Instructor: Lori Stevens
In this six-week class you’ll learn about how to keep your aging-dog’s minds and bodies active. As dogs age they typically lose hind-end strength, proprioception, and slow down just like we do as we age-- even mentally. As they age even more, they can lose function, e.g. going up stairs or getting in the car. Many of the tools and techniques you will learn in this class can be used with a dog of any age but this class is targeted at middle-age and older.
In this class you will learn bodywork, fitness exercises and proper alignment, harness fit, tips for everyday life with older dogs and more. You will learn how to support your dog as they age, how to keep them active, and how to keep them functioning in everyday life. If your dog has lost function, e.g. the ability to do stairs, you’ll learn what you can do to help your dog regain function again. You will learn about equipment that will make your aging-dog enjoy life more. You will also learn things you can do that will make your own life easier while living with, loving, engaging, and caring for an older dog.
This is an introductory course, meaning no prior experience with any of the topics covered is needed. For gold level participants, I will provide feedback on your technique, and on your dog’s alignment while doing the exercises, and give you tips and support for how to be more successful with all of the exercises and concepts presented in this course.
It could take 6-10 weeks for the exercises to have a significant impact on your dog’s strength and function. I truly hope you’ll keep going with the exercises you learn in this class, and that you’ll write me later and let me know how it went!
Next session starts: August 1, 2018Registration starts: July 22, 2018Registration ends: August 15, 2018
Registration will begin at 10:30 AM Pacific Time.
For answers to commonly asked questions see our FAQ page.
Enrollment limits: Gold: 10 students, Silver: 15 students, Bronze: unlimited.
Silver level for this class is offered as "Working Silver". In addition to asking GENERAL clarification questions about the class lecture materials, silver students will now have the opportunity to submit two short videos, one minute each, for critique and review. You may submit two questions. Each question MUST have a one minute video attached so the instructor can actually answer a question that they can see. The question must relate to a topic in the class and the video must be a demo of the question. Please see the discussion forum for a detailed explanation - feel free to sign up at bronze, read the explanation, and then come back here to upgrade to silver if that interests you, and if space is available.
If you are interested in a bronze level subscription, you can sign up at any time during the registration period.
Age-related Behavior and Physical Changes
Use it or lose it: keeping bodies and minds active
Establishing a baseline
Fitness foundation exercise
Improving life in the house
Getting in and out of cars
Signs of pain
Simple initial physical assessment
More bodywork techniques
Fitness foundation exercise
Specific movement exercises
Benefits of fitness
More bodywork techniques
More bodywork techniques
Using platforms for aging dogs
Making the platform exercises more difficult
More bodywork techniques
More bodywork techniques
Leash walking equipment
Teaching your dog to dress herself
Pre-requisites and Supplies
- An understanding of how to teach specific behaviors to your dog. Good marker-based training using positive reinforcement will be very useful. I'm happy to give pointers to gold and working silver students who need help with teaching specific behaviors that I cover in this class.
Understanding the basics with respect to the science of behavior will help, e.g. I may use terminology such as counter-conditioning, operant learning, and/or desensitization when looking at videos that I’ll only cover briefly and as needed
Good observation skills will help, though I will be very active with feedback
Poles and cones (cavalettis) will be useful. See note 1 below on how to make or buy.
Platform: (ideally 2-3” high to start). See note 2 below on how to make or buy.
A FitBone, balance pad, or a 14” balance disc will be useful to have. See note 3 for where to purchase.
Note 1: If you don’t want to purchase a set of cavalettis, you can make them with mop and broom handles or agility-jump-poles and painters-tape. Rest them on top of cans at various heights (tuna cans are the lowest height and big cans of tomato sauce are the highest).
You can purchase a set from https://fitpawsusa.com/product/caninegym-agility-kit/ and get a 15% discount using code: “16E-AMBLS” These are great for smaller areas.
Note 2: You can wrap a 2-3” high book in duct tape and then surround it with anti-slip material. Or you can use a human aerobics step (got mine at Amazon), a Klimb (4.5 inches high), or a platform you build (search online for ideas). Or you can purchase a platform via http://platformsplus.org/index.html You’ll eventually go up in height, depending on the dog. Only use a Klimb or aerobics step if your dog can step up at least 4”-4.5” and maintain her alignment.
