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Stay Young: Tips for Keeping Your Older Dog Fit

By The Bark Editors, June 2020

An active dog is a happy dog. Regular exercise keeps your dog’s joints limber and muscles strong, helps control weight and engages the brain — all of which slow the aging process and boost your dog’s quality of life. Not only do active dogs live longer, they live better, and your bond will grow. Here are five ideas on how to make your dog's senior years the best years of their lives.

Walk
The senior years can bring a golden age of walking — not only does walking get your dog moving, the sights, smells, sounds and tastes of the world activate his brain.
Older dogs have more trouble regulating their body temperature, so avoid exercising when it’s very hot or cold. Keep an eye on your dog for signs of fatigue or overheating.

While you want to avoid steep hills, walking up gradual hills strengthens your dog’s hindquarters. If your route includes a steep downhill, consider zigzagging your way down to avoid too much stress on your dog’s front legs. To help your dog maintain traction on slippery surfaces, consider booties or paw pads with gripping treads.

Swim
Aerobic and low-impact, swimming is an ideal senior-dog fitness option, especially during warm months. While lakes or ponds are a fun and free option, submerged rocks or logs can make access tricky and, in some cases, cold water can exacerbate arthritis or joint problems.

Canine pools offer warm water swimming in a setting geared toward older or injured dogs. The warm water helps loosen joints and stimulate circulation while building muscle. Some water therapy centers have underwater treadmills so non-swimmers can reap the benefits. In all kinds of water, a canine flotation device provides a little extra buoyancy and security for older dogs.

Stretch
If you have ever watched a dog stretch after a nap, you just know they love it. And it’s good for them. Stretching helps keep your dog feeling relaxed while promoting flexibility.

You can help these natural processes with gentle guided stretching of the rear and front legs to benefit the hips, spine, knees, ankles, wrists, elbows, chest and shoulders.

Many dog massage books or classes include stretching, or try Doga, a form of yoga that works with human- dog pairs and incorporates massage. If you cannot find a Doga class in your neighborhood, there are several good DIY guides including Barking Buddha: Simple Soul Stretches for Yogi or Dogi.

Move
Behind every graying muzzle is an inner puppy itching to play. Channel that gamester with activities that keep her strong and agile. Here are three dependable options.

•Flatland fetch: For ball lovers with joint issues, retrieving low tosses or rolled soccer balls keeps all paws on the ground. Avoid Frisbee or high throws that encourage leaping catches.
•Gentle tug-of-war: Tug at the dog’s level to keep stress off the neck.
•Agility lite: Zipping through tunnels, weaving between poles, even pausing on a floor mat (skip the table, jumps and climbing obstacles) captures the high-thrill fun of Agility without the impact.

For all dogs do to enrich our lives, we owe it to them to make sure their senior years are as enriching and fulfilling as the preceding years have been, and then some.