E290: Erin Lynes - "Keeping Senior Dogs Fit"

As our dogs age their needs and preferences change; Erin and I talk about what it takes to keep senior dogs fit in mind and body, and how to decide when it may be time to retire them from the sports you both love.  


Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau, and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports, using only the most current and progressive training methods. Today I have Erin Lynes here with me to chat about keeping your senior dogs fit in mind and body. Hi Erin, welcome back to the podcast.

Erin Lynes: Hi Melissa. Thanks so much for having me.

Melissa Breau: To start us out, do you wanna just remind everybody a little bit about you, your current crew, what you're working on with them?

Erin Lynes: Yeah, sure. So I'm a dog trainer and breeder up here in Quesnell, BC Canada. I have mostly Labrador retrievers and one little bitty beagle. I do have a lot of dogs, so what I will do is, I'll tell you about the, the seniors in my crew, since that's our topic today, I've got two eight year old females, Abby and Viper, who are just entering sort of the senior age for labs. Abby's my current agility dog. And Viper is my current Nosework dog and they are both doing great–no signs of slowing down. They were just at the regional dock diving championships earlier in the season and did really well. The next oldest one in my crew is Shelby, and she's 12. She's retired from obedience. She was my novice, an obedience dog and was a super, super introduction to that sport for me. She's still sort of tinkering at various things, but kind of not, not pursuing anything too seriously at the moment. She's good and healthy and sound and just enjoying getting to be a dog. Mostly at this point, I'm, I reserve the right to do some nosework or agility or rally or something like that in the future, but we don't really have any, any goals left to scratch off of our list.

Verona is my 13 year old female and she just finished her agility trial championship last spring and we'd retired right away after that. She's been retired from dog diving and dog sledding for a year or so earlier, and she still does a little bit of nosework and stuff, but mostly she's in charge of keeping our baby puppies in line. She likes to be the granny.

Next oldest is Chester. He's 13 and a half and fully retired for everything and he just does whatever he wants and hogs the bed. He's had a long career as a hunting dog and agility and obedience and basically all the, all the things that I like to do. He was a big part of it for many years. So he's, he's kind of just hanging out now and running the show and my very oldest final senior dog is Kimber, who is just about 14, and she is just, if you ever had like a little favorite old human grandma who's just the sweetest, like telling you all the stories of their youth that is Canberra at her, the stage of her life. She's, she's happy, she's healthy, she's got lots of energy and she's just always wondering what you're up to and kind of in the way investigating. So we're really enjoying how, how fun she is at this stage of her life. But she's, she's more or less retired from all the things at this point too. I don't think that there's any reason she couldn't do some more nosework or something like that, but she's, she's got a lot of jobs around the household fetching slippers and things, so that's my senior crew at this point.

Melissa Breau: Fetching slippers is a very important job. It is, yes. So as you mentioned, it's kind of those senior pups that we wanted to talk more about today. So to kinda start us off, can you share a little bit about how our dogs' needs for training and enrichment kind of change as they age?

Erin Lynes: Yeah, that's, that's a good question. So I think there's a lot of individual differences in the dogs. So some dogs stay pretty engaged in training and have a really high desire to, to keep learning new things and sort of pushing themselves in those, you know, sort of higher adrenaline activities as they get older and it kind of gradually tapers off and others sort of lose interest in that sort of thing a little bit sooner and, you know, tamed down a little bit earlier in life. So there's definitely some individual differences in how much they like to pursue training and when they're sort of done with the serious stuff and when they'd rather just be socializing and that sort of thing. There's also lots of changes in their health that might affect how they age and what their pursuits are.

So old injuries catch up to dogs, you know, bigger dogs, their bodies tend to just sort of wear a little faster than smaller dogs in many cases. So there's those considerations as well. And then what I've found specifically is a lot of my older dogs have a greater need for scent based enrichment, so they really have a desire and show me that they wanna be sniffing a lot more often.

And so I try to find activities that are going to fulfill that need for them and make sure that they're still getting all their other needs and things met too. But I do find that that's a pretty common one is that as they age, more sniffing equals a happier dog.

Melissa Breau: Interesting. Are there kind of early warning signs that maybe you look for as your dogs start to get up there in age that they may be,

you know, feeling that age?

Erin Lynes: Yeah, there's, there's all kinds of varieties of warning signs and things that we should be watching for in our senior dogs. So all the different health aspects that we wanna stay on top of as they get older. So working with your vet to make sure that you're doing senior appropriate checkups and catching anything that might be showing up before you see really obvious signs outwardly, you know, doing your regular blood work, checking for lumps and bumps and, and making sure you know what those are in case any of them need to be off checking on their teeth. I find that lots of dogs are really stoic when they're younger and they might even have a broken tooth or a chip tooth or something like that that goes unnoticed, but as they get older then they start to, maybe they eat a little lesser, they're a little fussier and it can sometimes come down to just a little tooth that needs to come out, something like that. So we gotta watch for signs like that. And then there's always the mobility changes as our dogs get older too. So arthritis and those sorts of physical concerns that come out. We see muscle wasting in the rear end of our dogs.

