience, tricks, balance disc fun and a little agility at home.
Myst has been trained, but not shown, through Utility. We are now proofing her work and it is time to begin thinking about showing… and, I needed to get back in the ring again. Kaffee is 9 years old and had only shown in one show after his iliopsoas rehab. I entered Kaffee in one of our favorite obedience shows in Flagstaff, Arizona (June 2014) for fun and to get us both back in the ring. He was entered for 2 days in Utility and Open. Kaffee was soooo happy to be the center of my attention at a show again. Since I have always tried to make the ring a happy and fun place to be he wanted to jump up and bark with happiness in the ring… I had to be a little more serious trying to keep him focused and not quite as exuberant… but he was so happy.
On Saturday Kaffee got a lovely score of 198 in Open under Mel Stanley and qualified in Utility giving him the High Scoring Obedience Dog (HIT) and also the Highest Scoring Combined for Open and Utility. Sunday he also qualified in both of his classes giving him 2 more legs toward his UDX4 and very close to his OM6. A perfect weekend for a dog that I had thought was now retired.
I was not only surprised and extremely happy and proud of Kaffee but again I focused on how important it is to not forget our aging and devoted friends.
The Whole Dog Journal in 2008 wrote an excellent article on “How to Care for an Older Dog”. Lisa Rodier, the author, talks about dog’s cognitive ability diminishing as early as 7 years of age. She writes that as pet owners we may not even realize a change until they are 10 years of age. Dogs that have been trained as performance dogs (agility, service, obedience) may show signs of cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) much earlier since we may notice a drop off in their performance level.
Symptoms might include:
- increased anxiety
- decrease in hygiene/self grooming
- changes in appetite
- decreased responsiveness to stimuli
- deficits in learning and memory
Traditional and Alternative Interventions to Help Our Aging Dogs and Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome
The best formula is DIET + BEHAVIORAL ENRICHMENT
Clinical studies have revealed that diets high in antioxidants help improve the learning ability of older dogs and have resulted in a decrease in CDS symptoms. Antioxidants include fruits and vegetables added to a dog’s diet. I have a membership to our local CSA (Community Sustainable Agriculture) and each week receive organic produce in the form of green vegetables such as Kale, Chard, and broccoli and also seasonal fruits. Since I cannot always eat all that is given to me I grind up the greens and appropriate fruits and add them to my dogs raw food in the evening. In addition to providing excellent antioxidants and good nutrition, this addition helps to keep the weight down on my dogs.
We now know that it is important to take Omega-3 fatty acids which may help provide an anti-inflammatory effect. Since my dogs are very active from an early age, they are by the age of 2 put on a Glucosamine and Omega 3 supplement. Additionally I have added Trixsyn, a hyaluronic acid supplement.
Hyaluronan is found naturally throughout the body with high concentrations in synovial fluid and cartilage. It plays vital roles in all the body's tissue. To read more about hyaluronic acid and its believe effect on arthritis visit this web site: http://dogcare.dailypuppy.com/hyaluronic-acid-injections-dogs-5607.html
For more information on research and the benefits of antioxidants in aging dogs and those with CDS refer to the Whole Dog Journal article
Behavioral Enrichment – Exercise, Environment and Cognitive Enrichment
We have long known the benefits of exercise for humans and its effects on aging. We now know that physical activity has a positive effect for dogs also, helping to improve cognitive function and reducing the risks of cognitive impairment. I have always been fortunate to live next to Forest Service trails so I can hike out my back door with the dogs. I enjoy taking them a short distance to Flagstaff, Arizona where we find gorgeous trails in the forest. What I like best is NO snakes, I can see the dogs whereever they are, and the footing is soft for them to run on. While Myst may run the entire 1-2 hours, Kaffee now mostly likes to trot around and enjoy the smells of the forest. HOWEVER.. when there is snow he runs and enjoys porposing through the snow. We do the endurance Flagstaff exercise twice a week and then when the weather is not too warm we do our out the back door on our local trails hikes. This is how both dogs stay fit, thin, and get incredible exercise. It is also THEIR time to JUST BE DOGS.
Environmental enrichment is a stimulating environment in the home that might include interaction with other dogs, people and toys. The video below, “The Two Cool Border Collies Go to the Gym” shows Kaffee’s environmental enrichment. He has the opportunity to tug and play with Myst before his work in our doggie gym. And, throughout the day I find ways to interact and play tug and ball – his favorite activities. During these times he has my total attention and is the most important thing in my life --- just like when he was a puppy.
Cognitive enrichment involves helping to keep the dog’s mind sharp by teaching it new things. There are many ways we can help our dogs stay mentally sharp and help them use their minds. With Kaffee I have mentioned his new work and progress with all the different balance discs. He has to focus on his balance, new body awareness and proprioception - the relative position of neighboring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement. This was a challenge for him when he first started but now he is doing so well with finding where to put he front and rear feet even on the tiny paw pods.
I also have started teaching him some new tricks; recently he started to learn to put all feet in a small box and stand up. He is quite proud of himself with his accomplishments especially when I get very excited and tell him what a super star he is.
Again, I refer you to the excellent Whole Dog Journal article on more about the Behavioral Environment for improving dogs cognitive function.
In summary, even when a dog gets to be a senior, it is critically important that we allocate time to spend individually with them to show them how important they are to us. They may become too old to learn in the same way but we can think of ways to stimulate them with play or light exercise. These senior dogs have given us so much in our lives, and now it is our time to support the last part of their journey and help them to still feel loved and appreciated in much the same way we did when they were puppies.
The video below shows how I now give Kaffee an enriched home and cognitive environment and take more time to spend with him alone to let him know he is just as important , smart and as much fun to be with as when he first came to live with us.