Why is it important to include coordination and balance exercises into your dog’s fitness routine? The main reason is to help prevent injuries. If you think of the way dogs run and play, twisting and turning, injuries can occur, especially in an unfit dog. These exercises help dogs develop proprioception, your dog’s ability to know where his legs are while standing or walking. When dogs lose proprioception, they are at increased risk of tripping, dragging a limb, or injury. Balance exercises also are great for mental stimulation because your dog has to think in order to do them.
If you want to improve your dog’s balance and coordination, here are some simple exercises you can do.
- Weight shifts. Stand over your dog and gently and slowly rock his hips back and forth.
- Leg lifts. Start by lifting one leg at a time. Hold each leg until your dog loses his balance. Then hold 2 legs up at a time, one on each side of his body. Again hold until he loses his balance.
- Walking through the rungs of a ladder. This is a great exercise for helping a dog become aware of foot placement. Do this exercise very slowly, and have your dog place each foot one at a time between each rung.
- Balancing on unstable surfaces. You can use a foam bed, couch cushion, or anything unstable. You may need to work up to having your dog stand on such a surface, since some dogs hate the feeling of something moving. This exercise is a great way to help a dog build weaker areas of his body.
- Weaving exercises. You can use boxes, cones, or even your legs. Weaving exercises help build a strong, flexible spine.
- Teach your dog to walk backwards. Make a corridor with boxes or use a narrow hallway. Move toward your dog giving him the command to go back. Give him a treat as soon as he steps backwards. Repeat until your dog knows this trick, then make it a part of your exercise regimen.
Aim to do some balance and coordination work at least 3 times a week. Start with just a few moments of exercises then build up to 10 – 15 minutes. Regularly adding a few balance and coordination exercises into your dog’s normal exercise routine will help keep him fit and strong, giving him a great quality of life.
One great way to help keep your dog fit and exercised is to create an obstacle course for your dog to walk over, under, or through. One great thing about obstacle courses is that you can put them up inside or outside depending on the weather. Plus, the tools needed aren’t expensive.
What are some “tools” you can use to create an obstacle course? Here are just a few ideas.
- Old sofa cushions or cushions off of patio furniture,
- PVC pipes cut into set lengths,
- empty soda cans,
- cinder blocks,
- boxes open on each end,
- buckets, and
- a bench, chest, or cooler.
Now that you have these items, what can you do with them? While I have some suggestions, you’re only limited by your imagination as to the type of course you create and how you can use these tools.
- Place cushions on the ground and have your dog walk over them. Place them enough apart so that he walks on the cushion, then on the ground, and then back on the cushion. The cushion provides an unstable surface and builds core strength.
- PVC pipes placed on the ground can be used to help your with his gait. Place the pipes close enough where your dog can only take one step with one paw in between each pipe. You can also put the pipes on soda cans (with an indention in the middle of the can) or cinder blocks to encourage your dog to jump, or to have him crawl under the pipes. If you have a larger dog, you can use chairs, or put a cinder block on top of another.
- Boxes open on each end can be used as a tunnel.
- Buckets can be set up similar to agility weave poles. You can teach your dog to weave through or go around the buckets in circles. If you do the latter, make sure you go both ways in a circle – clockwise and counter-clockwise.
- Benches, a chest or cooler can be used as a strength building exercise by having him stand with his front paws only on the bench, then reverse that and have him stand with front paws on the ground and rear legs on the bench.
These are just a few ways you can use simple, often household items to provide a good quality workout for your dog. Plus spending time with him like this can be fun for both of you, and will be a great bonding opportunity. Give it a try, you’ll be glad you did.