So your adventure dog is slowing down? Mine is too. They may be slowing, but that doesn’t mean they are done adventuring. When your hiking pal is getting up there in age, they’ll need extra considerations on trail. Here is what my senior adventure dogs, Xena and Oreo, have taught me over the years.
Oreo was a Border Collie mix, she lived to be 17 years old. Oreo has been gone for almost 4 years now, she was 12 years old when we brought Xena home as a puppy. Xena is now a 9 year old Great Dane. Both girls have been amazing adventure dogs.
Just like people, senior canines don’t regulate their body temperature as well when they age. When you’re planning your hike consider how high or low the temp will be, especially if you live in an area with extreme temperatures.
Heat: Long haired or double coated dogs don’t do well in the heat, seniors especially. Boots are suggested by some. I don’t put boots on my dogs feet in summer, the feet can become too hot. Instead, I walk them on the edge of the asphalt on the dirt or grass.
If you aren’t able to hold the back of your hand comfortably on the pavement for more than 10 seconds, it’s too hot for their feet and can burn their pads. You may also consider investing in a cooling towel for your seasoned pup or hike early in the day.
Cold: The malamute is fine. The dalmatian is not. Be sure to pack a jacket and/or booties for your short coated senior. When going on an overnight, pack warm enough sleeping gear. On a chilly night, Xena ends up in my sleeping bag. She’s 130 pounds.
Distance, Duration, and Speed
Shortening your hike may be necessary for your seasoned pup. If you notice them tiring before your hikes are finished, mark that distance. Plan to end your next hike before that distance is reached.
That shortened distance might take you the same amount of time as the longer hike used to. That’s okay, let them stop to smell the roses. Senior dogs appreciate smells sniffed, not miles hiked.
Watch them closely, some dogs need to be told to slow down. This may be especially true if they are accompanied by a younger dog.
Steep inclines and rough terrain is no problem for a dog in their prime. Those obstacles become more difficult as the aging process continues. Determine what your dog can handle and be ready to modify your plans if the terrain becomes too much. Choosing an easier level of trail would be a great kindness to your dog. Check the rating of the trail you intend to take, some sites display photos and thorough reviews of trails. My favorite app is the Alltrails app.
We took Oreo on her final trip to Gooseberry thinking that it would be an easy trail for her. Our intended trail was mostly boardwalk. There were more stairs than Oreo could handle. At the steeper and more lengthy sections of steps, I carried her up. I was surprised at how well she handled being carried, she was just so happy to be there, what a trooper!
Take into consideration your dog’s size. Would your pup fit in a backpack carrier, wagon, or trailer? Would your trail of choice allow for it. Oreo was no problem in the bike trailer or wagon. Xena, our Great Dane, would have been more tricky to transport.
My girls enjoyed running alongside my bike in their younger years. When my collie started to slow a bit, we already had a bike trailer for our daughter. There was a waterfall we liked to bike and hike to when we lived in California. The trip to the falls was always fine, but the return trip was harder for Oreo. When she was ready, we would lift her into the trailer for the remainder of the trail. If we were hiking, an all terrain wagon worked for her to ride in as well. Our daughter was very patient and willing to share her ride with her best pal.
Snacks & Water
Senior dogs tend to drink more water than a younger dog. They need more water for kidney function and general hydration. Bring more water along than you would normally bring along for your pup.
Snacks aren’t mandatory, but are much appreciated. Bring a few of your dog’s favorite snacks and treats along to motivate them on trail and to give them a few extra calories to burn.
Plan for plenty of breaks. A simple sniff break or a spot near a shaded riverbank or falls to catch their breath is needed here and there. A good time for a break is before or after a harder section of trail. A break is also an opportunity to check you dogs wellbeing and give a snack.
Health & Condition
It’s important to have regular Vet visits for your pup as they age and to keep your Vet informed about your dog’s adventuring. They may have advice for keeping them going longer and stronger. Keeping them strong and a healthy weight will help them continue adventuring. Overweight dogs will have a harder time and more joint pain.
