Welcome to Day 50 of #100daysofenrichment and thank you for joining us on this journey!
Although our challenges are directed mainly at dogs, we want all species to enjoy and benefit from #100daysofenrichment so, please join in, adjust and adapt to help your pet or companion live a more enriched life.
At a glance:
- it is not at all uncommon for dogs to appear as if they have poor rear-end awareness
- rear end awareness allows the dog to move each limb independently and consciously
- cognitive and sensory based enrichment
- often used in training for sports dogs and for rehab after injury, trauma or surgery
- get the family involved in this one – kids love setting up challenges like this for their pets. It’s probably better than an adult to help the dog move over the obstacles though as this requires a level of care and coordination, particularly at the beginning.
Remember, supervise children in all enrichment activities and interactions with pets.
- practice in very short sessions of 2-5 minutes at a time – this can be very tiring, both mentally and physically so it’s important that you work for very short sessions
What do you need?
- flat, shallow box, large book or similar shallow platform
- mop, broom handles
- hula hoop
- to help dogs develop awareness of how their body moves, where their limbs are and how to adjust and shift their weight to compensate during physical challenge
- to provide physical and mental challenge to pet dogs
- to encourage dogs to interact with novel or weird things in their environment
- to help dogs develop confidence through enhanced body awareness
- to help dogs slow down and think about how they move and physically interact with their environment
- to help prevent injury, improve fitness, lengthen stride, increase back and core strength
Rear-end awareness exercises are something that most dogs will benefit from; being able to ‘find’ and ‘control’ each limb, especially the hind limbs, is particularly challenging for many dogs.
For dogs who train or compete in sports, especially those that require repetitive activities, and dogs recovering from injury or surgery, these exercises can be very beneficial.
While this challenge is certainly cognitive, the dogs are also experiencing sensory challenge and we are adding enrichment to their environment, with lots of crossover between categories.
Body awareness exercises can be especially helpful for puppies, whose brains are forming, resulting in improving coordination as the relevant brain areas mature, and for older dogs whose cognitive abilities and coordination may be disimproving as they age.
Shy puppies can be particularly helped and given a big confidence boost with body awareness work. They are learning to interact with their environment, being exposed to novel stimuli and sensory experiences, and engaging their cognitive and sensory systems…literally growing puppy brains!
What goals can you add to this list for your pets?
How can we achieve these goals?
- take your time with this one and listen carefully to your pet
- some dogs can be reluctant to pass over things, especially when going backwards, and that’s ok
- set up as you did for cavaletti or other body awareness exercises and leave it out for your dog to investigate and check it out in their own time, without you using food to lure them or encouraging them too much
- setting up rear-end awareness on grass or on a non-slip rug or runner, bath mat or yoga mat can help improve the dog’s comfort and increase their willingness and confidence; this is also safer
- this is not a race – the goal here is to help the dog find their rear legs, so that they need to think about placing each foot, weight shifting and compensating for position
- it’s better to work on these exercises off lead so think carefully about where you set up
- often, there is a temptation to walk toward, loom or move toward the dog when working on back-up behaviours; there is no need to attempt to intimidate or push into the dog!
- don’t lure your pet, with food in your hand; again, no need, and may cause the dog to sit or lie down
Luring or moving into the dog can cause the dog to use front led movement – their front legs are doing all the work, and their hind end is just shuffling backwards. We want rear movement, that comes from the rear!
What adjustments will you make for your pets?
Applications of Rear-End Awareness:
Dogs who develop good rear end awareness probably have improved balance, fitness, collection, recovery and injury prevention, and over all better performance
But, this work really can help in other, ‘everyday’ ways too.
My favourite application of body awareness exercises is with dogs who can have difficulty coping with the ups and downs of the world; dogs who exhibit behaviour associated with cautiousness, shyness or fear, dogs who may show behaviours associated with excitability, frenetic movements, and who have a hard time calming after getting wound up.
Although these dogs’ responses may seem very different, their behaviour may be associated with having difficulty coping with swings in stress, having a hard time recovering and are losing control fast.
Getting them thinking about their movement helps them to think rather than react and boosts their confidence on a number of levels.
Option 1: REVERSE!
This really is a tough challenge for most dogs, especially young and large dogs. Work for very short sessions of a couple of minutes at a time.
