Teach Your Puppy Spatial Awareness Games
Three fun proprioception games that teach your dog spatial awareness.
M. Christine Zink, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Anyone who has had the delight and distraction of sharing his home with a puppy knows that they are very active little critters! They will climb into boxes, crawl under chairs and explore just about anything in their way. You can accelerate and direct your puppy’s growth and development by playing puppy action games that will tune up his muscles and nerves, preparing them for life as an active adult.
Here are three fun exercises that are great for puppies of any age.
1. Ladder Leap. The goal of this exercise is to teach the dog where its feet are in space and how to place them in exactly the right place. You can use a ladder made of PVC like the one pictured, or an extension or stepladder that you might have around your home. Start with your pup at one end and put a treat on the ground between the first two rungs, pointing at it so that he sees it. Once he places one foot into that space, put a treat between the next two rungs and so on. Don’t rush because if he goes slowly, he will think more about where he is putting his feet, especially the back feet, which he can’t really see and needs to place by feel. He will really grow to love this exercise because puppies are all about treats!
2. Rolling Rover. You would be surprised how many dogs enjoy skateboarding. Just like people, some dogs have a real need for speed. You can use any old skateboard – a lot of them are for sale at garage sales or online auction sites. Start with the skateboard on a surface such as gravel where the board will roll only slowly. Make your dog really excited about the board by using food so that he has to place one or both front feet on the board. The second he places that front foot on the board, you should go crazy with happiness! When your dog’s front feet are on the board, use food to lure him forward, and he should be able to push with his back feet while standing on the board with the front feet. Make sure you give him treats just for trying and initially for the smallest amount of success. Gradually you can require more before he gets the reward. Once he has his balance, you can move to smoother surfaces so that the skateboard goes faster. Soon you will find yourself running to keep up! There is no need to specifically teach your dog to put his back feet on the board. As long as your dog enjoys moving the skateboard with his front feet on, he will eventually learn to hop on with all four feet to increase his speed.
3. Commando Crawl. This exercise teaches your dog where his head and back are in space. There are many ways to teach your dog to crawl. A fun one is to sit on the ground with your feet together and knees bent up and use food to lure your dog to crawl under your knees. You also can have your dog crawl under the rungs of a chair or under a coffee table. Or you can construct a PVC crawl tunnel that consists of a box with PVC poles laid across the top as pictured. Have a friend hold your pup at one end and go to the other end with your treats (of course!). Show your pup that you have the goodies and watch him crawl towards you to get them. In a short time your dog will be running to the opening and crawling to the other side without any encouragement at all.
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