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Poles and Pups: Cavaletti Training

Behavior and Training  •   Jasey Day  •   Jan 26, 2022

 

Looking for the best dog exercise? You and your pup can do a ton of fun and beneficial canine exercises with Cavaletti poles! In case you don’t know, Cavaletti is the Italian word for “little horse.” Essentially, the dog world borrowed a few tricks from horse conditioning and training exercises.

Why Train with Cavaletti Poles?

“Cavalettis are a great way to improve strength, balance, flexibility, and limb awareness, as well as build confidence. Their versatility makes them a great option for use with puppies to seniors,” says dog trainer Danielle Hall, Certified Canine Fitness Trainer, Cavaletti class instructor, and owner of The K9 BeneFIT in Southern California. “Many combinations can be done safely in the comfort of your living room - just make sure you are on a non-slippery floor.” 

Fun Workouts with Cavaletti Poles

Here are five fun ways to Cavaletti train your dogs!

One word of advice: don’t do all these exercises in one workout. Instead, pick one Cavaletti exercise to do per session to complement your other daily exercises. Only try for two or three sets.

While doing the exercises noted below, it is OK to indicate with hand and body motions where your dog should go. Give your dog treats when they step over a pole or “wrap a cone” by walking a half circle around the cone. If your dog knocks over or steps on the poles, they still improve their strength by picking up their feet.

Spin a Circle Over One Pole

The pole should not be higher than your dog’s hock (or ankle) height – for many dogs, this is two to four inches. Start by having your dog straddle the pole. Their left limbs should be on one side and right limbs on the other. Cue your dog to do a circle! Do three circles in one direction and three circles in the other direction for one set. Keep in mind that your dog, like you, might get dizzy after too many repetitions.

Spiral Through the Pinwheel

You’ll need one cone with four to eight poles spiraling out from it. If your cone does not have enough holes in it, stack a second cone on top of the first one. The end of the poles that are not in the cones should be touching the floor. Guide your dog to walk three circles around the cones and poles in each direction for one set.

Wrapping Over/Under Serpentine

You’ll need four cones and three poles set up in a straight line. The outer two poles are below hock (ankle) height for your dog – that is likely 2 inches. The middle pole needs to provide enough space for your dog to crawl under – it must be two inches higher than your dog’s withers when your dog is in a down position. If your cones are not set up to allow for crawling, stack old textbooks under the middle two cones, but ensure the outside poles are not slanted too high for your dog to step over. Have your dog start near a far cone, step over the first bar, crawl under the second bar, step over the third bar, and then wrap the cone – meaning walk a half circle around the cone. Then repeat the sequence in the reverse direction. That is one repetition.

Working with a Square

Set up four poles and four cones into a connecting square. Then, guide your dog with your body motion to do figure eight walking patterns and oval walking patterns over all the poles. The pattern you choose will determine what is a single repetition.

Lateral Walking Over Poles

Start with just one pole approximately two inches off the floor for lateral walking. After your dog knows how to laterally walk on the ground, you can use luring or a sustained nose touch or chin hold to help guide them to walk sideways over a pole. After they master laterally walking over a pole and then back over the pole in the opposite direction, add an additional pole. After they’ve mastered two poles, go to three poles and so on. Eventually your dog will be able to walk over multiple poles. The poles should be approximately two feet apart. Walking in one direction and then back over the pole(s) in the opposite direction is one repetition.

DIY Cavaletti Poles for Dogs

If you do not own a set of Cavalettis for dogs, you can use low agility jumps, golf clubs balanced on tuna cans or athletic shoes, PVC piping balanced on crushed soda cans, foam pool noodles, or broom and mop handles! Be creative by substituting safe items found around the house.

How Can Cavaletti Poles Improve My Dog's Fitness?

Cavaletti poles are one way to combat canine obesity. These training exercises are often also used to lengthen a dog’s stride by gradually increasing the length between poles as a dog independently trots back and forth. Dogs with longer reaching steps are able to run faster! This could translate to a sizzling fast agility run, a swifter Fast CAT time, a longer dock-diving jump, or better efficiency for a police dog in pursuit. To learn more about stride work, find an in-person or online Cavaletti class offered by a Certified Canine Fitness Trainer (CCFT). A CCFT can guide you in program design for a variety of dog exercise and fitness needs.

Besides being a blast, focusing on canine fitness can help fight canine obesity and keep your dog in shape. Doing fitness exercises with proper form can help prevent injuries and ensure your pup recuperates faster when they do get injured. Consider enrolling in pet insurance as another preventive measure. Coverage can help you prepare for unexpected vet bills and help you provide the best vet care when an injury or illness occurs. Just as humans check with their doctors before engaging in new fitness routines, dog owners should also check with their veterinarians before proceeding with new exercises. If you ever see any changes in your dog’s health or notice any discomfort, stop the activity and contact your veterinarian.

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