Fitness Foundation Course

Lesson 1: Setting the basics

November 2018

– introduction

To begin the course you will need to become familiar with what “good movement” looks like, when “wonky” is just the way they are, and the variations that are under our influence, or the influence of the walking-fit exercises. We will not be able to change structure, but with the right sort of awareness through muscle development the dogs are able to seek their most comfortable and balanced actions. Once they find this comfort, and our exercises emphasise this, it begins to become the norm.

There is never comparison between dogs, just a comparison between today and yesterday, last month and this month. Being able to have a baseline video will be really useful.

Baseline Video

The baseline video should show us the dog’s natural walk and relaxed trot, viewed from:

the front, where the dog walks towards the camera

the rear, where the dog walks away from the camera

lateral view, where we can see the whole body, and although you can walk along with the dog, preferably the dog is in the fore ground.

We probably need about 8-12 steps of the dog on a “clean ground”. You can walk your dog on a lead, but be careful with distorting their movement by luring. Either really short grass, concrete or carpet where the dog can have a good purchase.

This is tricky to video by yourself unless you have a autofocus that will cope with the speed you are approaching the camera. Walk should be easy to achieve, trot may be a little harder. But whatever you can get will be useful.

What does walk look like?

This is an excellent graphic source of the differences between movements. It has been produced as a reference source for animation artists – a good reason to learn how movement happens and when it does not “look right”.


The video below was made several years ago, before I had fully analysed the way the different structures of dogs affected their gaits. I would like you to watch and find the obvious error in my labelling of the movements. Only 1 dog is actually pacing:

(the only dog truly pacing, and rocking side to side, is the Poodle, if you slow the video and watch frame by frame, you can see the Leonberger moves the back leg fractionally before the front leg)

For any of you that have an equestrian background the term “walk is king” will be familiar. The walk reveals all, the trot contains momentum which can cover many things, including favouring injuries, lack or propulsion or immobility of the spine.

Walk is where the healthy balance and awareness of foot placement originates, and we shall be studying it in detail. The range of dogs will develop a good understanding of how the walk varies. It is the gait that the dog has most control over adjusting, which makes it the “go to” choice for being out and about, especially at the end of the lead/leash.

Pacing is the action we try to avoid. Pacing locks down the spine and besides causing tension in the body language it can become extremely uncomfortable. It would be the equivalent action of you walking or marching with the same side hand and leg moving in unison.

We shall be discussion action and gaits many times through the course, but please bear in mind I am not a physiotherapist or qualified medically to offer you remedial work for your dog.

Target Cup

When I first used a target to teach movement I made a target stick out of a broken TV aerial, that was extendable, and attached a yellow knob off a puppy toy on the end. The original target sticks were basically just sticks, which my Gordon Setters found extremely difficult to see or target. Dogs that learned to nose touch to these sticks were often successful if the nose touched anywhere along the stick.

By adding a clear, clean, smelly target to the end the Gordons found something easy to follow. This served its purpose for a few years.

The behaviour was a combination of a visual and scent target.


Even with good skills the dogs were still maintaining a peripheral eye contact with the source of the reinforcers – my hand, my pocket or just me. This left us with a good behaviour but it was not resilient, there was a shortfall in the focus on the target.

By changing to a cup that contained the reinforcer (smelly treat) the dog has no reason to take their eyes off the cup. We now have a much stronger behaviour, super focus and drive towards following this target.

This allows us to change our position relative to the dog as we are no longer relevant to success in the process. We can ask the dog to follow in a range of patterns whilst peering at their bodies with intense interest!

You will need certain skills in place before you begin training the dog with the cup.

Exercise 1 Cup loading

I hope you have all managed to secure your cup on a stick?

I made this video for the online course showing the types of movements we teach. I would like you to look at this for the role the target-cup plays in being able to:

Observe the movement (you absolutely need the dog at arm’s length)

Adjust movement (through the height and placement of the cup)

Teach different gaits (through the way you hold the cup)

Adjust speed (following both you and the cup, or blocking with you and the cup)

Changing pressure (to gain a re-balance, extend a specific action)

Collect balance (with a combination of cup placement and containment or extension)

You will need to attain competence in both hands with this process, so be aware of, and disciplined in, using both sides of your body.

