Think back to your dog's younger days, when he would race after Frisbees and chase down a tossed ball. You just knew he was happy and healthy. No matter how old he is, when a dog is active and stimulated it's good for his overall well-being: physically, mentally and emotionally. In fact, exercise is the very thing a dog needs to maintain his quality of life as he ages.
What if he's out of shape?
If your dog has been off the "training circuit" for a while, he isn't going to be ready to walk all the way downtown and back. Understandably, extreme exercise is not healthy (or desirable) for a dog that has been sedentary for a long time.
If he's overweight, it's especially hard on his aging body - that extra weight is tough on stiff joints and sore muscles. Or he may have developed arthritis, heart disease, diabetes or hip dysplasia. Regardless, check with your vet before introducing him back to regular exercise.
Commit to a daily exercise routine, but since he's older, start off slowly. Take him for two short walks each day, starting with one or two blocks and add on as he gets more comfortable with it. Warm him up for 5 minutes, walking at a leisurely pace, then walk briskly for 15-20 minutes and cool him down for another 5 minutes. This length of time does however depend on the type of dog. A short legged dog or toy dog cannot handle the same amount of exercise as a larger more naturally athletic dog. Also, keep in mind to be cautious about the temperature for Brachio-cephalic breeds.
Don't push him too hard. He'll tire more easily now that he's older. Plus, he'll want to please you and keep up with your pace, even though he might start to feel pain or get overheated and dehydrated. So keep an eye on him and watch for signs of discomfort, like favoring a leg or paw, being excessively out of breath or slowing down or stopping. If so, give him a break, along with some water, love and encouragement.
Dog-friendly paddling is his kind of exercise.
Swimming is probably the best exercise for most aging dog's. Canine swim therapy is a popular option for dogs with joint or heart conditions, because it provides a good aerobic workout with a full range of motion while supporting the body and putting little weight on the joints.
Games? Toys? Kibble?
Another good option is to get him moving in the comfort of his own home. Take him down to the Rec room and get him playing with one of his at-home toys. Play "Fetch-lite", "Treasure Hunt" or "Keep Away". Or fill one of his Kong toys with kibble and let him work away on it so that he can stand, exercise his jaw muscles and have a tasty treat at the same time. Fun at home will keep him active and he won't resort to just lying around when he's bored.
Playing and having fun helps to eliminate stress from your life—and the same holds true for your dog. In fact, incorporating various forms of play into your dog's daily routine is vital to helping him develop a healthy, loving personality.
The benefits of play
Here are some of the ways that playing and having fun is important:
Physical health. Active play helps keep your dog's heart healthy, keeps the joints lubricated, and improves his overall balance and coordination.
Mental health. Games with rules force your dog to use his brain, not just his body. This can help keep his mind sharp and focused.
Social skills. When your dog plays with other dogs and other people, it helps improve his overall social skills. He learns basic rules and how to play by them.
Bonding. Even if it's only for a few minutes a day, playing with your dog helps strengthen the bond between you.
Your health. What better way to alleviate the stress of a busy workday and get a bit of exercise than to come home and play with your dog? It's a win-win for both of you.
How to play with your dog
There are right ways—and wrong ways—to play. The most important thing to remember is that you're the boss. You decide what games should be played and you set the rules. This helps establish your credibility as the pack leader. It also helps keep your dog from getting overly excited and out of control while you play. If your dog does become difficult to manage, simply put a stop to the game until he calms down again.
When you're teaching your dog a new game, reward him when he does well. Remember, rewards don't have to be just treats. You can also reward him with his favorite toys or lots of hugs and praise.
When you start out teaching your dog a new game, keep it simple and go through the game slowly, until your dog fully grasps the rules. Also, wait until he fully understands one game before you teach him a new one, otherwise it will end up confusing him.
Avoid games like keep away, wrestling, or tug-of-war. Those games encourage biting or dominant, aggressive behavior.
Stay in control of the game at all times. Show your dog that you're the pack leader, not just another member of the pack. Retrieval games are good at teaching control.
Don't include your body or clothing as part of any game.
Incorporate the SIT or DOWN and STAY commands in every game.
You decide when it's time to end the game, not your dog. The best time to stop the game is when your dog is still eager to play.
If, for some reason, your dog doesn't seem to understand the game at some point, go back to the beginning, or simply leave it and try again a few days later. Don't get angry if you're dog isn't "getting it" right away. Remember it's supposed to be a fun experience for both of you!