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Poles and Pups: Cavaletti Training

Behavior and Training  •   Jasey Day  •   Jan 15, 2020

You can do many fun, beneficial canine exercises with cavaletti poles! Cavaletti is the Italian word for “little horse.” The dog world borrowed stepping over poles from horse conditioning and training.

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, owner of The K9 BeneFIT in Southern California, and in-person and online cavaletti class instructor. “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.

See the below five fun cavaletti ideas! You will not do all these exercises in one workout. Instead, pick one cavaletti exercise to do per session to complement the other exercises you are doing that day and try for 2-3 sets. In the below exercises, it is ok for the dog to look at you sometimes and for you to indicate with hand and body motions where your dog should go. Treat your dog when he steps over a pole or “wraps a cone” by walking a half circle around the cone. If your dog sometimes knocks or steps on the poles, he still benefits as he improves strength by picking up his 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 2-4 inches. Start by having your dog straddling the pole – his left limbs are on one side and his right limbs are on the other side of the pole. Cue your dog to do a circle! Do 3 circles one direction and 3 circles the other direction for one set. Keep in mind that your dog, like you, might get dizzy with too many repetitions.

Spiraling through the pinwheel.

You need one cone with 4-8 poles spiraling out from that center cone! If your cone does not have enough holes in it, stack a second cone on top of the first cone. The end of the poles that is not in the cones is touching the floor. Guide your dog to walk three circles around the cone and poles in each direction for one set.

Wrapping over/under serpentine.

You 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 two inches tall. 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 do not have a tall enough setting 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 bar 1, crawl under bar 2, step over bar 3 and then wrap the cone – meaning walk a half circle around the cone – and then repeat the sequence in the reverse direction. That’s 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 affect what is considered 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 could use luring or a sustained nose touch or chin hold to help guide him to walk sideways over a pole! After he masters laterally walking over one pole and then back over the pole in the opposite direction, add one more pole. After you’ve mastered two poles, go to three poles and so on. Eventually your dog will do step-together-step over multiple poles. The poles should be approximately two feet apart. Walking one direction and then back over the pole(s) is one repetition.

DIY cavaletti poles

If you do not own a set of cavalettis, 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 with your safe substitutions of items that you already have around the house.

How can cavaletti poles improve my dog's fitness?

Cavalettis are often also used to lengthen the dog’s stride by gradually increasing the length between poles as the dog independently trots back and forth across the poles. 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’s intense chase. 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 fitness needs.

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. Consider enrolling in pet insurance as another preventative measure against unexpected vet bills and to help allow you to 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 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.

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