Tricks for Fitness

Does your dog like long walks or hikes?  Do they enjoy playing fetch or tug?  How about dog sports?  All of these activities don’t necessarily come easy – to reduce risk of injury no matter what you do it is important for our dogs to be physically fit.  One aspect of that is engaging in regular fitness routines through the use of tricks.  

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My first go-to fitness trick is the play bow.  I have taught this trick mostly using a lure, but I’ve also been able to capture it.  For luring, you want to make sure that you mark and reward before your dog has the chance to lay all the way down.  You can also put your arm under their belly (only if your dog is comfortable with it!) to help keep their back legs up and straight as you lure their head/front legs down.  If you have a dog that offers a play bow regularly while interacting with you, it can be an easy one to capture!  Just make sure you have access to a reward when you try this so that you can be ready to deliver after marking the desired behavior.

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Another great one to add to any exercise routine is sit pretty.  I’ve trained this one either by luring or by shaping.  No matter how you choose to teach this trick, you want to make sure that your dog is sitting properly, so no leaning to one side or almost falling backwards. If you choose to lure, make sure that the treat is being held at their nose level so your dog isn’t stretching their neck in an awkward position.  And don’t worry – it’s OK to let them “cheat” a little at first by leaning on you as they build up their core strength.  With this trick, it’s important to start small in terms of duration for each repetition and length of your whole training session.   

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And now for my favorite trick – leg weaves and/or figure 8s!  A must for any active dog, you can teach leg weaves easily using a lure.  I prefer to throw the treats directly on the ground after you mark instead of giving them from your hand so that the dog moves a bit quicker (to chase the cookie!) and doesn’t pay attention to your hand all that much.  It’s up to you if you want to have your dog weave through as you walk, or if you want to remain stationary for figure 8s.  I personally keep the same verbal cue for both (“through”).  

If you have a dog that is recovering from an injury or illness, you should contact your primary veterinarian and/or a rehab vet before beginning any fitness routine.  Chiropractic and acupuncture care might also benefit your dog on an as-needed basis and/or for regular maintenance.  Just like human athletes, our dogs need to be physically healthy to participate in many of the activities we like doing with them.  So, before you play fetch or go on that long hike, and especially before entering a competition ring, make sure that you and your dog have a good stretch!