What about the retired performance dog’s “turn”?

By Inge Dillen, DVM, CCFT, Bobbie Lyons K9FITteam Member

Somebody asked me “what group is your preferred group of dogs for Fitness training”?

Waw, difficult question!! I LOVE everything about fitness training. I love watching puppies gaining body awareness, watch how they bond to their owner through Fitness training, how they become more eager to learn through Fitness training. I love helping owners to get their performance dogs to perform better, to become better protected from injury, or to help them to get back on track after an injury. I love watching these dogs enjoying themselves during their workouts and getting better and better at it.

I love to be able to give pet dogs a mental and physical challenge that seems to brighten up their lives, through Fitness.

But… Honestly? There is one group of dogs that makes the twinkle in my eyes even a little bit brighter, that warms up my heart just that extra bit…. The senior dogs. Especially the retired performance dogs. These dogs have been at the center of our lives for, hopefully, almost a decade. We made ourselves the center of their live. We have encouraged them to love “to work for us”. We have introduced triggers to their lives that predict exiting things. Triggers that predict “your turn to get some action and attention”. Suddenly these triggers do not mean anything for them anymore. The specific shoes that predicted agility training suddenly mean, you stay home, it’s time for the young dog(s). Every time you go to the car or camper to get ready for a run, at competitions, they expect it’s their turn. But they do not get a turn anymore… Is not that just heartbreaking? Is not that unfair to our best friends who do not understand that that’s the consequence of aging?

For these dogs there is one thing that does not need to stop, on the contrary it SHOULD NEVER stop. One thing they will still get a turn for! That’s Fitness training!

I’m especially inspired by Nimble, our twelve and a half year old Border Collie who is retired from agility since three years now. She got retired pretty early since she suffers from a lumbosacral instability. But she is still full of life, she still has a lot of expectations from live! And she still reacts to every “let’s have some action” trigger like she has been doing for the past twelve years. I really cannot ignore these eyes full of expectation!

So, I make sure that she still gets her turns! Her turn to be in the center of my attention. Her turn to “work”. She always gets the first turn for Fitness workouts, she will get a turn on days that I’m short in time and maybe need to skip the workouts for the young dogs. Maybe a short one but still she will get a workout.

Fitness is so important for her, physically as well as mentally! Ok, the intensity of the workouts is slowly decreasing. We need to skip some exercises but they are replaced by other exercises. No squats for Nimble anymore but lot’s of fun cavaletti and cone work and lighter balance work.

When the agility training trigger fires, and she runs to the door with eyes full of expectation she still comes along. She gets a play and we do some cone or cavaletti work at the dog club. She still gets her turn. She still gets her turn on competitions too. Sometimes it is just to come with me and have a short play. Sometimes we do some cone work. Off course I realize by “giving in” I keep the triggers alive. In some dogs the triggers fade out themselves. Our fifteen year old Pyrenean Shepherd only reacts to the “let’s go for a hike with the pack” trigger and “breakfast” and “dinner” triggers. Well, not exactly. He triggers ME to get the food out. He shows me, every morning and every evening, where I can find the food. Imagine that I forget where it is. ;-) When the “agility training” trigger fires he goes sit in front of the closet where the treats are. “Give me a treat, take the young gang to the training so I can have a couple of quiet hours”, he seems to think. But I believe, that dogs like Nimble, where the triggers fade more slowly still deserve their turns. Fitness gives me the perfect tool to give her mental and physical challenges, to give both of us some quality time together. To give her “her turn”. Fitness keeps her FIT, mentally and physically.

So, I would like to stand up for all the retired performance dogs, do not forget their turn! When the performance sport stops there is still Fitness. Keep them Fit, keep them Happy! They deserve it.

~ Inge Dillen, DVM, CCFT

Bobbie Lyons K9FITteam Member

Owner: Nimble-K9 in Belgium