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Ask the Trainer: What is rear limb awareness? And does it keep my dog healthy or is it just for “tricks”?

Dogs don’t naturally pay much attention to their rear end.  In most natural movements, such as walking, running, lying down and sitting a dog’s movement is regulated by their head, neck and shoulders.  Their backend literally follows the front.  Dogs who participate in obedience, agility, dock diving and competitive sport require a different type of training and perception of their body positioning.  A companion dog who plays catch and pivots quickly to turn around and bring the item back to the owner usually has a higher degree of rear limb co-ordination then a dog that does have a high prey drive.

A dog that does not have good rear end awareness may appear to be a little gangly, may fall or miss their step often.  These missteps could lead to small internal injuries of the joints, muscles and/or connective tissue and over time could cause serious injury.  A dog needs the rear portion of their body to follow through with the activity they are doing for proper form and there are quite a few exercises you can work on with your dog to help educate them.  If you notice your dog is having issues CanEVA PET is an ideal supplement for dogs showing signs of injuries related to lack of rear limb awareness, as it helps build body mass, stabilize joints and tendons.

Supplements and exercise are a great way to ensure your dog stays healthy and mobile.  A few tricks you can use to help with rear limb awareness are listed below.

Back Up – teaching your dog to back up is a great way to improve rear end awareness! It also opens the door for quite several other tricks and K9 Fitness exercises you can do with your dog! The key is to be patient and take the time your dog needs to back up straight!

Cavaletti Poles or PVC Pipe Walk – Place 5-6 Cavetti poles or half inch PVC pipes (cut about 4-5 feet long) on the ground, spaced about half your dog’s body length apart. Using slow and controlled movement, have your dog walk over the poles on the ground without touching them. Don’t worry if your dog accidently touches one or two with their rear feet in the beginning. They will learn how to walk through them without touching them. You will notice they have no trouble with their front feet not touching the poles – only the rear feet as dogs don’t have natural rear end awareness. You can use some food to help them do this exercise slowly and with controlled movement until they get better. Once they get better you can place them closer together and even move them so they are crisscrossing for a more advanced exercise.

Ladder Fun – Along the same lines as the poles, using a ladder placed on the ground is another great exercise for improving rear end awareness. Again, using food to help your dog go through the ladder with slow and controlled movement, either have them step in between the rungs or, when they get better, have them step only on the rungs of the ladder with all 4 feet. Once your dog learns to back up, you can even have him go forward through the ladder, then reverse and walk backwards through it – really creating an advanced rear end awareness exercise!

Pivoting on a Box – Teaching your dog to put her front paws up on a bowl or box is the first step of this fun exercise. Once they know this step, then, while you are standing in front of them with some food in your hand, slowly take one step around the bowl and wait for your dog to move her rear feet – mark and reward! If you move to the right, your dog’s rear feet move to the left. Mark and reward effort! Even if your dog only picks up one foot or moves one foot – mark and reward that! It won’t be long before she is moving her rear feet each time you take a step around the bowl! Remember to teach this in both directions to ensure good balance and awareness both ways.

Side Stepping – Side stepping is a fun exercise and trick to teach your dog and not only improves rear end awareness but doubles as a strengthening exercise as well! Starting with your dog standing and you facing your dog’s core section, have some food in your hand and hold your hand out in front of your dog’s nose. Gently step into your dog, barely touching their mid-section with your legs and mark and reward any movement of his feet. The key is to keep the spine straight so the outer feet (the feet farthest away from you) move, followed by the inner feet. Both front and rear feet will move in this exercise. Focus on one series of steps at a time and as your dog gets better you can add a word to it. Just before you touch your dog’s mid-section, say the word you have chosen (step, side, etc.), then gently touch your dog’s side with your leg and mark and reward the behavior. Your dog will soon be able to do this without you touching your dog and just saying the word and moving your hand. Eventually you will be able to remove the hand lure as well.

Don’t forget to protect your puppies’ joints until they’ve finished growing!

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