Many dog owners love the small size and portability of the Paw Pods. Often a favorite for hotel room training and road trips, Paw Pods are great for a variety of challenging exercises and can mentally stimulate your dog. Some owners keep the set of four pods in their car for a quick grab-and-go training session at a local park. Read on to learn about how to train this nifty piece of equipment, what substitutions you could use, and how to progress to more advanced configurations!
Train Front Limb Targeting Using Pods
Before you can ask your dog to front limb target, or to place his front paws on two of the pods on cue, you must be able to do front limb targeting (“toes”) on more stable and larger objects. You can use the luring method discussed in a previous blog or read on to learn about teaching it using offered behavior.
Position yourself kneeling in front of a phone book or other low platform, such as a foam pad. Start by tossing a cooking across the room in front of you; the dog will go eat the treat and come trotting back to you as you are at his height. When he returns to check in with you, he will accidentally place his front feet on the object. There is not enough space between the object and you for the dog to place his front feet (and neck and head) so the dog is forced to stop with his front paws on the object due to lack of space. In addition, your treats are about the dog's nose-level so your dog curiously returns to you and remains standing with his forelimbs on the object. Say “yes” and toss a treat behind the mat to reset your dog for the next repetition. Remember, the “yes” denotes when the dog earned the treat!
Over time, you gradually migrate to standing instead of kneeling. Eventually, toss the treat at different angles so your dog returns to the object from different directions. You will also add a verbal cue (“toes”) before the dog reaches the object. You’ll continue to generalize to more unstable and/or small equipment. If you started with a phone book, progress to a foam balance pad, balance disc, and other unstable objects. Sometimes instead of saying your marker word “yes” for front paws on the object and then tossing the treat, say “yes” and treat the dog on the object for duration – and continue to give enough treats so your dog learns to stay on the object for longer periods - before giving the release word “ok" to indicate that your dog may dismount.
After you have mastered “toes,” on other objects, put all four Paw Pods in a clump - the Paw Pods are positioned into a square made of four circles. Cue your dog for “toes.” Say “yes” and treat for front feet on any of the Paw Pods. Over time, your dog will learn to balance a paw on an individual paw pod center. Reduce to three pods and then two pods as your dog masters this! Be sure to tell him “yes” when he does the correct skill and give him a treat. Let him know when the exercise is over by telling him “ok” and encouraging him to gently step off the pods.
Train Hind Limb Targeting Using Pods
Similar to the front limb training progressions mentioned above, you can also teach hind limb targeting (“feet”) on objects using the luring method or the offered behavior method.
When doing offered behavior for hindlimbs, you may want to start with a folded towel or mat as your object as often a dog will not want to pause with his hindlimbs on a phone book or foam pad. Over time, you will use a smaller and higher object than the initial towel or doormat. Be sure to give your dog enough room for his forelimbs and front half of his body between you and the folded towel.
Train All Four Paws
After your dog is proficient in front and hind limb targeting to two pods, line them up in a configuration that would allow your dog to be in a neutral, normal standing position with all four paws individually on a pod. Before you progress to four paws on all the pods, your dog should find placing his paws on the pods highly rewarding and valuable.
Ask your dog to do front limb targeting (“toes”) and reward your dog with a treat. Then ask your dog to do hind limb targeting (“feet”). Strive for your dog to maintain his forelimbs on the front two pods. Treat your dog for getting all four paws on the pods! Repeat a few times. Over time, change your cueing from using both “toes” and “feet” to using just a single cue, such as “stack” or “hop it up.” Your dog should receive enough treats that he holds the position for 2-10 seconds until you release him from the position with your “ok.”
Alternative Configurations and Drills
After you can do all four paws on the pods, you can expand your choreography! Try these skills:
- Shake each paw individually while keeping the other three paws on the pods. Return the “shake” paw to the pod and shake a different paw.
- Add slight distance, which will cause a slight straddle, between the front pods and between rear pods configuration. Perhaps move them one centimeter or one inch further apart sideways. Thus, your dog’s front limbs will need to straddle (abduct) slightly to get on the pods and so will his hindlimbs. If this is too difficult, your dog will tell you by stepping off the pods. Respond by putting the pods slightly closer together.
- Use just two pods for all four limbs! The forelimbs will be on one pod and the hindlimbs will share the back pod. Your dog will be in a neutral, normal spine posture and his limbs will adduct (move toward his centerline).
- Stack the Paw Pods on other equipment, such as a rocker board or step bench, before asking your dog to put two or four paws on the pods.
- Mix and match equipment. For example, use two Paw Pods for the forelimbs and a small inflatable, such as a disc or a ramp, for the hindlimbs. You can then do other skills such as tuck sits, stands, rock back sits, and so on!
Be creative! If you do not have Paw Pods, you could use tuna cans, cat food cans, or small foam squares from packing materials. If your dog needs more traction, wrap your substitutes in athletic or medical tape.
Join a Class!
To find classes near you or to learn more about how to safely use your equipment, find a Certified Canine Fitness Trainer (CCFT). A CCFT can guide you in program design and in the proper number of repetitions and sets per exercise.
Besides being a blast, doing canine fitness helps keep your dog at an appropriate weight and physically fit. Doing fitness exercises with proper form can help prevent injuries and ensure your pup recuperates faster when he does get injured. Just as humans check with their doctors before engaging in new fitness routines, dog owners should check with their veterinarians before proceeding. If you ever see any changes in your dog’s health or notice any discomfort, stop the activity and contact your veterinarian.