In today’s blog post we’d like to show a great dynamic hindlimb strengthening and awareness exercise that utilizes a donut vertical against the wall. To minimize the risk of injury we most start off with the simplest version of this exercise and use a controlled exercise progression. We want our dogs to develop enough strength and awareness so at the most advanced level, if the donut rolls, they will not be susceptible to injury. As well, by request, at the end of this written post, we have an instructional video featuring the exercise progression.
The 1st step is the easiest, assuming your dog is already comfortable working on a donut. (This exercise can also be done using a balance disc instead of a donut.) With your dog already on the donut walk their front feet off making sure to leave their back feet on. This is a lot easier than teaching your dog to walk their back feet up onto the disc.
The goal of this exercise is to teach your dog to work in a situation that requires their hindlimb to do something different from their forelimbs, while on a different (unstable)surface. In order for them to do it, they need “awareness” (where to put their feet) and strength (holding their feet on an unstable surface). Once your dog is positioned so that just their back feet are on the disc, move the treat around, in and out, side to side etc. This will continually force them to adjust their back feet. The amount of time you stay at this level depends on your dog and your conditioning goals.
The 2nd step requires you to turn the donut vertical, but keep the donut within the holder. The vertical donut provides greater lateral movement from the horizontal donut, however the donut holder prevents the donut from rolling too far right or left. That will help keep your dog safe while they’re learning to do the exercise. Even though your dog benefits from the donut holder, this is a far more difficult exercise. So if you move to this set up too soon you risk injuring your dog.
Now, although you didn’t have to back your dog up in order to do the first exercise, you will undoubtedly need to back your dog up onto the donut in order to do this exercise, As well, you may have to use your hand to stabilize the donut while your dog is getting on it. Once they’re up, don’t stress too much about the alignment of your dog’s feet. This is not a static standing drill, the goal is to get their feet to move. The donut will roll in either direction and your dog’s back feet may never be directly inline. As you move the treat your dog will constantly be working to find a foot placement that allows them to stabilize their hind.
The 3rd step requires the donut holder to be removed. That means there’s nothing to prevent the donut from rolling away. Therefore, your dog has to have the strength, and awareness to keep the donut in place. There is a greater risk of injury if they cannot do it so please use caution. Do not jump to this exercise too soon or you risk injuring your dog.
Once again, you can (and should) use your hand to stabilized the donut while your dog is getting on it, or if they’re having trouble. Pressure on the donut with the hindlimbs controls the difficulty. That means the more you move the treat backward causing your dog to shift its weight back, the more the donut will move around and force your dog to adjust their feet. There is no set time table for each level of this exercise. It is up to you and your dog. As well, you can increase the challenge by adding a stability disc to the forelimbs. Many of you will start at the first variation and other will undoubtedly start at a more advanced level.
There are two very important things to keep in mind when doing conditioning exercises with your dog. One, just being able to do an exercise is not conditioning. For example, everyone reading this can do a bicep curl or learn it in less than 10 seconds. However, conditioning your bicep to be stronger and less injury prone takes thousands of reps (with variation) over the course of months and years. Once your dog is able to do the exercise doesn’t mean move to the next level, it means now they’re ready to do the necessary conditioning work to get them stronger and improve their awareness for that current level.
The second thing to keep in mind is safety. The faster you move your dog through a progression the more likely they are to be injured. If you just learned to ski, which trails would you go down? Beginner, intermediate or advanced? If you choose a trail beyond your skill level you have to go really slow and/or frequently stop, with a higher risk of injury. Instead of going as fast as you can, non stop, with less risk of injury if you choose your appropriate level.
As always, it is best to seek instruction from a veterinarian or canine conditioning professional before starting a conditioning program with your dog. And, as promised, here’s the accompanying instructional video for this exercise. And don’t forget to sign up in order to be notified as to when our next blog post is out.