We see that they're, they're spine starts to protrude a little more sometimes those are the earliest signs that there's something going on that we should be checking into mobility wise, getting some specialist help to make sure that we're not missing something treatable that we can help, you know, prevent from getting worse as our dogs get older and any dogs who's had injuries throughout their life,

so do tend to try to catch up to them as they get older too. So having our dogs on a, on a good fitness program so that we're keeping them as strong as we can and preventing injuries from getting worse or spiral, you know, spiralling into other things is really important too.

Melissa Breau: In that framework. What do you consider–how do you decide when a particular dog is ready to retire from a given sport activity? I mean, what factors do you consider? I know you kinda listed off like your guys and what they're still doing. It seems like there's a little bit of variety there, so…

Erin Lynes: Yeah, that's a good question. And those are kind of personal decisions for people to consider as well as, you know, based on what their dog is physically showing them. For me, I like a proactive retirement, so one of my biggest joys in life is having old dogs who are as sound as they can be and can still do like dog things, right? So for example, I know that Shelby has some, some signs of arthritis showing in her spine. So we retired her from dock diving a little earlier than we have with other dogs just because that particular sport tends to be a little bit hard on the dog's back. So being a bit proactive, knowing your dog's individual history so that they can still have a a pretty healthy retirement is, is one approach that I like to take, balancing it with maybe your other dog's needs too. So many of us who are in dog sports have a dog and then, you know, a few years later you get your next competitive dog. So changing sports as they get older so that you have the personal stamina and energy and finances and resources to train one dog really competitively and while you're easing your older dog into retirement, changing sports to something that might also be a little easier on their body is another strategy.

So nosework is a sport that almost all of my dogs have been able to do right until the very end. There are very few physical limitations with that. There's some dogs who can compete in rally or, you know, tricks. Dog sledding surprisingly has a fairly long lifespan for, you know, pulling sports as long as you're careful and you know what you're doing. So just watching each individual dog where they are, where their body's most delicate and and finding activities that you can do that keep them strong without aggravating anything that is maybe a little bit more tender at that age.

Melissa Breau: Speaking of, so talk to me a little bit about what you do to keep those senior dogs in shape about those fitness routines or what have you.

Erin Lynes: Yeah, so I think then the number one thing to do is I like to get them out on walks. So they're, they're getting that daily exercise, which is mental exercise and physical exercise cuz they get to go exploring and sniffing and kind of meeting all those needs at once. But the other thing is doing conditioning exercises where you can target what needs to be strengthened in your older dogs too. So, like I mentioned before, a lot of senior dogs, the first signs that you see them starting to act their age, you'll see a little bit of weakness in their rear. Maybe they are a little slower to stand up in the morning after a good sleep. Maybe they're starting to look a little bit less balanced when they're running around with other dogs. So working on conditioning exercises that target the rear end, their core and their balance are really important and you pretty much can't go wrong with considering those things for an older dog.

Melissa Breau: One of the things that I've heard you talk about before is this idea that older dogs can often find comfort, right? In routine or kind of knowing what's coming up, but obviously it's very easy to kind of fall into a rut with that kind of thing and then they're not getting anything new and then, you know, that that's not great either. So how do you kind of balance providing the comfort that comes from that routine with, you know, preventing life from just becoming kind of boring?

Erin Lynes: Yeah, that's super important too.

I do find that the seniors are extremely, they're, they're very diligent about routine on a timeline. So at nine o'clock Melissa, we go for our walks, don't be late now, you know that breakfast is at seven and dinner's at five and we like our meal times very, you know, like timeline wise that pattern seems to be even more important to them as they get older.

They like those sorts of routines, but they also, you can almost start to see dogs who have too much of that pattern in their life. When they wake up, they eat, they go immediately back to sleep and they're just waiting for that next milestone in their day. So one of the ways that I like to keep life interesting for them is, as I call it, "no two days the same." So we take elements of their pattern that they really rely on and our comforter by and we just change it up a little. So maybe their morning walk is always at 9:00 AM but what if we go a little different route each day? And it doesn't have to be like, every day is a whole brand new route.

You need 365 different walking areas to get through the year, but just not two days in a row where you're doing the exact same thing on their walk. Maybe sometimes you stop and do little treat scatters and other times you, you know, you're taking them to wade through a little puddle or all these little mini adventures that you can do that kind of keep things interesting, keep their their brain working about what might happen next and looking forward, you know, a little bit of optimism about what's gonna happen next. And you can do the same thing at meals. So these older dogs are very sure that I'm always gonna be late with breakfast and dinner, but I can always make sure that they're getting some variety in how I feed them.

