Having older hunting dogs around the home can be rewarding and challenging at the same time. On one hand, you have a lifelong hunting companion that has never let you down, but like humans, dogs begin to slow down over time as well. Age catches up with us all, including dogs, and training/hunting takes a physical toll on dogs over time, which makes them susceptible to a variety of health related problems later in life.
What to Do
If you notice that your hunting dog has been slowing down, there is no need to panic, or stop relying on your old friend for the hunt. Instead, caring for an older dog requires special attention. Like humans, older dogs undergo energy level and metabolism changes, which is why it's necessary to keep a careful eye on their weight. The problem tends to become more noticeable by around 8 years, and you can keep your dog in excellent physical condition by feeding them the right foods and exercising them regularly. Having a minimum and set amount of exercise will make it much easier for dogs to make a transition from off-season hunting to full-gear mode when the time arrives.
Keeping the weight down will also be especially helpful for keeping away arthritis. During the off-hunting season, you can give them a specially formulated diet for keeping the weight down, and giving them high-protein foods when the time of the hunt draws near. It is especially important to take them to the vet regularly for any checkups, and be sure to weigh them regularly. The vet office where I live allows all-day access to their weight scales, and your local vet may do the same for your dog. This will ensure that your dog is in a healthy weight range, for not only their health, but to be fully capable when hunting.
One of the most common problems older hunting dogs have are joint issues. When it comes joint or arthritic problems, there are medicines that your vet can prescribe. Cosequin is a common medicine for joint problems, and aids maintaining fluids to keep the joints healthy. To help in preventing arthritis, exercise your dog regularly, and be aware of the cold as well. The cold weather can take a toll on a dog's joints. Whenever training a dog, it is necessary to get them acclimated to the cold, but exposure for too long can take a toll on their body. Protective gear like doggie vests will be helpful in shielding them from the cold.
It's always disheartening to see your dog slow down, but you can play a role in ensuring they live a long and healthy life.
When to Retire Them
Retiring your old hunting dog is something that each owner will have to decide. Some older dogs have some fire left in them, while others may need to live out the rest of their years in peace. If your old dog constantly limps, or struggles to keep up, it may be necessary to retire them for their own safety. At the end of the day, there's nothing wrong with leaving your old friend behind on the hunt, and it will give another young pup a chance to shine on the hunting stage.