Having an old dog has inherent challenges. Having your driven, high level working/sport dog age comes along with additional emotions and decisions; what activities do you still let them do? Do you just play at home, go to regular classes or enter competitions? Is your dog still enjoying him/herself? Do they like going to new places or are they happier when their environment remains more constant? Can you honestly evaluate whether you’re doing things for your dog or are you doing it for you? Pretty ribbons are cool! I appreciate the dog-handler teamwork when it goes well and strive to continually improve. I am gratified just like many others whose lives revolve around dog competitions. All these things can blend together and the bittersweet partnership with an older dog can be a difficult road to travel, especially when there are younger dogs waiting in the wings.
I had the pleasure of trialing my old girl, Emmy, in a K9 Nose Work® Elite trial today. Her nose still works even if her body is getting weaker, her hearing is going and her eyesight and cognition occasionally falter. As I prepared for the event I considered retiring her from competition after today’s trial. She just needed a few more points for her ELT2 title. She achieved that today and has earned every right to retirement. We were not perfect and her body cues are evolving as she ages so I’m having to re-learn how to read and handle her which makes it harder for me to not be the weak link! She’s a bit slower, can’t jump up and has less stamina than she used to have but even so, we had a decent score after 4 strenuous searches. The best part of the day was watching how much FUN she still has! Emmy pulls me to search areas. She barks in frustration when she has to wait and she still actively and joyfully searches, solving difficult scentwork puzzles that can stump a younger, less experienced dog. At 13-1/2 she’s still amazing to watch!
Emmy can no longer play in Agility or Schutzhund or Dock Diving or any of the myriad of other things we used to do together. K9NW is a great way for older dogs to retire and she’s been in this game for about a decade so why stop now? Em has her K9 Nose Work® classes so she will definitely get to play every week in something she clearly still loves. Will we continue to compete? I’m not sure. As long as she remains healthy it’s possible. Our adventures today helped me realize that if we do compete again it’s for her, not for me. Well, except my selfish desire to share in her joy.
Old dogs rule!