Despite multiple requests — all from Heidi — the Patch and Maxwell Dog boutique do not plan to throw a fabulous bash celebrating her 11th birthday as they did for her 10th last May.
But even though we plan no media event to celebrate this fast-approaching milestone, the fact is the dog is getting older.
Heidi is not one to let being in the double digits slow her down. Yes, now she has a set of “steppies” to climb onto our bed and sometimes needs a little boost jumping into the car. But she still takes off like a maniac after her tennis ball in the park and can give Sherman the Squirrel and his occasional partner Berman a run for their money (although at least until the runoff election I am renaming our visiting rodents Wendy and Eric). And Heidi gets plenty of compliments on her pretty long eyelashes since they turned white (that’s blond to you).
Still when I got a call from the new Zoom Room Dog Training facility in Sherman Oaks inviting Heidi to try it out, it seemed only appropriate to mention that our girl is on the wrong side of 9. I couldn't envision her jumping hurdles or climbing ladders.
No problem, I was told. While this doggie gym offers high-level agility training, (other classes include obedience, puppy training and “basic manners”) they also have introduced a “senior stretch” class tailored to dogs with age, injury or surgery issues, or whatever might call for a less strenuous workout.
So on Monday morning, off we went. The senior stretch class was not in session, but Heidi got a private introduction to the drill from co-owners David Essex and Jessie Simon. Also participating was Athena, their enthusiastic 6-year-old pit bull. I did not have the luxury of watching, shooting pictures and asking questions: all routines require full participation by dog owners. I tossed my camera to manager Riki Schmigel, strapped on a waist-pouch filled with treats and entered the ring with the dog.
The facility maintains the 2-6 Rule: You are never more than 2 feet from your dog and never closer than 6 feet to another dog. Simon and Athena took turns with Heidi and I to show us (mostly me) how to proceed. “We’re training owners, not dogs,” Essex explains.
For older dogs or dogs with injuries, ramps are adjusted lower and obstacle courses including tunnels, tires or the “weave poles” can be adjusted to suit the dog’s level of ability. For any age canine, owners are advised not to push a dog beyond what they want to do. “We go at the dog’s pace, not the owner’s pace,” Essex says.
Heidi’s lesson included climbing and descending the A-frame, crawling through the tunnel and stepping through the hanging tire (a challenge because it sways) and negotiating the weave poles. She aced a mental agility game that involved finding hidden treats (I’m convinced Heidi could figure out how to put together a Rubik’s Cube if the reward was a duck biscuit). ]
Not surprisingly for Miss All About Me, Heidi also quickly relaxed into the after-class massage routine. Essex gave me the basics so we can stretch her joints at home after exercise. As is the case for humans, Essex says older dogs may be able to perform at a high level but require more recovery time than they did when they were younger.
We tried not to take it personally (or dog-ally) when Essex told us that the Sherman Oaks location attracts a more mature crowd (dogs and people) than their club in hip Culver City. Still Essex and Simon pointed out that older dogs that start slow often gain enough speed and strength over time to participate in high-level workouts. They told us the story of Dixie, a 13-year-old schipperke who worked her way up to running with Zoom Room’s “agility league.”
Once the get involved, senior dogs "still have that little bit of puppy in them," Essex says.
There are other fun learning options: Scent training, leash walking, Hollywood tricks and an activity just made for the obsessive shepherd crowd: Indoor urban herding, using a German training game known as “treibball.” Dogs learn to “herd” large exercise-type balls into formation, Essex says. Heidi already herds visitors around our house, suggesting that she might be better served by a refresher course in Obedience 1: Basic Manners. But with Dixie as her role model, this senior dog could be ready to join Canine Cardio class in no time at all.
PS: The Zoom Room is having a St. Paw-Tricks’ Day Party today, and your pup is invited! For information, visit the link.