When a veterinarian and a dog trainer get together, what do you think they talk about? (Hint, the #1 topic is probably "#1" and "#2.")
I had the pleasure of sitting down with friend and veterinarian Kaarin Vekman, DVM, to play a little game we called, "Whom should you call first: your vet or a trainer?" As a trainer, I get a lot of questions about topics that should really be directed to a vet. Likewise, vets are often asked behavior questions that are more in a trainer's territory. Then there are other cases where vets and trainers can work together to tackle a dog's issue from both medical and behavioral angles. And so when your dog is having a problem, it can be difficult to know where to start.
Our game covers issues such as house training, separation anxiety, puppy vaccinations, nutrition, aggression, and nail trims. Though we were both involved in creating the questions, we didn't discuss our answers ahead of time.
This game was also a good test for Dr. Vekman and me. Prior to playing the game, I was worried we would have widely differing points of view and possibly end our friendship over the contentious "puppy vaccination" topic. And while we do look at the same issue from different angles, it turns out these differences do not lead to confusion or conflict; rather, educating owners from both a medical and behavioral perspective can give them a more well-rounded understanding of their dogs' conditions.
Sure, your dog’s Agility days might be behind him, and the gravity-defying tricks he used to perform are no longer in his repertoire. Still, there is a long list of activities perfectly suited to older dogs, to ensure his golden years are his best years.
Sports for Seniors
There are several sports that don’t demand much of your senior dog’s body. Even if you don’t live near a training facility that offers sport classes, there are online schools that allow you to learn and practice at home.
Rally Obedience (also called Rally-O or simply Rally) is a lighter version of competition obedience, and a great way for you and your dog to spend time training together. Rally involves you and your pooch performing a series of obedience-type tasks, laid out on a course. The tasks include lots of heelwork, sits, stays, and so on. Rally is perfect for older dogs because it provides lots of mental stimulation, but at a slow pace. Even at Rally trials, there is a division just for seniors, and exceptions can be made for dogs with disabilities.
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Kate Naito, CPDT-KA, MS, is an author and dog trainer with Doggie Academy in Brooklyn, NY.