Why is Rear End Awareness Key to my Dog's Health?

Updated: Oct 3, 2018

Do you have a dog that participates in activities like obedience, agility, dock diving, IPO or another type of competitive sport?

Or how about the companion dog that loves run, play, catch a ball or Frisbee and then turns around to bring it back to you.

These activities, games and sports all require your dog to have good rear end awareness not only to perform the exercise or sport properly but also to keep them safe from injuries!

Dogs don't have natural rear end awareness, which, if not taught, can cause them to be out of balance when performing certain exercises, functions and/or basic body movements. Dogs who jump up for Frisbee, jump over an A-Frame or other type of high jump, doing weave poles, going through tunnels, jumping off the dock for dock diving, doing send out some either for obedience, or going around the blinds in IPO/Schutzhund need to have good awareness of where there back feet, legs and rear portion of their body are. They need the rear portion of their body to follow through with the activity they are doing for proper form and avoiding a likely injury.

If you have ever watched a dog that does not have good rear end awareness, they appear to be a little gangly, may fall or miss their step often, all of which can lead to small internal injuries of the joints, muscles and/or connective tissue. Over time, this can lead to more serious injuries, causing pain and discomfort to your dog along with time and money spent on the care and treatment of the injury.

So, what can we do to help our dogs learn rear end awareness?

I’m going to give you five easy and fun exercises you can do with your dog to not only help improve rear end awareness but also increase the bond between you both, build confidence and help them get on the road to being more fit and healthy!

1. Back Up – teaching your dog to back up is a great way to improve rear end awareness! It also opens the door for quite several other tricks and K9 Fitness exercises you can do with your dog! The key is to be patient and take the time your dog needs to back up straight! Here is one way you can teach your dog to back up!

With your dog standing in front of you and with some yummy treats in both hands (cup your hands so your dog can only lick but not eat the food), take a step towards your dog. As soon as your dog takes a step back, mark with either a clicker or a verbal marker (Yes!) and then reward. Remember to keep the marking and the reward separate as you will need to take the presence of food out of the picture at some point. Keep doing this a few times and then see if you can get 2 steps, then 3, etc. The important part is making sure your dog is backing up in a straight line. If your dog’s head is not straight, they will tend to back up at an angle. If your dog continues to angle, either just work on 1 foot moving at a time for a few days and/or train against a wall.

2. Cavaletti Poles or PVC Pipe Walk – Place 5-6 Cavetti poles or half inch PVC pipes (cut about 4-5 feet long) on the ground, spaced about half your dog’s body length apart. Using slow and controlled movement, have your dog walk over the poles on the ground without touching them. Don’t worry if your dog accidently touches one or two with their rear feet in the beginning. They will learn how to walk through them without touching them. You will notice they have no trouble with their front feet not touching the poles – only the rear feet as dogs don’t have natural rear end awareness. You can use some food to help them do this exercise slowly and with controlled movement until they get better. Once they get better you can place them closer together and even move them so they are crisscrossing for a more advanced exercise.

3. Ladder Fun – Along the same lines as the poles, using a ladder placed on the ground is another great exercise for improving rear end awareness. Again, using food to help your dog go through the ladder with slow and controlled movement, either have them step in between the rungs or, when they get better, have them step only on the rungs of the ladder with all 4 feet. Once your dog learns to back up, you can even have him go forward through the ladder, then reverse and walk backwards through it – really creating an advanced rear end awareness exercise!

4. Pivoting on a Bowl/Wooden Box – Teaching your dog to put her front paws up on a bowl or box is the first step of this fun exercise. Once they know this step, then, while you are standing in front of them with some food in your hand, slowly take one step around the bowl and wait for your dog to move her rear feet – mark and reward! If you move to the right, your dog’s rear feet move to the left. Mark and reward effort! Even if your dog only picks up one foot or moves one foot – mark and reward that! It won’t be long before she is moving her rear feet each time you take a step around the bowl! Remember to teach this in both directions to ensure good balance and awareness both ways.

5. Side Stepping – Side stepping is a fun exercise and trick to teach your dog and not only improves rear end awareness but doubles as a strengthening exercise as well! Starting with your dog standing and you facing your dog’s core section, have some food in your hand and hold your hand out in front of your dog’s nose. Gently step into your dog, barely touching their mid-section with your legs and mark and reward any movement of his feet. The key is to keep the spine straight so the outer feet (the feet farthest away from you) move, followed by the inner feet. Both front and rear feet will move in this exercise. Focus on one series of steps at a time and as your dog gets better you can add a word to it. Just before you touch your dog’s mid-section, say the word you have chosen (step, side, etc.), then gently touch your dog’s side with your leg and mark and reward the behavior. Your dog will soon be able to do this without you touching your dog and just saying the word and moving your hand. Eventually you will be able to remove the hand lure as well. Below is a video of how to teach your dog to side step!

So, there are your 5 fun and easy ways to help improve your dog’s rear end awareness! These not only are beneficial from a fitness standpoint, but will build confidence, improve problem solving skills and strengthen the bond between the two of you!

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