Here are a few things to keep an eye on during your hikes with your seniors.
- Excessive or Unexplained Panting: Overheating, exhaustion, heart condition, respiratory distress
- Capillary Refill: Poor capillary refill could be an indicator of dehydration, heart condition or other underlying health concerns.
- Purple Tongue: This is one that I recently experienced while hiking with a family member’s dog. When the Golden Retriever exerted himself, the tip of his tongue would start to turn purple. He had a trip to the veterinarian for labs and a check up. No conditions were found, but further monitoring will be necessary.
- Abnormal Behavior: You know your dog best. If she starts behaving differently, there might be an issue. Take a break and check her out.
Seniors are more prone to injuries out on the trail. Bring a canine first aid kit along on your adventures, just in case.
Dogs love car rides! Is there anything better than feeling the breeze through their ears and slobber all along the side of your car!? Nope! Taking a road trip with your senior dog is a great way to put on the miles while relaxing in the car. Taking short walks to scenic overlooks rather than a long hike on rough terrain is more their speed now.
Vehicle: Our Xena can no long get up into the back of my husband’s truck. She doesn’t have an issue hopping into my shorter Pathfinder, though. When she comes along for the adventure, we bring my vehicle to accommodate her. We even have a cargo topper for our gear so she doesn’t have to share her space with the camping gear.
Ramps/Stairs: If you have a larger dog that’s having a harder time getting up in the car, investing in a ramp or set of collapsible steps may be an option.
Sometimes trips are cut short with senior dogs. Being patience and flexible is your best bet. We’ve learned that just one or two nights of “ruffing it” is enough for Xena at her age.
We had an incident with a “senior moment” that turned a quick two night camping trip into an even quicker one night camping trip. It was an unseasonably chilly July evening, Xena wasn’t warm enough in her own bedding. I wrapped her in my sleeping bag to keep her warm with my body heat. She was well rested in the morning and loved the snuggles. Unfortunately, she had a senior moment during the night and left a nugget in my sleeping bag.
I wasn’t willing to sleep another night with a soiled sleeping bag. We remained flexible, cleaned up our site and still had a great hike that day. Instead of another night in the woods, we made the drive home. She didn’t ruin the trip, she just changed it. Flexibility and patience are key.
Some dogs will go until their final days, others will decide they would rather stay home, and even more will be told they need to rest. Watch your dog and listen to what they are telling you. You
Oreo would have gone anywhere with us if we asked, whether she could physically handle it or not. That little lady had determination and an undying loyalty. She was an amazing adventure dog and always eager to please. We had to slow her down and help her along. Eventually, we did make the call to have her stay home with a pet sitter. But until then, we brought her on as many adventures as we could. I remember her final trip to the Boundary Waters and Gooseberry Falls. She was so happy, but I knew it would be her last big adventure. She needed a lot help, but she was so happy to be there. After that last big adventure, she had smaller adventures closer to home in her “retirement.”
On the other hand, my parents had a Jack Russell Terrier named Misty. She had gone on many camping trips with them but at a certain point she decided, on her own, that she would rather stay home. Misty once buzzed with excitement when the camping gear was being packed, that excitement faded and she no longer wanted to load up in the truck. Eventually, she didn’t want to put on her leash and go for a walk. She would rather bask in the sun on their property and watch the goings on of her family. That choice was respected and she stayed home during their trips and happily greeted them when they returned home. I took care of her at their home while they were away, she was a happy little homebody.
However long you can keep your adventure dog going, revel in every minute of it. You never know when their last adventure will be. I miss my Oreo on every adventure and frequently look back at photos of our time together. Adventures with Xena are enjoyable for sure, but I had Oreo from the time I was 10 years old until I was 27. She was a big part of my life, I will always hold my very best adventure dog close to my heart.