I fostered an ancient black Lab named Dora a couple of years ago.
Even with pain medication, her joints were so bad I just didn’t take her for walks at all. Looking back, I wish I would’ve come up with some ways to exercise her.
Today, my own black Lab mix Ace shows signs of sore joints. We still go for walks, but I no longer take him running and we don’t play as much fetch.
Ace is one of those dogs who is completely obsessed with a tennis ball, and playing fetch tends to hurt his legs. So now, we just play a game every night where we roll the tennis ball back and forth in the living room. He loves it!
With older dogs (Ace is now 10), it’s tempting not to walk them as much or even at all, especially if they have less energy or if they have joint pain.
But as you know, exercise is still important for older dogs, for obvious reasons such as:
- Weight management
- Stress management
- Bonding with family members – Ace’s favorite thing is probably to go on a walk with my husband and I together
- Continued socialization and training
- A healthier immune system
So, basically the same reasons why we should ALL be exercising, right?
It gets more challenging with an older dog, though, because you may not be able to take him running, hiking or on those off-leash dog park excursions.
In Ace’s case, I can’t just throw his ball 20 times to help him burn energy like I used to do. He’ll hurt his legs.
So, here are some tips for exercising your senior dog, especially if he’s having joint issues:
Tips for exercising a senior dog
1. Just do it
Don’t use a senior dog’s age as an excuse not to exercise, said Lab owner Kate O’Brien.
“It’s even more important to properly exercise a senior, as arthritic joints do better if they are kept loose and limber,” she said.
She also suggested massaging your dog after a workout.
2. Multiple short walks throughout the day
Ace gets sore after a mile or so, but he also still has energy after going that distance. I used to take him on one longer walk each morning and call it good, but that doesn’t work for him anymore. Instead, I walk him for about 20 minutes in the morning and then we go for a second walk some evenings.
On the other hand, if your senior dog still seems to do OK on longer walks or even running sessions, that’s great! I would keep it up if it’s working. See my post on taking senior dogs running.
3. Use hills
“Hills can be a great way to keep a dog in shape,” according to Steve Pelletier, the other blogger behind Slim Doggy.
“Seniors in particular will often show a marked weakness in their hind legs,” he said. “Which can hinder their mobility.”
He suggested to walk uphill to more effectively engage the dog’s hind legs and then “zig-zag down to alleviate stress on the front legs.”
It’s not always easy to find a convenient, controlled area to take a dog swimming, but if you have the option, use it!
We are fortunate to live just a 5-minute drive from the Pacific coast and right by a dog friendly beach. Dog paddling is beneficial for Ace because it gets his heart rate up while strengthening his muscles. He also doesn’t get too hot like he sometimes does on walks.
Playing fetch in the water vs. on land is also easier on his joints.
5. Range of Motion
Pelletier suggested a stretching exercise you can try with your senior dog.
“Have your dog sit, and with a treat in hand, have them follow your hand as you slowly move it away from them, and then side to side,” he said. “You can even move it back towards their flank so they get a really great stretch.”
To make this stretching exercise effective, he said the dog needs to remain in a seated or down position. It can be used as a warm-up and will “keep your older pet limber.”
SlimDoggy.com also has a great post on balancing exercises for dogs of all ages.
6. Walks in new places
Some senior dogs are well behaved in new areas, which makes it easier to take them places. To tire out your senior without putting too much stress on her body, you could take her on a walk through a pet friendly store or to an event like a street fair. Ace is wiped after such events.
What do the rest of you do to exercise your senior dogs?
Let me know in the comments!
Also see my posts: