Adventuring with senior dogs

Cody and Buffy enjoying some summit views.

My dogs are 8 and 11 years old. I can’t believe I just typed that. It feels like not very long ago they were 2 and 5 years old. Taking care of senior dogs is different. I realized a couple years ago, as my oldest dog Cody officially became a senior, that I had to make some changes.

I love adventuring with my dogs but I couldn’t treat him like a little 4×4 machine that could take anything on without consequence. Neither of my dogs are small, Cody weighs usually between 55-60 lbs and Buffy weighs 65-70lbs. Larger dogs not only age faster but also tend to have more mobility issues as they age. Ignoring these facts wasn’t going to set me up to keep them in tip top shape. So I made some changes.


Enter the world of senior dogs and enter the world of supplements. Glucosamine, Chondroitin, MSM, omega oil, salmon oil…the list goes on and on. It can be very challenging to navigate supplements and I recommend speaking to your veterinarian about which supplement may be beneficial to your senior dog. I am in no way a supplement expert but I will say that when I started to notice Cody was sore after big days out, we started adding supplements to his food and I tried several. I tried oils, glucosamine chews, and powders. I honestly did not see much of a difference until I tried Tri-Acta. A sport dog trainer recommended it to me and I have to say, I see significantly less soreness in Cody after big days. I even started giving it to Buffy in a preventative way a couple of years ago. Make sure to consult your veterinarian, but supplements could potentially help your senior adventure dog.


Supplements are not the only important thing you want to get right, the food you feed your dog is also equally important. Firstly, I am not a canine nutritionist by any means, but the information I am sharing has come from conversations with veterinarians. You should speak with a certified k9 nutritionist or your veterinarian if you have any questions about nutrition. If your senior is not on a senior diet, I would reconsider it. The joint support in senior diets is important, but so is the lower calorie content. It’s important to keep your senior at a healthy weight. If your dog is overweight, that is more pressure on bones and that can lead to arthritis in the senior years. Keeping them trim and fit will keep them mobile and may help with arthritis. If you are not sure if your dog is overweight, a quick stop at a vet should help you. But in general, ribs should be just slightly visible or easy to feel for dogs with thick fur and hips should be defined from the top. 


Fitness is obviously important for any adventure dog and as they age, you shouldn’t assume they can do the big hike they did years ago. But, I’m going to assume your dog is fairly fit, or used to the activities you already do together. If you’re getting into adventuring with a senior dog, you’ll want to build slowly so that they have a chance to adapt. What I’m mostly going to address here is additional I fitness training. Working on improving the overall muscle strength, especially for stabilizing muscles. So how do you work on that? Well first, you’ll need some props for your dog to use. An aerobic step, balance board, small mat, even a rolled up towel can work. The goal is to get your dog to step up onto a higher surface. This may seem like nothing, but it actually shifts the weight and works their muscles. So work on teaching this skill. You can lure your dog to start, or shape the behaviour by saying “yes” or clicking a clicker every time they start to interact with the object. Be sure to use lots of rewards. Your dog will LOVE his fitness training. Once you have mastered getting both front paws up, start to work on the back paws, this one is trickier for most dogs. You can even offer variations like one paw up, or do two paws but on a wobbly surface. Make it fun, change things up, and start small. Just a couple reps to start and work your way up. Your dog can’t tell you if they are sore, so start small. 

K9 Physiotherapy

One of the best things I did for my senior dogs was to see a k9 physiotherapist prior to a problem arising. I didn’t want to wait for injuries to appear and I was looking to see if they were both still in the good shape I was hoping for. I found out so much valuable information. Both my dogs had areas where they were tight and some areas where they were weak. I got exercises to practice to help them get over these weaknesses and I was given some great day-to-day advice to help prevent more injuries, including no more jumping out of the car. They make it look easy, but it’s hard on their bodies, especially their front limbs and neck. I can’t recommend this enough. I was lucky at the time and lived in Calgary, so accessing the Canine Fitness Centre was easy. I hope you can find some help close by.

Last words

Adventuring with senior dogs is about balance. It’s a balance between keeping them active but not over doing it. I learned that a couple summers ago when I pushed Cody very hard on what was a much more challenging scramble than expected. He limped the last km to the car and I realized he can’t do it all anymore. Keep adventuring with your seniors, but keep in mind they might go harder than they should, and prevention goes a very long way. I know I plan to keep getting out there with my dogs as long as possible.,

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