3 Senior Dog Athletes Who Defy the Limits

He took up treibball, which requires dogs to retrieve and push large exercise balls through a course and into a goal. “This is such a great sport for the older dog,” Setzer says. “The dog can choose the speed at which he runs, the tightness of his turns, and he can take a break if he needs it.”

On his days off, Charlie Brown takes two walks. He also enjoys weekly physical therapy to help control inflammation and pain. Because of some food allergies, Charlie Brown eats a special diet and takes anti-inflammatory supplements his veterinarian recommended.

Bosco: Labrador Retriever, 11

How do you describe an 11-year-old Lab who still loves hunting andagility and who fills his backyardhorse trough by jumping in with thehose running? In a word, says hisowner JoAnn McDermott, “knucklehead.” Bosco recently competed at American Kennel Club Agility Nationals. Famous for breaking weave poles and barking at the start line, Bosco competes twice a month, at least. “His times are like that of dogs 3 or 4 years younger,” McDermott says.

Always kept at a lean body weight, Bosco follows a wellness routine that includes lots of exercise and physical therapy. He takes veterinary supplements to support his joints and overall health.

Take-Home Lessons

What can we learn from these dogs? A healthy diet and weight can improve a dog’s chances of a longer, more active life. Cross-training in several activities makes for a more well-rounded fitness routine and often a happier dog. It also gives you more options if your dog faces an injury or illness. Supplements, especially those that promote joint health, and rehabilitation can help keep some dogs more active. Simply put, even senior dogs can learn and participate in new, age-appropriate activities. So get out there and let your dog defy a few limits too.

Older Dog Do's and Don'ts

Once they receive a green light from their veterinarian, dogs of any age can remain active. According to Debbie Gross from Wizard of Paws in Colchester, Connecticut, a physical rehabilitation facility for pets, it’s important for older dogs to maintain key strengths and avoid possible injury-causing activities.


  • Do maintain core strength in the lower back and abdominals. Wobble boards and fitness discs (available online) are great tools for promoting stability and abdominal strength.
  • Do add balance and proprioceptive (sense of their body in space) exercises across different surfaces and low-impact obstacles. Try placing a ladder flat on the ground and encouraging your dog to walk between the rungs. This will require both balance and concentration.
  • Do take daily walks. “I am a firm believer that an older dog needs regular walks — once or twice a day to help maintain their strength, endurance, and energy,” says Gross.


  • Don’t allow dogs to jump on or off excessively high surfaces.
  • Don’t ask dogs to work through lameness or discomfort.
  • Don’t let dogs hike or run excessive distances unless they’re used to it.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of HealthyPet magazine.

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