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January 2012
English Setters

Agility – Antidote to Aging

Maybe not quite the fountain of youth, agility just may be an antidote to aging. It’s not unusual to see handlers in their 60s and 70s running agility. I’ve even seen a few in their 80s. Though in conformation and obedience, an English Setter (and many other breeds) is considered eligible to enter the Veteran classes at age 7, there is no such thing as a veteran class in agility. It’s not uncommon to see dogs running agility -- and beating the youngsters in speed -- when the dog is age 8 or 9.

Older dogs may slow down a bit, but when the time is right, they can be moved to the preferred classes and jump a lower jump height and compete in agility with great success for many additional years. After earning multiple Master Agility Champion (MACH) titles as youngsters, many older dogs have continued to MACH to the age of 12.

Some of the reasons are obvious. Agility is a vigorous sport that requires frequent practice, which keeps dog and handler moving several times a week. These frequent practice sessions yield fitness for both human and canine.

Perhaps the biggest benefit to the human partner is the work out for the mind. Every agility course is different, so during a typical three-day trial week end with three different events per day, the handler memorizes nine courses of 18-20 obstacles each. While running the course, the human has to make decisions based on how the run unfolds in real time, constantly adjusting tactics, accelerating, decelerating, figuring out when to turn, inventing new moves on the fly, understanding instantly what the dog is doing and deciding how to incorporate the dog’s behavior into a successful strategy. How’s that for mental exercise?

For the canine partner, being tapped to be an agility dog means that the breeder and owner have selected for physical soundness. So, you start with a sound dog, feed it top quality food and keep him lean, and give him plenty of vigorous exercise all his life. Is it any wonder that agility dogs are healthy for a very long time? It takes so many years to develop a canine partner with top-notch agility skills that it would be a shame if that dog reached his agility prime without being able to use those hard-earned skills for many more years.

Being an agility dog also means that the dog spends a great deal of one-on-one time training with his human partner, leading to mental sharpness and optimal emotional health and happiness.

Sometimes agility dogs and people sustain injuries. Agility people practice preventive health care (using massage, warm-ups, cool downs, practicing safety first on course) for both themselves and their dogs, but if either one does sustain an injury, they take their dogs anywhere they need to in order to get the best possible medical help available. If the human is the injured partner, he or she is inspired to do whatever it takes to get strong again to return to the fun of running agility.

If you are an agility addict, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re not yet into agility, maybe trying it would be just what the doctor ordered for top levels of physical, mental, and emotional fitness for you and your dog.

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