The 4th rung of our ladder is about modifying exercise. This particular aspect is easy to explain, but many owners find it a challenge to put into practice because they build a routine of dog walking or perhaps ball chasing as their dog’s sole form of exercise.
And as I discussed in Part One of this series, our dog’s age often creeps up on us because they are aging faster than we are.
An older dog needs age-appropriate exercise based on their physical ability. A dog that walked for 10 kms when it was aged four may not be able to cope at aged eight, nine, ten, or more (every dog is different).
But, our dogs love us and so many will continue walking to the point of collapse which is what happened here in 2016 to a 12-year old Huntaway. In this case, the dog was taken on a steep hill track with, no doubt, the best of intentions. She walked until she could walk no farther, collapsing and spending the night in the freezing cold until she could be rescued.
The duration of a walk is just as important as its intensity. A walk in soft sand at the beach or hill walks are much more intense that an amble around your neighborhood on flat ground.
I often ask clients to monitor the amount of exercise their dog is getting by recording both the amount of time they spend out and also distance walked. (A Fitbit or other fitness tracking device can be used for this). Because I practice in-home, I usually get a good understanding of the local area where the dog is often taken for its walks.
Just because your dog wants to chase the ball, or run, or walk for hours, doesn’t mean he/she should. It’s our responsibility to moderate their exercise – even if that means that we can no longer run with the dog that has run with us for years.
Replacing high impact exercise with brain games – foraging for kibble in the yard, as an example – presents an aging dog with the chance to weight shift and walk at a pace that suits them and on familiar ground. If they get tired, they can rest easily.
Sometimes, it’s as easy as alternating a day with a longer walk, and then maybe only short toilet walks – or no walk – the following day.
In Izzy’s case, we are dealing primarily with corns in her right front paw that are aggravating arthritis in her carpus (wrist). There have been days when she tells me (by refusing to go out the front door), that she doesn’t want to walk. We often get in our morning walk with no issues. But her afternoon walk can be variable. There are days where we have no issues. On some days, though, she will start out with a happy gait and no lameness and then she’ll start to slow up, sometimes I’ll notice a small trip or scraping of the nails or she will be walking with her head held low – a sign she is tiring.
That’s when we use her pram so she can continue with sights and smells, but with no walking. The ultimate in modified exercise!
The biggest hurdle I often face is owners who just don’t seem willing or able to modify their daily routines to accommodate their dog’s changing needs. It’s part of our lifetime responsibility. Be flexible. Be resilient. Be kind.
If your feet were hurting, you’d want to slow down – wouldn’t you?
Got questions about this post? Please feel free to post a message or contact me through my practice, The Balanced Dog.
Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand