One of my favorite topics to teach dog owners is “focus and self-control” and it goes hand in hand with K9 conditioning. Slow and controlled movements in specific positions cannot be obtained if your dog is over threshold. Learning to work with a dog under threshold is a puzzle. It is a truly rewarding experience to help a handler see that their dog is able to work under threshold by making a few adjustments to their own movements, props (such as food or toys) and tone of voice.
A few weeks ago while teaching a workshop and I saw a dog that was completely over threshold the minute he came into the room – not focused on the owner, completely focused on the other dogs, at the end of the leash and he wanted ACTION. The owner was being pulled here and there and was trying to get the dog’s attention. I am immediately drawn to this dog as I love a challenge. I continued to teach and watched the handler try to focus the dog without treats or toys with no success. I then went to the handler and asked if the dog liked toys or treats. The answer was “yes” – BINGO. I knew right then I could show this handler a different way to work with his dog. I had a tug in one hand and a few treats in the other. In just a few minutes I was able to get the dog to focus on me – reward alternating between treats and tugging. I got much calmer movement from the dog, a sit stay, and an offering of behavior. Now this isn’t a ‘fix all’ it was a brief moment in time and I used ONE puzzle piece and found a match. Could have easily gone the other way and then I would have had to look for a different clue fit the pieces together.
A more personal example:
I see many handlers (and I was one of them) trying to match their dog’s energy with their own. It is an important lesson to slow down with these dogs and teach them that life is not always full of “action”. When I got Riley at 5.5 mo old he was easily over threshold at the site of other dogs, a toy, or any sort of fun. It was a true challenge to get him to focus and have any ability to settle. I remember being in a “manners class” where I basically tugged with him the entire time to keep his focus on me….hmmm was he focused on me or focused on the tug? What I learned is that moving slow, talking quietly and a tug/release game was very effective in getting my dog to focus on me and what I was asking of him. These were the puzzle pieces I needed to make our training more effective and rewarding. I can now train almost anything with a tug in my hand, but it took work, understanding, and time to try different puzzle pieces until it all came together.
Telling students to SLOW DOWN, giving commands in a soft voice, no cheerleading and reward sparingly has become a daily request of those handlers with dogs who are easily over excited. That said, I truly believe that there is a time for a super happy voice, such as when working with a softer dog that needs more encouragement. But if your dog is easily over threshold, then they do not need that type of inspiration to work and learn. In fact it can hinder the process.
Whether working with my own dogs or a client dog it is truly rewarding to find those puzzle pieces that improve the training process. The examples above will not work for every dog but there are many other things to try. For some dogs food is a super high motivator, for others food will put them over threshold or the dog will not even want food if easily stressed. The same goes for a squeaky toy or a tug toy. For some these tools may work great for focus and for others it will impede or just not improve the process.
There is not a one size fits all answer, that is what makes finding the puzzle pieces so rewarding. My intention in writing this blog is to just encourage those of you that have highly excitable dogs to slow down, take a look and see where the puzzle pieces fit together. This step can teach you so much about your dog and it will improve the success rate of your training as well as improve the relationship between you and your dog.
It is hard to explain the feelings that bubble up when you are told that your dog has cancer. Sad, defeated, mad, confused, broken.
Stanley, my 12.5 year-old mixed breed dog has been diagnosed with cancer TWICE. HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN? I have no idea how a healthy dog, that has never had anything wrong with him, gets cancer, let alone twice. At age 9 he got thyroid cancer, we removed at that time, and it has not come back. Stanley has been GREAT – still chasing cats, squirrels and the sprinkler – his favorite past times.
Last weekend I had a lump on Stanley’s side checked for the second time and it came back as a Soft Tissue Sarcoma. This type of cancer is slow growing and slow to metastasize. Yesterday we checked his blood to make sure his organs were functioning and did x-rays of his chest to make sure his lungs and heart were clear. If thyroid cancer comes back it typically comes back in lungs or heart so before we scheduled surgery we wanted to make sure all was clear. Anyway, nothing was found on the blood work or x-rays so only real choice is surgery to remove the offending lump. It is about 4” wide and fairly deep.
The good news is that Stanley is very healthy – other than that cancer thing. The veterinarian told me that dogs that get regular exercise and are kept at a lean weight live 30% longer with less stress on their organs and joints.
If you have a dog that is expected to live 12-14 years, that means that with healthy living and regular exercise, that same dog could live 3.6-4.2 years longer. WOW, that is awesome.
Surgery is scheduled for Monday to remove the lump and Stanley is expected do well, based on his current weight, activity and over-all health. Stanley walks regularly and participates in a K9Fitness program using FitPAWS equipment and a DogTread treadmill.
I intend to get my extra 3.6-4.2 years – cancer be damned!!
The new K9FITbone is a very versatile piece of balance equipment. The lateral movement the K9FITbone offers encourages your dog to engage their abdominal muscles, the muscles along the spine (core and trunk muscles) as well as the supporting muscles around the hips and shoulders used for stability while supporting good posture. Here are 10 reasons that I think the K9FITbone is AWESOME:
1. Keeps knees and rear feet tracking forward.
Often I see dogs that toe out while in a sitting or standing position. Some dogs have a lazy sit that developed in puppyhood, they live on slippery floors and/or lack of proper weight distribution which makes it harder for the dog to hold their rear feet and knees tracking forward. I work with the dog to maintain the correct foot/leg position that will strengthen the muscles used to hold their knees and rear feet tracking forward while also encouraging more weight distributed to the rear. The K9FITbone encourages proper foot position in both a sitting and a standing position due to the width of the bone.
