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Don’t Push Older Animals Too Hard


I have two dogs with different exercise requirements. I have Stormy, my 13-year-old Australian shepherd and my spunky, full-of-energy 1.5-year-old poodle. We have been managing this pretty well. We do a long morning stroll, and in the afternoons we meet for a puppy play date, to play ball or go for a swim. This way, both of my dogs get an outing.

I have realized that on some days, Stormy pushes himself harder than usual on the morning stroll and will often slow down, look at me, and retreat back to the car before our full round. I listen to him and often end the walk early. I also bought a large dog jogging stroller. Many days in the week, Stormy walks a little and rides in the stroller a lot. This has given me the opportunity to move a little quicker, getting some much-needed exercise. Though it has me thinking. Do I and other average dog owners sometimes push our middle-aged-to-old dogs too much because we feel they can do it?

Laura Stinchfield

I have been making a point of noticing how people walk with their middle-aged and elderly dogs. On some days a dog will be trotting happily by their person’s side but on other days will lag a bit behind, looking weathered and tired. Every time I see this, the owners are looking forward, pushing their dogs onward. Do they purposely push their dogs beyond their comfort levels, or do they simply not notice that their dogs are suffering? I wonder if this is jeopardizing our dogs’ health and longevity. Are we thinking we are keeping them strong when actually we are running them into the ground?

I have seen other dogs standing on hot pavement while their people chat away to others. I do not always speak up when I see this, but perhaps I should. The other day I told a German shepherd, “Pull the leash right into the shade. You have to find a way to tell your person. Prance your paws to tell her that the ground is hot. Pant and tug the leash.” The shepherd looked at me and answered, “It won’t work.” Then the shepherd tugged its person into the shade of a nearby parked car. The person, while continuing to chat away, yanked the dog back into the sun, clearly irritated with the rudeness of the dog pulling on the lead.

I ask you now: Are you watching your dogs? Are they trying to tell you something? Are you ignoring them or misreading their actions? Is your dog slowing the pace or stopping to stare at you? Most dogs want to stand in the shade. Don’t be rude: Pay attention to your animal’s messages. Body language is a dog’s number one form of communication.

I ask Stormy, “What do you think of all of this?” He replies, “Tell people that if you notice something a little, your dog is probably trying to tell you a lot. It helps to slow down and ask your animal what they want to tell you. Often they will tell you what they need. Animals will push themselves because we love our people and don’t want to disappoint them. Please pay attention. Your animal will be happier and healthier.”

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