Note 3: You can purchase a Balance Pad, FitBone, or a 14” Balance Disc from fitpawsusa.com and get a 15% discount using code: “16E-AMBLS” or look on Amazon. I found a great deal on a balance pad via Amazon--so couldn’t resist getting a third one. Balance pads are great, especially for aging dogs (and people :) The FitBone is the most challenging of these pieces but is also the most versatile.
Lifting a Paw and Shifting Weight
One thing I'm hoping you'll do this week is tell me whether you are able to easily lift each of your dog’s paws. I'll show you how to do this below by video.
Please do this on a surface that isn’t slippery. We want to know if one particular paw or two of your dog’s paws are consistently more difficult to pick up. If you can ask for each paw to be lifted on cue, even better. Important note: please DO NOT FORCE a paw up. If your dog doesn’t want to lift a paw, try again later. We want to see whether your dog can easily do a weight shift while standing.
If you can’t lift a paw or two, then no worries, i.e., we can’t assume anything other than it’s not easy or comfortable for your dog at this time. You can try again at another time, e.g., when she first gets up or after she has been walking around a bit. It’s always good to check in with your veterinarian to make sure there isn’t a medical reason for her to want to keep her paws on the ground.
If you can easily lift all four paws, one at a time, then let's just try this as a simple exercise. Lift the paw, supporting the elbow or stifle, and hold for 5-10 seconds. This is actually a fitness exercise. The dog has to stand, shift her weight, and balance. This requires strength. You can increase the time gradually up to 30 seconds over the next four to six weeks by adding up to five seconds each week, assuming your dog can do this easily. If she can’t easily handle this, add five seconds every 10-14 days.
When you lift a front paw, support the elbow joint. When you lift a hind paw, support the stifle/knee joint. I will show this in the following video.
The weight shift: when you lift the front right paw, weight shifts to the left hind paw. Can you see this happening?
Video of Cassie lifting each paw:
TTouch Bodywork for Aging Dogs
TTouch bodywork is a gentle form of bodywork. The approach is one of letting the dog decide if they are ready for the touch and when they are ready to stop.
When doing TTouch, your dog is likely to notice that this is a different method of touch from what you normally do. And because it’s new and non-habitual, it gets your dog’s attention in a different way. Sometimes it looks as if the dog is listening or paying attention to this type of touch in a way that they haven’t noticed touch before. With older dogs, I tend to teach the methods that are more comforting or warming, especially since older dogs are likely to have arthritic joints. These methods are also the most calming for many dogs.
Often after a bodywork session, I notice that the dog is moving better. I think a few things are happening here:
Bodywork increases awareness in all areas of the body.
The warmth of your hands feels good and therefore the dog feels better.
Bodywork can release formally-held tension in the body.
This work can have a calming effect and there’s little doubt that oxytocin is produced.
TTouch bodywork is complementary to veterinary care, fitness training, massage, acupuncture, laser, etc.
We have already covered a sliding touch called Noah’s March. This week I’ll be talking about technique for circular touches.
TTouch Technique for Circular Touches
The TTouch technique takes a bit of practice to get used to. It’s different from petting, patting, and rubbing; it’s more like a form of massage. Instead of working on muscle tissue specifically, we are working in the skin and fascial layers. How deep you are working depends on the amount of pressure you use. TTouch bodywork likely affects muscles by relaxing the fascia above the muscle.
Let’s try this: roll up your sleeve and place your hand over the top of your arm such that your thumb is in contact with your skin as are all of your finger-pads. You can start with using the pads furthest from the palm of your hand, i.e. the pads on the underside of your fingernails. These four pads will have contact with the skin, as will the thumb.
Now choose a landmark, e.g., a freckle or mole, that one of your finger pads can cover. You want to make sure it stays covered and that you don’t slide off it. We are going to practice moving the skin around with a relaxed hand. Try not to overthink this part. Just move the skin up and down and side to side while keeping your fingers from sliding over the skin. Notice whether you changed the amount of pressure you used when you moved your fingers.
Next, instead of moving your fingers up and down and side to side, move the pads of your fingers, which are maintaining contact with the skin, in a circular motion. Try making a circle and about a quarter of a circle more—that’s right, one circle plus a quarter. Or a circle plus a bit. Do the circular touch slowly enough that you can tell when you are making a circle and when you are making a circle plus a bit.
