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Getting Started with Cavaletti Exercises for Your Dog

What are caveletti?

Cavaletti are small jumps originally made of wood and used in horse training. They are rails of a specific length that are set off the ground often at preset heights and spaced at specific intervals. Originally developed by equestrian and Italian cavalry officer Captain Federico Caprilli (who passed away in 1907) they were and are still used to help horses improve balancExample of cavaletti setupe, change stride length and strengthen muscles.

Eventually similar poles of lighter weight were developed for dogs and used mainly in agility training and physical therapy. They can be as simple as a series of poles lying on the ground or you can devise a means of elevating them. When set up, they resemble a ladder without the ladder sides.

Why cavaletti exersices?

One of the big things cavaletti exercises do for your dog is help him learn where his feet are in space at any given time. If you watch dogs walk they often shuffle their feet especially one or more of their back feet. Cavaletti exercises will help fix that while also strengthening all limb muscles, giving him mental stimulation, and promoting coordination and flexibility.

They’re also good for correcting poor walking habits, like pacing. My dog Yankee paces, and I’ve used cavaletti exercises to help correct this. Between that and regular treadmill exercises, his pacing has diminished. It will never completely go away because of his conformation, but it’s better.

What do you need to set up a cavaletti course?

You don’t need to spend a lot of money on any special equipment. You will need between 4 to 6 poles when starting that are between 2 to 4 feet long depending on the size of your dog. These poles can be made of  pvc or any kind of rod. You can lay them on the ground or elevate them 2 to 4 inches using crushed soda cans, or anything else that will allow quick release of the pole if the dog knocks it. If your dog has not done any of these exercises before, you may want to start with the poles on the ground.maisie-cavaletti-work

How far apart should you place the poles?

There are typically 3 measurements used to set up the course.

  • If your dog is brand new to cavaletti exercises or may be out of shape, measure your dog’s height from the ground to either the elbow or point of shoulder.
  • If you think your dog can handle it, measure your dog’s height at the withers.
  • If you have a short legged dog like a dachshund, you may need to go wider than the withers, so he can take multiple steps between the poles.

You may also have to tweak the distances since every dog is different. Ideally, you want your dog to place 1 front foot and 1 back foot between each pole. For the short legged dogs, this may take some work.

Decide if you want to use a leash on your dog. If so, don’t pull on it. You want your dog to take a natural stride through the course.

Start at the beginning of the course and slowly walk your dog through the course stopping to reward at each bar if necmaisie-cavaletti-work-1essary. The end goal is for your dog to take one stride per bar through the course at a comfortable speed without clipping the bars. If your dog does hit a bar, leave it where it is and fix it before starting the course again.

Take your dog through the course in both directions.

The end goal is for your dog to walk correctly through the course without stopping.

Spend only about 3to 5 minutes per training session depending on how your dog is doing. Always try to end on a positive note!

If your dog is having problems, try the following:

  • Stop at each bar.
  • Move the bars closer together.
  • Video your dog to make sure there’s no physical issues.
  • Reduce the number of bars.
  • Decrease training time.
  • Don’t reward laziness!

This is just the beginning of what you can do with cavaletti. Once your dog gets this down, there are advanced exercises that will give your dog a great mental and physical workout. Give it a try and if you need our help, please contact us!