Staying active, eating healthy, and spending time running the trails well into age 13, Tatum is the perfect example of aging well through activity. Take time to get outside w your BFF “Best Furry Friend”, because dogs who stay active live longer! It’s a fact, and there’s no better way to stay active than hiking. Tatum and I started hiking the first weekend I adopted her at the age of two, and continued a lifestyle filled with outdoor adventure and trail exploration throughout the majority of her happy life. (See our photos on Facebook & previous blogs).
Inevitably, however, our canine companions will slow down before we do, leaving us to determine the best balance between getting our dogs out to do what they love, while keeping them comfortable and safe. The key is adjusting your routine for the limitations of aging ailments your BFF is sure to experience.
Here are some things I’ve found to be successful:
Follow your dog’s needs. In their younger years, dogs cover 2-3 times the territory we do, running frantically up and down the trail, in and out of the woods. Those joyful, high energy hikes can transition into peaceful walks. In their senior years, you might notice that your dog meanders along at a slower pace, stopping to take it all in, catch his/her breathe and smell anything and everything in their path. It’s important to go with it, let them dictate the pace.
Stop and smell the roses. When that wet nose is buried deep in the flowers and grass, bushes and trees, stop and enjoy the moment. Take a deep breath and be grateful for the company of your four legged companion.
Keep your pooch hydrated. Plan hikes & walks with lots of water sources, or bring a travel bowl and water bottle to satisfy their thirst and avoid dehydration.
Choose the right trail, park, or city block. It’s best to choose trails that are shorter, less technical and more gradual. Or simply romp through the park, dip in a lake, or jaunt through the neighborhood.
Hike when it’s cool outside. Stick to morning and evening hikes. With lower temps and more comfortable conditions, this will be much easier on your dog’s system.
Allow more recovery time after activity. Allowing and encouraging your dog to move is a critical component of keeping him healthy in his old age. It’s also just as critical to encourage rest and recovery. In my case, I actually need to force Tatum to stop moving after a walk to the end of the block and back. Her “busy body” personality, body in motion habits need to be controlled. When it comes to recovery, I slow her down by relaxing on the floor with her. Once she’s accepted the fact that her legs have stopped, it’s a great time for spine and hip massaging, a game of ball rolling, and stuffed animal companions. Once she’s calm, the nap soon follows.
If your dog is still able to hike, don’t leave your old dog home when you hit the trail. Instead, plan the hike around him/her even if that means going a slower and easier than you’re used to. You’ll be the one that has to control activity levels as your dog gets older, since they will push their own limits if allowed. We’ve gone from hiking, trail running, road running and swimming to walks down the block (two houses total), car rides to Tatum’s favorite parks and ponds for a sniff & stroll down memory lane, wading through shallow water, and visits to viewpoints of hikes past.
Despite the inevitable slow down, achy joints, depleting senses and instabilities, at 14 1/2 yrs old, Tatum shows me every day that our active, healthy lifestyle has paid off. Her tail wagging walk through the front yard and down the side walk for a sniff of the neighborhood smells makes me so happy. I’m proud of my old gal, staying fit and healthy for so many years. Not only does this prolong a dog’s life, but it makes for wonderful memories we will cherish forever!