As the years go by, pet parents start to notice their pups lagging behind on walks. They can’t keep up with the younger dogs and become less inclined to exert themselves. Aging is a natural process that can limit your dog’s physical activity.
But that doesn’t mean your senior dog has to lounge on the sofa from here on out! You can modify your dog’s favorite exercises to better fit their new ability level. Below are some of the best activities to keep your senior dog in shape.
- Multiple shorter walks: Senior dogs can’t walk for 30 minutes straight like they could in their younger years. Pet parents shouldn’t cut walks altogether simply because they got too difficult. Instead, break one long walk up into multiple shorter ones throughout the day. That way, your old pup can get the same amount of exercise in more manageable chunks.
- Sequences of basic commands: Commands like “sit,” “stay” and “lie down” are a piece of cake for fit, young pups. Simple actions can pose a challenge for older dogs with mobility issues, especially if they have to execute long sequences. Start your senior dog in a standing position, then command them to sit, lie down and stand again. Once your dog gets used to the game, create longer and more challenging sequences. This activity keeps senior pups mentally sharp and tones their shoulder, hip and leg muscles.
- Sideways walking: Senior dogs who practice sidestepping have more developed stabilizing muscles to help regain their balance when they trip. Sidestepping also creates greater mobility in the hips, shoulders and knees, which reduces the risk of injury. To start, you and your dog should stand next to each other on a carpeted surface. Turn so that you’re facing the side of your dog. Slowly inch forward until they step to the side. Reward your dog with a treat every time they sidestep. Make sure to do it on both sides!
- Figure eights: Similar to sideways walking, figure eights are an agility drill that improves flexibility and develops stabilizing muscles throughout the body. This exercise also teaches your senior pup a new trick, which stimulates their brain and promotes cognitive functioning. Create a line of cones, making sure the space between them is the same as your dog’s length. Help your dog weave in and out of the cones by guiding them with a treat.
- Swimming: For dogs and humans alike, swimming is a low-impact exercise that’s gentle on the joints. Doggy paddling around the pool will give your senior pup a full-body workout that’s great for overall conditioning. Swimming is fun for you and your dog, but it’s also prescribed for injured dogs or those recovering from surgery. If you don’t have a pool at home, check to see if your local daycare facility or rehabilitation center offers open swimming hours for dogs.
- Scavenger hunt with treats: When dogs get older, exercise becomes less about working hard and more about encouraging your senior pup to stay active. You can do so by setting up a fun scavenger hunt around the house. Treats motivate older pups to get moving and reward them for their efforts. Hide treats in easily accessible areas that are low to the ground. Your dog should be able to sniff out the treats, but you can guide them along the way if necessary.
- Indoor fetch: Fetch is a classic game for all ages as long as you tailor it to your dog’s ability level. Back yards and dog parks have bumpy, uneven surfaces that make it difficult for senior dogs to keep their footing. Vast outdoor spaces may tempt you to throw the ball long distances, and all that running can be hard on the joints. Play fetch in a carpeted room to help your senior dog balance. Toss the toy with an underhand throw that lets your pup catch it without jumping too high.
- Stretching: Our furry companions need to stretch just as much as we do. A few minutes of gentle stretching will keep your senior dog limber in the joints and muscles. Stretching also improves flexibility and range of motion, both of which are essential for preventing injuries. You can look up video tutorials or ask a vet for recommended stretches. Some fitness centers host doga classes, so you and your pup can stretch together!
Senior dogs aren’t the athletes they used to be. A 10-mile hike probably isn’t in the cards for them anymore. On the bright side, a pup’s later years are the perfect opportunity to try something new. There are tons of gentle, low-impact exercises to choose from that keep senior dogs fit for the rest of their days.