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Many dogs and people love training and competing in dog sports. While they can keep your dog physically and mentally active, some sports cause more wear and tear than others. At some point, you’ll unfortunately need to consider retiring your dog. Here are things to keep in mind when it comes to dog retirement.

What Are High-Impact Dog Sports?

In high-impact sports, dogs move fast, jumping and taking sharp turns. These activities can be a lot of fun but can also take a physical toll on a dog’s body. Examples of higher-impact sports include Agility, Flyball, Diving Dogs, Fast CAT, and Disc Dog. High-impact sports aren’t appropriate for all dogs. Plus, dogs need to be at peak physical condition to participate, and even the healthiest dogs can still get hurt.


Why You Might Want to Retire Your Dog

As dog owners, we want to do what is best for our dogs’ overall health and safety. There are various reasons why it might be the right time to retire a dog from a dog sport, including:

Age-Related Health Conditions

Advanced age doesn’t automatically mean you need to retire a dog from sports. Many senior dogs continue competing in high-impact sports. Just like people, though, as a dog gets older, they may deal with age-related health conditions like arthritis. As a result, intense physical activity may cause them discomfort. Senior dogs, especially those competing in high-impact sports or activities, should be examined by their veterinarian should be examined by a veterinarian at least once a year, if not every six months. Your vet can help identify any age-related health conditions affecting your dog and provide advice to help ensure they’re comfortable in their later years.

Past Injuries

If your dog has experienced an injury, they may be able to rehabilitate and return to previous levels of activity. However, some dogs won’t be able to safely participate in sports they previously enjoyed. To reduce the chance of re-injury, owners may choose to retire their dogs from higher-impact sports. It can be helpful to seek a veterinarian’s help in determining which sports or activities your dog can participate in after an injury.

Changes in Behavior

When training and competing, pay attention to any changes you see in your dog’s behavior or performance. For example, if your dog starts knocking more bars in Agility, the cause may not be a training issue. In fact, that could be a sign they’re in pain or that they have an injury you aren’t aware of. If you’re unsure, it’s always a good idea to take them to the vet for a check-up.

Labrador retriever laying down on the couch.
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Alternatively, your dog may be getting tired of a particular sport. If that’s the case, taking a break is a great idea. Focus on other sports and activities your dog enjoys. You can also just have fun playing with your dog while deciding if it’s time to retire your dog from a particular sport.

Keeping Retired Sport Dogs Engaged

No matter their age, dogs who excel at sports and sports training enjoy staying active. If you retire them from a high-impact sport, they may become very frustrated if they suddenly have no outlet for their energy. Dog retirement may cause them to become depressed or develop boredom-related behavioral issues.

Make sure that you’re still spending focused time with your retired dog to continue to maintain your bond and connection. It’s important to find other ways to mentally and physically challenge and engage retired dogs. You can do this by getting your dog involved in lower-impact sports, playing training games at home, or trying interactive dog toys.

Do At-Home Activities

If your dog is retiring from active competition or a favorite sport, it’s important to keep their dog retirement as enriching as possible. This may mean finding new activities to do together or making favorite activities more accessible to dogs with newfound limitations.

For example, consider setting up an easy, at-home agility course with low jumps, tunnels, and any other obstacles your dog can safely still do. For retiring AKC Rally dogs, try setting up fun-run courses in your backyard or a training center. You can utilize the signs your dog enjoys most and skip skills that are harder on their body or stationary signs (if your dog has a hard time getting up and down).

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In addition, there are lots of engaging activities you can give your dog to do at home. Try putting their favorite treat into a puzzle toy or game or snuffle mat. They might have tons of fun working to get the snacks. You can even make cognitive dog toys at home, or you can put together doggie brain games to keep their minds active. Indoor scent games can also channel your dog’s powerful nose.

Try Lower-Impact Sports

In some cases, you can make higher-impact sports less intense, so dogs can keep playing. For example, why not try an AKC Preferred Agility class for your Agility dog? Preferred Agility is great for older dogs. Dogs have five extra seconds to finish the course, and they can also jump one height lower than in their usual division.

Your dog might enjoy participating in lower-impact sports, which channel your dog’s drive and desire to train into an activity that is easier on their body. Lower-impact AKC sports to explore include AKC Scent Work, AKC Trick Dog, Obedience, and AKC Rally.

With AKC Trick Dog, for example, your dog doesn’t have to perform high-impact tricks. In fact, they can compete through the highest level (Elite Performer) without doing any very strenuous tricks. Obedience now also has a Preferred option for classes that require jumping. With this option, dogs only have to jump half their height, rounded to the nearest two inches, which has enabled many obedience dogs to continue competing into retirement.

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If your dog is 10 years or older, consider joining an AKC Agility League team in the Veterans class, which allows dogs that age to compete two jump heights lower than their regular Agility jump height. Talk with your veterinary care team about which sports might be a good fit for your dog in their present condition.

Your dog’s experience in training will help them transition to newer sports. A trainer experienced in your new sport of choice can also help you channel your dog’s existing skills into these new activities.