Did the pads of your fingers slide over the skin? If so, then start again and remember to maintain contact in starting position but move the skin and your finger pads together in a circle plus a bit.
We’ll keep adding to the technique part as we go. Try different parts of your arm or leg. Notice areas where the skin moves more easily.
Next try doing this on your dog, using one hand to make contact with your dog and the other to move your fingers around in a circle plus. For the hand that is active, all five of your fingers should be in contact with your dog. Try exhaling as you place your hands on your dog. This will help you breathe :)
Does your dog get up and move away or give you body language that indicates she isn’t sure? E.g. yawning, licking her lip/nose, turning away? If so, remove your hands. Just give her a break and try again.
The next thing we’ll work on is your wrist. We want your hand relaxed and your wrist in neutral—meaning we don’t want your wrist bent in either direction. Two things can happen when you bend your wrist: your fingers may not be as soft and flexible AND you can get pain in your wrist. Go ahead and try this: flex your wrist (bend your hand down) and move your fingers, then extend your wrist (bend your hand back) and move your fingers, then don’t bend it either way (it’s in neutral now) and feel how easily your fingers move.
As we learn the technique and more of the bodywork, we’ll use different parts of your hands and fingers.
Tag Points for TTouch Bodywork (practice these one at a time for a few iterations each)
Do a circle plus a quarter
Place two hands on the dog
Keep wrist in neutral position
Don’t slide fingers over skin
Video of circular touches and slides:
A sampling of what prior students have said about this course ...
Thanks for offering this special class. The Gold teams were very inspiring and Lori was very supportive. My older dog is only 8 but recently retired from agility due to an injury. I miss running with her. This class helped me to reconnect with her in a different way. Thanks!
I am not a sports-oriented person, so my dog and I have never done anything like agility or flyball. Sure, we've run around and we've hiked. This was a totally new field for us, and it has made an amazing difference for a 12 year old labrador and her person. We'll be back for more! Thanks, Lori!
Thank you FDSA for offering the course, and Lori for teaching it with such care and insight. I'll be re-visiting these course materials again and again, I'm sure. Having my first (and only) aging dog, I so value the practical aspects of the course, but also the Lori's and the collective wisdom. My anxiety about my options and what to do when to make this time safe, comfortable and enriching for my dog is, as the ad says, "priceless."! Thank you!
This is probably the most valuable class I have ever taken through FDSA. My older dog had lost a good deal of his mobility in his back end. After this class, his back end is working again, and I am astonished every time I watch him move! I have always heard "use it or lose it" in connection with older dogs, but I had no idea how to have him "use it" in ways that would not make matters worse. Now I actually have strategies that I can use to help him maintain his ability to move, without causing him undue pain. Through this class I learned safe exercises that I can have him do, and how to progress at a rate that is appropriate for him. In addition, this class has really helped me be able to focus in on what my older dog can still do, rather than on what he cannot do anymore, and that has made a tremendous difference to both of us! I highly recommend this class for anyone who has an older dog.
I'm so glad FDSA brought Lori Stevens and this class to the Academy. My senior dog definitely benefited from the extra attention she got these last 6 weeks. Lori brings tons of experience in dog training, body work, and fitness/movement analysis. She was able to work with each dog and handler wherever they were at. Thank you Lori! Molly B and Miss Muffett
This class on helping your aging dog came at the exact right time for us. Lori Stevens did an outstanding job putting together a strong curriculum and teaching it very well. I couldn't recommend it more highly. Even in this short six weeks we can see changes for the better in our "elderly frail" border collie. For example, she had lost 'reverse gear' about a year ago, as her hindquarters weakened and spinal issues progressed. Last week we started shaping "back up onto a very low platform", and this weekend, unbelievably, she was able to step both hind feet back onto it. The two most helpful parts of the class for me, in addition to all the great information, were: 1) to realize that the aging changes are normal, and old dogs can still accomplish a LOT. (Here's looking at you, Jennifer and amazing Guinness!) I've lost a lot of my anxiety over Habi's hindquarters, as the class introduced me to lots of options to help her live a quality life with various mobility aids. 2) to let the dog tell you how hard to push. Lori emphasized that if your dog is having difficulty with an exercise, don't do it (or figure out how to do it in baby steps). If your dog walks away from a bodywork session, that's OK. Such an important reminder. I loved, loved, loved the course, and we are incorporating all the information into daily life.