Maybe they're, sometimes it's out of a toy or a slow feeder, maybe they're getting, you know, little mushed up frozen kibble that they have to work on. Maybe sometimes it's raw food, different aspects of how they're fed, what they're fed, different ways that we're, we're navigating our walks, our training sessions. We don't have to do it in the exact same order routine every day, that sort of thing. So just keeping something interesting while you're maintaining those patterns that they really kind of feel that are important to them.

Melissa Breau: What skills do you teach specifically to kind of help your dogs transition as they go into the kinda those golden years?

Erin Lynes: Oh, okay. So the basic skills that we wanna make sure that our seniors have as they're, you know, transitioning into retirement and maybe not so reliant on sports skills, are the skills that relate to are conditioning exercises and care and handling stuff. So as they tend to need a little more veterinary care, maybe a little more extra help with grooming as they get older, we wanna make sure that those things aren't scary and stressful for them.

So can your dog, can you, do you have a way that you can help your dog up the stairs? Can you lift them? Can you look and check their teeth because those need checking, you might need to be doing more teeth brushing as they get older. You're definitely gonna need to build on the skills that relate to the conditioning exercises themselves.

So having your dog learn to stand still and hold positions to lure so that we can move them into tiny micro motions for getting them the motions that we want. We do some hands-on stuff for conditioning to help with balance. So are they okay with being handled that way? There's, there's quite a lot of things that many dogs might have covered as puppies, but a lot of dogs actually haven't. So when you get to this stage of life, especially if you've got a dog who's been kind of like relatively no maintenance, you might start to find that at this age is when you see, oh, I wish I had taught a chin rest or I wish I had taught, you know, a little bit more on the mouth handling, that kind of thing. And so that's the stuff we focus on here.

Melissa Breau: You've got your class coming up, age to perfection, keeping your senior fit in mind and body. It's on the schedule for December, so it'll be open for registration when this airs. Do you wanna just talk a little bit about what else you kind of cover in class?

Erin Lynes: Yeah, so I love this class so much. So there's sort of different components that we cover in class each week. At the start of every week I'll release some lectures about different aspects of aging that you can watch for as a handler and sort of things you can do in regular day to day life to help your senior have a little easier time. So these might be things like how to plan for veterinary care, how to increase traction so that they aren't slipping on your, you know, your nice hardwood floors. That sort of thing makes them a little bit easier to get around the house. That is one of the sections. Then we talk about conditioning exercises that are suitable for healthy senior dogs. So there's some progressive setups for building up as the weeks go on in class, so that we're, we're building on the things that we've worked on the week before, doing some exercises that target strength building in the rear and the core and working on balance and also putting a little bit of fun in there for them because that's important too. One of the other subsections is enrichment exercises. So I give you some games to work on, some ways to help with their cognitive health because that's another aspect that tends to decline in senior dogs at some point, and it usually comes on sort of rapidly and noticeably, but science tells us that if we keep up with our enrichment, challenge them with scent games and training games and stuff, we could actually help delay the onset of cognitive stuff. So that's a big section there. And then the last little thing that we cover in class are some husbandry tips and training because as our dogs get older sometimes they find it harder to groom themselves, their nails grow longer, their general grooming and care, their needs change a little bit. So we wanna make sure that we're able to keep up with that and help them out in a way that is not scary or stressful for them. So that's, that's basically the entire class in a nutshell. So who should consider taking it? So this class is for anyone with a dog who's just entering their senior years and they want to be proactive about looking for the, the signs that they may need to do a little bit more with them. They may need some health concerns addressed. It'll give you a start to give you a really good eye for what to watch for there and get them prepped with the skills. But it's also for people with that have dogs who are already starting to act their age a little bit and wanna work on building their strength, helping them with their balance, giving them a little bit more fulfillment in their life through the enrichment exercises and maybe helping even with the, the group extra grooming and care. It's not gonna be the right class for somebody who has a dog, who has a major physical issue, maybe more appropriate for like rehab, that sort of thing. But for the average senior dog who's, you know, just starting to look or feel like they're getting up there in years and people want to help extend the quality of their life, that's who I'm targeting with this class.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. So kinda round out our chat, one last question. If we were to kind of drill all of this down into a key takeaway or piece of information you really want people to understand, what would that be?

Erin Lynes: So our older dogs deserve all kinds of care and attention and we often don't know exactly what to give them to help them. Sometimes we worry about retiring them because we worry they won't have any joy in their life. And I'm here to tell you that there's a many, many things you can do with your senior dog, even outside of sports to help them have a happy,

fulfilled life. And yeah, there's a lot we can do and it's, it's a lot of fun and it's things that they can look forward to on an everyday basis.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Well thank you so much for coming back on the podcast, Erin.

Erin Lynes: Thanks for having me.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. And thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in.

We'll be back next week with Lucy Newton to talk about tracking. If you haven't already, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available. Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast, music provided royalty free by bensound.com.

The track featured here is called Buddy. Audio Editing provided by Chris Lyra. Thanks again for tuning in and happy training.


 Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training! 

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