Concerns with Rear Foot targeting
Rear foot targeting is something I use for many strength and body awareness exercises. Teaching a rear foot target can be very useful and IMO can also teach poor weight distribution.
Here is a short list of some behaviors trained with rear foot targeting.
· Backing up/Get back
· Hand stands
· 2o2o contact behavior
· Crawl back
High repetition REAR foot targeting can teach the dog/puppy to put all their weight forward on their shoulders. This is not a bad thing in low repetition. In high repetition, I find that these dog’s target everything in their path with their rear feet. I have student’s dogs that have rear foot targeting my legs, a stool, a wall, really anything when stepping sideways or backward. This will hinder the dog’s ability to shift weight to the rear and puts added stress on the dog’s shoulders.
Some issues I have seen with high repetition rear foot targeting:
· hinders the dog ability to engage their core muscles properly due to shifting their weight forward when they lift their rear leg and their head drops below their spine.
· when the dog continues to offer a rear foot instead of focusing on the task at hand, it increases training time for other exercises, tricks and behaviors.
· Increases handler frustration when teaching their dog to shift their weight to the rear.
· Increased muscle mass on ONE rear leg as they tend to lift the same rear leg all the time.
· pelvis rotation or spine misalignment due to always lifting the same leg (confirmed by K9 Chiropractor)
· shoulder soreness
· tight in the thoracic and cervical spine
As part of a conditioning program (or for any performance dog program), a good practice is to pick one rear foot targeting exercise and then pair it with two other exercises that encourage the dog to shift weight to the rear, flatten their back and engage their core. These could be balance and core strength exercises using FitPAWS balance discs, peanuts or paw pods but could also be floor exercises that lengthen and strengthen through the spine such as rearward weight shifting, sit stands with front feet elevated, or crawl forward and backward. Lengthening back stretches are can also be helpful. Pairing exercises this way keeps your dog from expecting to always target something behind them.
A note on shaping:
Many of us shape exercises encouraging the dog to think on their own, which is a fabulous training tool. Once you have the correct behavior shaped (allowing the dog to offer behaviors), put a name or a hand signal to the behavior so that you can encourage the dog to listen and focus and not ALWAYS “offer” behaviors. In my world, a handler’s silence means “offer”, hand signals and verbal commands means “pay attention to what I am asking you to do”. In doing this, you are teaching the dog to not always offer behaviors such as lifting a rear leg on everything near them. :-) This is probably a topic for another day, maybe a future blog post :-)
Bobbie Lyons, Cert CF
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Bobbie Lyons, CCFT, KPA CPT