Hmm, aging. Such a short word, and one that invokes such terror in some. And it is timely (is that a pun?) that such a topic in the latest Dog Agility Bloggers event should show up just over two weeks before I turn thirty. There’s all these preconceptions about hitting the big three-oh that I’m reading about and wondering if they apply. Apparently I’m supposed to have a much better idea of who I am as a person, and my life will shortly really start to take shape. I’ll let you guys know if (when) that happens. Apparently my biological clock will start setting off alarms everywhere, but so far all it’s done is made me want another puppy. And finally I’m supposed to start noticing some physical changes. So far my skin has gotten a bit better, but I’ve also started making enough money that I can buy all the fancy-pants skin-care products I’ve always wanted. Other than that I can safely say I feel like I’m in fantastic shape. I’ve started doing yoga, I’m eating, well, not great but less horrible, and having two dogs means I get outside even when I really, really don’t want to.
I’ve always been fit and strong (that’s what working in a horse barn since before you were legally supposed to be working at all will do for you), but it was a youth spent working hard enough that I could feel my body falling apart. I threw my back out for the first time when I was seventeen while mucking stalls (funnily enough as I was filling in for another stable hand who had just thrown her back out) and it’s never fully recovered. I could carry two hay bales in each hand at the same time, but I was getting carpal tunnel from the repetitive motion of grooming. Long story short, I worked my butt off and though I was very strong, I sustained damage that I am still troubled with, and will be troubled with until the day I die (or we finally get those nifty brain uploads and everyone migrates to the internet or a custom made cybernetic body. I’m sure there will soon be an app for that).
During the period where I was doing the most damage to my own body, I cared for some very expensive horses, from fillies and colts on up to retiring grand prix jumpers, whose training programs were carefully thought out for most of their lives. The plan usually consisted of a very gradual increase in physical activity until the horse reached physical maturity (around nine to ten years old), and an even more gradual increase in training challenges (most horses don’t really peak mentally until they’re around sixteen). Concurrently the amount of physical maintenance is gradually increased, carefully balanced to keep the horse in excellent condition but not make them dependent at too early an age. Done correctly and the horses can expect to have long and healthy careers. I wish someone had planned the physical demands of my life so meticulously.
I have tried to implement a structured physical regime to my dogs’ training. With Mufaasa it was a bit more haphazard (like many things in his agility training) because frankly I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing. Though the more I go about this wacky agility adventure the more similarities I see between horse sports and dog sports. Raafael’s regime has been much more purposeful. Both dogs get a long warm up before we do anything. In fact, since I am currently “borrowing” a backyard to train in they are guaranteed to get a twenty minute walk to warmup and another to cool down. There are a few simple exercises I do to start a practice to prevent injuries. And as Mufaasa has started in on his agility career I have become more fastidious about not just his warmup, cooldown and stretching, but in also giving him rub-downs in the areas he’s most likely to become sore and the use of some mild physio therapy products like a Back on Track blanket (which I swear by for humans, horses, and dogs for it’s treatment of pre-existing conditions and aid in prevention as well). I’ve also started videoing all of my training sessions so I can analyze how my dogs are moving so I can start retraining so they don’t learn any damaging habits.
My hope is that taking these measures will allow my dogs to stay healthy enough that they can keep playing at agility (and other things) well in to the end of their lives. When your dog stops playing, that’s usually when they start to go down hill. I’ve yet to own a geriatric dog—Naala passed when she was just four years old—but Mufaasa will be that old when we start up his second full agility season in the spring, so for me I’ll soon be breaking new ground in dog ownership. As I take better care of my own body (and work to undo the damage already done), I hope I have done what I can to prevent injuries in my dogs and give them a life where they can enjoy themselves to the fullest.
Want to read more great blogs about aging in agility (some which might even be written by people who are actually old? Because thirty isn’t old. It’s not old at all. No, really, it’s not.) then click here!