If you are holding the cup as a tennis racquet you will need to be able to move it with both a fore hand (leading with the inside of your wrist) movement or a backhand (leading with the back of your hand), walk forwards or backwards and in circles.

You will need to be able to change height.

You will need to be able to deliver the treat in a precise location or belt it across the room.


This skill needs to be developed to the level where you become unaware of what you are doing with the cup. In other words if you are still watching your cup it is too soon to bring in the dog.

To be able to teach the dog that this is critical source of interest and relevance loading the cup will need to become a seamless, smooth movement. Just as you no longer look at a cup of coffee to drink out of it, you will need to get the next treat into this cup, before the dog starts to look for it. That is fast.

  • Firstly begin with no dog, a pot of dried beans or buttons.
  • Hold the stick about halfway down.
  • Take about 6-10 treats into the non-cup hand, place one in the cup.
  • Dump that bean to a specific place on the floor.
  • Repeat several times choosing different places around you.
  • Are you using a forehand or backhand movement? Turning the cup clockwise or anti-clockwise?
  • Practice both.

As this process gets smoother begin to place the bean further away, use your feet to step into the placement.

Change hands!

Cup cues

The cup will have ……cues:

Connect: this begins with a waft under the nose, not above it, the scent is going to be rising out of the cup so you will need to make sure the dog get a good hint of what the cup contains.

Follow:  the movement of the cup after Connect should elicit a desire to follow. Do not be greedy with the distance you ask for the follow, a step or two is ideal to begin with.

Cup moves up:  slow down, and/or come to a stop.

Cup moves down: move faster or the treat is about to be delivered.

Cup flies away:  the cup should go as high as possible out of reach if the dog tries to jump to it.

Cup out of sight: dog – take a break!

Don’t forget the cup is always talking, so it should not be hanging about doing nothing in particular. When the cup is present it is the primary cue, nothing else should be cueing the dog what to do, just let them fall in love with the cup.

A clicker is not necessary at this stage, but it may help the dog whilst teaching them the significance of the cup. If your dog orientates to you on the sound of the click, leave it out altogether, let the turning of the cup be your marker.

Teaching the dog to follow the cup

The behaviour we are going to teach is a visual and scent follow, not a bump or paw smack.

If your dog has learned that targets are contact objects you will need to be super careful in ensuring they never succeed in knocking the treat out of the cup.

Teaching the dog to follow the cup

You can see in the video the cup is maintained quite low, and the square bottomed cups are a definite advantage here, the treat will not easily roll out until you turn the cup.

A low cup is also an easy for target for the dog to help themselves, so be prepared to keep that cup out of range and dump the treat before they get a chance to close in.

Connect and Share

sounds like a biscuit …….


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  1. Iris Maxfield

    Great to be able to follow these on line archives through, thank you, presumably the error in labelling was the canter.

  2. K Laurence

    In what way? I think I would call it “back legs as a pair”, rather than together.

    But the Leonberger and the Irish, ARE actually both walking, with good animation of their back. The Poodle is the only “pacer”.

    But goodness, it takes a lot of watching to see it.

    More lessons on the way ….

    • Iris Maxfield

      “In what way”

      Sorry for late reply, just found your comment.
      It was just the canter caught my eye, to me its three time rather than pair’s, but easier to see over a longer distance.
      Having just looked back at the lesson I can see you indicated to check out the pacing.

  3. Melissa

    Thank you for sharing this course. Reading through there is lots that is most useful at the moment and ties in nicely with rehab and physio I’m doing with my dog following a spinal injury. I’m watching and encouraging him in learning to stand in balance and walk again using standing exercises as in lesson 3 and stand to sit to stand as in lesson 4.

  4. Kay Laurence

    We don’t realise how easy it is to lose the “normal” everyday functions, either for ourselves or the dogs until it stops being easy! Every day I climb the stairs with a cup of coffee I remind myself that it is an exercise that needs to be done well, with balance or it will dissappear!

    I hope he gets back to “easy wellness” soon….


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