With the puppy prospect recently falling through, and the likelihood being that I might not get another puppy to train for another 11 months, I’ve started thinking about how to extend Hestia’s working life.
Hestia is 8 years old, and within the last 6–9 months, I’ve noticed she’s been slowing down more. If she’s walking more than about 10 minutes, she slows way down in her walking speed. She doesn’t seem to complain or be in discomfort. She just walks at a turtle’s pace and nothing I can do will speed her up. Sometimes I get more walking out of her if we’re walking somewhere new outside on a sniff walk, but even then the max is about 20–25 minutes.
Her default working position has always been on the floor, with me carrying her only when I’m having an exceptionally hard time. Now that I’ve become a wheelchair user for longer outings, I have been walking her next to the wheelchair about a quarter of the time, with the other 75% of the time in my lap.
One of the benefits of a small dog as a service dog is that they tend to be able to live and work longer than their larger peers. Hestia shows no sign of wanting to stop working! She still gets excited every time her seatbelt comes out!
Another benefit is that you can extend their working life by carrying them, if that works for you. This makes it easier on their bodies and energy levels to continue to work.
With the prospect of a replacement dog so far off in the horizon, I’ve realized I need to be proactive about keeping Hestia happy while working and comfortable to extend her working abilities possibly a few more years.
Hestia will likely be 9 years old by the time I get a puppy to train. It’ll take me at least a year to get the puppy able to start taking over on shorter outings while still training. Which makes Hestia at least 10 before she can start stepping back, and probably closer to 11 before she can fully retire. Most service dogs retire between 8–10 years old.
So from now on, I’ll have a new default. When I’m in my wheelchair she’ll be on my lap except for sniff walks, where I’ll give her about 15 minutes on the ground. And when we’re walking, if we’re walking more than about 5 minutes, I’ll be carrying or pouching her. I want to stop her walking before she starts lagging.
Times change, and Hestia and I are changing our working position to accommodate that.