by Katie Brennan
***Definitely try these at home!***
Besides being great tools for building body awareness, these tricks will also give your dog a workout physically and mentally! Here are a few of my favorite, easy to train, fitness exercises - with no equipment needed besides some tasty treats and maybe a clicker.
While there are a few ways to teach each of these, I will mostly use luring for the purposes of this post. If you would rather use shaping (teaching a behavior by rewarding approximations of the end goal) , go right ahead! Some dogs and people really enjoy the challenge of shaping, but for others who may be new to dog training, luring can be an easier concept to grasp and will still produce some impressive results.
This trick is a great one to help build a little bit of focus and to get your dog moving. While the dog is standing, hold a treat in front of their nose. Start to move your hand either slightly to the left or to the right. Mark their head turning/body beginning to turn with a click from your clicker or a "yes!" and reward. Once your dog is reset, try again, moving a bit more in that same direction. The goal is to have the dog complete a full circle. If you have to go little by little that is OK! Once one direction is solid, try the other! It is worth noting that most dogs do prefer one direction over another, so one way might be very easy to train, but the other may take a little longer.
You may have noticed your dog performing this trick all on their own after they wake up from a nap or stand up after they have been laying down for some time. It's a perfect trick to really stretch them out. Start with your dog in a stand. Have a treat in front of their nose and start to push in to them just slightly. The goal is to begin to have them lower their front end to where their elbows are on the ground. I recommend doing this slowly, as if you try all at once you may end up with your dog just going in to a down position. Once they are confident only putting their elbows to the ground (so they are in that bow position), reward for a little bit of duration. To do this, hold off on the click or marker word for longer and longer periods. If you need to troubleshoot, you can put your arm underneath your dog in front of the back legs so that they do not go in to a down, but I prefer to not have to get to that point if at all possible since this will be more difficult to turn in to an independent trick.
Hip Touch/Paw Touch
For this one, you WILL want to probably have your arm under your dog and in front of their back legs! This trick is a fantastic one for before and after engaging in heavy physical activity, including for things like hiking or trail running. While keeping the dog's body stationary, use a treat in your hand to lure their head back towards their back hip, then mark and reward. Next, do the same with luring them to touch their nose to their paw. After completing one side (and you can hold for duration a bit if you would like), try the same thing on the opposite side of their body.
This trick is always a crowd pleaser! It really works their core, and can be used as the beginning to many other tricks, such as hug and say your prayers. Lure your dog in to a sit, then try to push your hand with the cookie a little bit in to them and straight up. Mark and reward once they lift one or both paws. Again, we want little by little! As your dog gains more confidence and can get higher in their sit pretty, you will want to work for duration.
Kneel down and put one leg out so that it forms a square/rectangle with the ground. You can have your leg out straight if you have a smaller dog or puppy. Lure your dog to put one paw on your leg. They try for the next. As they get the hang of this, you can either move your leg so that it is in that rectangle/square orientation, or start to stand and have your dog put two paws on you like they are doing a full body stretch. I know what you're thinking - "Won't that teach my dog to jump on me?!" Nope! In fact, by using this trick to teach a "paws up" and then the alternative, which could be "off," you might be able to even help curb jumping if it is an issue.
Sit on the ground with your knees bent in such a way so that your dog cannot just walk under them. Lure your dog in to a down, then slowly move the lure along the ground and under your knees. For a dog with a solid down and who has done some impulse control games in the past, they may need a bit of coaxing to follow the lure. Even if you just get part of an army crawl, mark and reward, before resetting and trying for maybe a little more. For this one, you can either try for a full on crawl only, or lower your knees for difficulty and see if your dog offers what I call "frog legs." This is a great one for working out those hips!
Leg Figure 8s
Another full body trick! Start with your dog at your side and lure them around your leg and through. I like to then mark and reward with a tossed cookie between my legs to start building a bit of speed from the beginning! As they get better one direction, you can add the other so that they are making figure 8s using your legs! You can then turn this in to leg weaves if you wish.
With all of these fitness tricks, less is more sometimes. Only do short sessions of 2-3 minutes at a time (or less) and don't expect perfection right away. Just like with people, starting an exercise routine should be slow and steady. Body type, age, and health should all be taken in to account while training the above tricks. The most important thing is to make sure that you and your dog are having a blast!