Beginners; foundations can be practiced anywhere:
- stand facing your dog
- move your feet just wider than shoulder width apart
- have some food rewards ready in your hand or pocket
- if you use a clicker or other precise marker, this is a good exercise to use it
- toss a treat through your legs, so that your dog moves just the front third of their body through (any further and they might walk all the way through and just turn around)
- watch one of your dog’s hind legs (pick either the left or right, it doesn’t really matter which)
- as soon as your dog lifts and moves the chosen hind leg back, mark and toss another reward between your leg
You are using the treat positioning to prompt the backing-up behaviour and set the dog up for the next repetition.
Practice about 5-7 times per session and then take a break.
Link Baby Decker gets started with “Reverse!”
You can work this one sitting in a chair too and just fire the treat a little ways under the chair. Working in front of a mirror also helps you to assess what’s going on and make marking/rewarding all the more accurate.
Intermediate; backing over something:
To encourage the dog to step over and really think about food placement, use a prop for them to step over such as a hula hoop or broom handle.
- you can work sitting on a chair, which is great for smaller dogs, or standing up, which can be better for bigger dogs
- whether sitting or standing, have your feet further apart then should-width
- if using a hula hoop, have the chair in the hoop or stand in the hoop, and position it so that your dog must step over the hoop in just one stride/step backwards
- if using a broom handle or pole, have it positioned so that your dog must step over it in just one stride/step
- do exactly as you did with the Beginners exercises – toss the treat under and watch for that hind leg movement
Practice about 5-7 times per session and then take a break.
Advanced: backing onto something
This option is set up exactly as you have done so far, except we will use a shallow platform (a book or box, for example) for the dog to move onto.
You are marking and rewarding that hind leg hitting the platform.
Start with very shallow platforms and build height as your dog improves.
Lots of dogs will be helped by draping a blanket over the shallow platform. Not only does this offer better non-slip but also provides for a more continuous, softer surface making for a more gradual incline.
Decker works out this shaping puzzle by using his already established backing-up behaviour to get his back feet onto the boxes more efficiently:
Reversing onto a more difficult, higher surface:
Advanced: backing on and off a platform
While reversing over and onto platforms of different heights presents many challenges to dogs, it emphasises weight on the front end most of the time. To equally exercise both brain and body, teach the dog to reverse off a platform too; they are learning to go backwards, stepping down as well as up.
These are not mutually exclusive exercises and should both be present as part of a work out. Having Decker recovering from injury rest and exercise restriction in the last couple of months, a big part of getting his fitness up again, has been going back to our cross training and platform work, that we really prioritised when he was younger and maturing.
This clip shows snippets from this work. We start with reversing on to the platform and then add in reversing onto it and off it, and then forward again. This really challenges coordination, so is a great brain AND body workout!
Up and down a little hill:
Option 2 Pivoting
Pivoting starts by teaching the dog to get their front feet up on a perch, like a shallow box or upturned bowl.
Keeping the dog’s front end pretty fixed, allows for quick understanding of his rear end.
- shape your dog to step up on to the perch (a paws up foot targeting exercise can be applied)
- you can help them by luring them up, bringing your food hand up high so that they step up
- if they are nervous or worried, at all, shape by rewarding the dog for looking at the perch, approaching the perch, raising one paw onto the perch, raising the second paw on to the perch
- when the dog gets up on the perch, reward up high with a couple of food rewards
- toss a food reward off at different angles to help encourage your dog to turn
- when they return, they will get up onto the perch from an angle and might start to move to line up with you for reward
Once the dog can perch, and keep their front feet up there, we can add more definite rear end movement.
Lure with food rewards in your hand; lure the dog’s head to his right, for left rear movement and vice versa.
Bringing the food reward across your body and moving slightly around the perch, will help encourage more movement.
Decker works on his least favourite pivoting direction:
Pivoting and moving the rear end, without the perch at all, is generally applied to teaching a competitive heelwork position. This involves the dog learning to keep their back end in, their body straight, their shoulder at your leg and their head in the correct position – not at all easy for any dog.
Each bit is taught and perfected separately.
Now it’s your turn. Show us what you and your pets, of any species, can do with these challenges!
Post to your social media accounts, using the #100daysofenrichment so that we can find you and join our Facebook group to share your experiences, ideas and fun!
You can comment right here too 🙂
We look forward to hearing from you and your pets – have fun & brain games!