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In my last post for this group, I talked about some of the ways that I'd like to see NADAC change. However, when it comes to keeping older dogs competing safely, I believe other agility organizations could follow NADAC's lead on a few things...primarily on jump heights.
Because I've only had one dog during my adult life go through the pains of being elderly (although, sadly, Holly is fast approaching this stage of her life), and because I haven't even hit 40-yrs old just yet (Ack!), I'm going to limit my discussion to just jump heights.
|10-yr old Casey rocking 12" jumps|
First and foremost, I think the 'battle' we wage on our dogs aging begins before they hit adulthood. Granted, some of us have adopted adult dogs (me included, twice over), so we didn't have control over this portion of our dogs lives. But, keeping our dogs joints healthy from the start can make a huge difference on whether many dogs will be able to continue to compete, or even just play the game at home, when they are older. I believe that not jumping dogs at full height, or for multiple repetitions, until their growth plates are closed can help prevent joint damage in many dogs. Keep in mind, that this damage might not be evident until the dog is much older.
Please note that I'm about to oversimplify things here...there are many combinations of things that you can sign yourself, or your dog, up for in NADAC that determine what height you'll jump and what group your dog will compete with/against. I don't personally think there is anything simple about NADAC rules, so I'm going to gloss over most of it and just touch on heart of things in relation to jump heights.
My first kudos to NADAC is that they do not allow dogs to compete before they are 18 months old...essentially ensuring that growth plates are closed before a dog begins to compete.
My second kudos to NADAC is that dogs do not jump higher than 20". Agility is about more than just jumping. And just because my 23.5" tall and lanky dog can physically jump 26", it does not mean that she should. She jumps 20" comfortably and beautifully. Anything higher than that and, in my mind, she looks awkward, with the jumping looking forced instead of relaxed and natural. I feel so very lucky that there is an organization that agrees with me on this and provides me a venue where I can compete with my freakishly tall dog, but not have to punish her body by repetitiously jumping 24"or 26" jumps.
NADAC also has a veterans group where dog's 7 yrs and older can take a 4" jump height reduction (and in some cases an 8" reduction). Having this choice for my dog is superbly and supremely awesome. Again, agility is about more than just jumping, so I believe that this choice of offering a lowered jump height can allow healthy dogs to continue to compete without punishing their 'getting older' joints.
|9-yr old Casey having fun jumping 12"|
A dogs jumping form will vary from height to height, but unless they are jumping so badly that they'll hurt themselves at a particular height, I seriously doubt any dog really cares at what height they jump. And, if given a choice, most dogs would likely choose a lower height over a higher one. Jumping your dog higher does not make you any better at agility than someone who's same-sized dog jumps 4", or even 8", lower than yours does.
I do wish that NADAC had a Double Digit Veterans group, where dogs can take an 8" height reduction when they reach 10 yrs old. Because dogs can't jump higher than 20" to begin with, a dog in the 20" group would then jump 12" as a double digit veteran. There is somewhat of a complicated version of this already, but it isn't for double-digit dogs...it's a mandatory drop for all dogs over 8-yrs old. Hopefully each of us knows our dog best and has their best interests in mind, instead of our own ego's. While I believe in lowering our dogs jump heights as they age, I still believe that we should be allowed to individually make the call when that should happen...not to systematically have all dogs drop a jump height just because they reach the age of 8-yrs old. Hopefully that call will be made by the handler before joint or jumping discomfort becomes evident. Because by the time your dog shows signs of aging in their joints, it's too late. The damage is there and now you are in catch-up mode. Instead, we should do all we can to maintain the healthy joints our dogs already have by using prevention.
Not too long ago NADAC eliminated the differences in championship titles between their 2 categories Proficient and Skilled. It used to be that a dog in Proficient received a NATCH and a dog in Skilled received a NATCH-S (or Medal for those from way back). Now, a NATCH is a NATCH is a NATCH. Heights and times are still different between the two categories, but the end title is now the same. There are many arguments on the pros and cons of this, but the main thing I see is that if you want your dog to earn a NATCH title (something that only the human side of the team cares about), you no longer have to jump your dog at a higher height, their whole career, to earn it.
In addition to allowing our dogs to jump lower heights, NADAC also offers four "games" classes...none of which have jumps in them. Courses that are comprised of nothing but tunnels, hoops or a combination thereof plus contacts and weave poles. The courses are a blast and super fun for dogs of all ages to play on.
|Elderly Casey doing a "Tunnelers" course|
No, I do not believe our dogs should live in bubbles...not that I didn't seriously consider it each and every time Holly hurt herself last year. But one thing we can do for them is to try and prevent unnecessary wear and tear in agility. My primary suggestion for how we can allow our dogs to continue to comfortably play this game into their double digit years is to continually lower their jump height as they age, instead of dropping their jumps heights by the time they are already old.
|Holly doing her "Super-Dog!" impression over 16" jumps|
Holly is almost 8 yrs old, a freakish 23.5" tall and has had multiple injuries over the last 3 years. Because I value her ability to still play this game (or any game at all) over the next few years, and remain healthy, I've decided that I will never again ask her to jump higher than 16". That is a choice that I make for her, not for me.
When it comes to our dogs...our beloved companions that are so willing to play this silly game with us...I believe that it's good to let go of your ego: Just because your dog can, does not mean that they should.
These are just some of my opinions...what about you? What are your feelings on your agility venue's jump heights? What are you concerned most about in relation to agility and your dog getting older?