2. Lateral stability
The K9FITbone encourages lateral stability by strengthening supporting muscles around the shoulders and hips. Varying the inflation will make the K9FITbone rock side to side just a little or will be more dramatic by increasing inflation. The material the K9FITbone is made of has a lot of give and with it being 4” tall, it allows the dog to push into the bone to find balance thereby strengthening the major muscle groups that support the dog’s joints. Keeping the dog’s head in a more natural position will help to distribute weight more evenly.
There are many levels of difficulty that can be obtained by varying the inflation and with the use of 2 K9FITbones together. With less air the K9FITbone lays flat but is squishy and can provide resistance for strengthening feet, toes, wrists, shoulders and hips. With more air the K9FITBone rocks side to side providing a lateral challenge, engaging the core and spinal muscles as well as improving stability in joints mentioned above.
4. GREAT for Puppies
Because the K9FITbone encourages rear feet and knees to track forward, it does not put unnecessary stress on the joints. It encourages a flat back so that the puppy is developing muscles in the right position. You can easily shape you puppy to use the K9FITbone independently and it is low to ground so if the puppy comes off it, they just hop right back on. This makes it perfect for puppies no matter the inflation rate.
5. Shaping for strength and balance
Training your dog to use the K9FITbone requires less handler support and lends to shaping independent behaviors in the proper position. If you use a clicker and love to shape behaviors, this piece of equipment is for you. As your dog gains strength, you can pair the K9FITbone with other pieces of equipment, shaping the dog to stand, down, weight shift and other movements that will strengthen their core, spinal muscles and muscles around shoulders and hips. Your dog can back up to the K9FITbone for shoulder stability work (for agility contact), it can be paired with the paw pods to work lateral stability in the shoulders for weave poles and more.
6. Target hips or shoulders with two feet on the K9FITbone
If you have front feet on the long side of the K9FITbone you can target rear end strength by shifting weight to the dog’s rear legs. With rear feet on the long side of the K9FITbone you can target shoulders, biceps and triceps by shifting weight to the front legs. Position your dog’s feet on the END of the bone and you can engage more muscle groups while challenging your dog to balance laterally.
7. Fabulous for small dogs
The material has enough give when under inflated to provide a challenge for smaller dogs as their feet push into the material. It also provides the lateral challenges as mentioned above when air is added. It is close to the floor so most smaller dogs are completely comfortable using it. The handler can also put the K9FITBone on a table and it won’t roll away :-) This allows the handler to stand upright and not bend over or kneel on the floor to participate in a strength program for their dog.
8. Using it with larger dogs
Due to the fact that it is 23″ x 11.5″ x 4″ it makes it very difficult for a 35-45 pound dog to find a good position while supporting a flat back but it can be done. Because of the narrow shape and depending on the level of inflation it is more difficult for the dog to find balance which encourages more muscles to be engaged. If you have a larger dog, the K9FITbone can be paired with another bone, balance disc, donut, or paw pods.
9. Encourages a FLAT back
Due to the elongated shape, the K9FITbone encourages a flat back when the dog positions his feet correctly. Some dogs have a harder time with maintaining a flat back but I have found that the K9FITBone helps the dog to find the correct position faster than on other equipment. Longer dog??? Use two K9FITbones end to end, perpendicular or parallel and still reap the benefits of a flat back, lateral movement, shaping independent strength training etc.
The K9FITbone can be paired with almost any other FitPAWS items; balance discs, paw pods, wobbles boards, rocker board, and even the peanuts and eggs.
A note on size: 23″ x .11.5″ x 4″
I get “told” all the time, that the K9FITBone is “not big enough” for the 35-45 pound dog. Since using the K9FITbone I have worked with Border Collies, Australian Shephards, Brittany Spaniels, Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Long Haired Whippets, Corgis (just to name a few breeds) and other mixed breed dogs 30-50 pounds that were all able to stand with front and rear feet a natural distance apart with a flat back. This is easily shown during a private lesson.
Larger dogs such as German Shepherds, Labradoodles, Great Danes, Greyhounds and the like can simply use the K9FITbone paired with another piece of FitPAWS equipment or simply use 2 K9FITbones end to end, perpendicular or parallel.
I have also worked with JRTs, Papillons Poodles, Mini Schnauzers, Mini Aussies, Cavaliers, Cocker Spaniels, Shelties and others who have greatly benefitted from having a piece of equipment that is challenging but requires less handler support. Smaller dogs tend to be more spatially sensitive and this piece of equipment allows the handler to give the dog some room. Agility contact training in your living room is also a fun exercise for small dogs.
Bobbie Lyons, Cert CF
New! K9FITbone for K9Fitness online class enrolls 9/9/2014 HERE
Bobbie Lyons, CCFT, KPA CPT