It’s time again for another Dog Agility Blog Action Day. Sadly, this poor blog hasn’t seen much action lately, so why not use a DABAD event to get back into writing, huh? You can read all the other posts on Aging over here.
Aging in agility isn’t something I’ve had to experience with a dog yet. Riley is my first agility dog, and she just turned 4 years old in February. We haven’t had to think about retirement yet based on age, but we have had to consider what is best for her body. Right now she’s fine, but I know she’s not going to last until she’s 14 years old either because she’s just not built that way.
I started working with Tag when he was 7 or 8, so aging was definitely something we considered with him. Routine maintenance kept him competing until he officially retired (in part, due to my ACL injury) this past February. It was a difficult decision, but I was going to suggest retiring him anyways, even if I hadn’t been forced to. He was enthusiastic and loved the game, but the game didn’t love his body. After USDAA trials (4-5 runs in a day), he would come up limping for a day or so. He would work out of it, and he had regular chiro appointments and supplements, but it was selfish of me to want him to keep going for that next title or accomplishment.
It’s not easy– broaching the subject of retirement. Generally, you want to ACCOMPLISH something to honor your aged furry friend… a new shiny title or a large event. Unfortunately, several dogs have passed away recently, and so many videos of “infamous famous last runs” are flying around– and they’re always grandiose… finals at a National event, a MACH run, a Regional Steeplechase winning round. It’s easy to get caught in the “one last fame” game. Clubs make it easy now… in AKC, you can flip into Preferred and in USDAA there’s even a Veteran’s program.
But what is the point? To get a title? To compete? Can’t we still train our dogs (in agility or otherwise) when they’re retired? I was at a trial with a friend a few weeks ago that had retired her little dog after she finished her MACH2. She hadn’t brought the dog to a trial since she retired, and I convinced her to do a practice jump during the walk through. The dog completely forgot how to do rear crosses. Since when did aging and retiring become giving up something you used to love with your dog? Just because you have a new, younger project doesn’t mean you have to completely ignore the old dog or give up training completely. (*Steps off soapbox*)
What I can say about the topic is that aging isn’t just an age thing. It’s a mental thing, it’s a “can my body handle it” thing and it’s an art (not a science). It’s also partially a “how are we doing as a team” thing– not just a 100% dog body thing. I recently had the opportunity to run a friend’s Border Collies at a trial and during a seminar this past weekend, and I realized that I was the aging factor in the partnership. (Don’t laugh since I’m in my 20’s!) I wasn’t moving as quickly as I used to before my knee surgery in February.
Part of aging is knowing your limits. We had the pleasure of working with Tori Self on the afternoon of the last day. I was running an older Border Collie (but still fast), and I realized I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t even try. I looked at where I started and where I needed to run for that blind cross push back, and I decided to sit that particular sequence out. Don’t get me wrong, oh boy did I want to try to run it, but it wasn’t fair to drill the dog because I just couldn’t GET to where *I* needed to be for a serpentine.
We all reach a point (we, humans, and them, the dogs) where we just need to know our limits. The art of aging is knowing your limit. Sure, there is some science if there’s an injury, rehab or something out of whack, but hopefully, for the majority of us, aging & knowing when to stop isn’t forced upon us by some third party source. Knowing your limits. Aging. I like to think of it as being mature. It’s very easy to WANT to do the sequence or WANT the fancy new title, but it’s in the maturity that a team can understand when it’s time to move on to the next chapter.
Although, you can come ask me how I feel after I have to retire my first aging agility dog. I might have a completely different perspective! :P