Fitness Foundation Course
Lesson 2: Teaching Good Walking
– not just walking
Without much effort we can all move ourselves from A to B. Some actions will be efficient and use little energy, others will be inefficient and use more energy.
For the dog the relaxed trot is considered the most energy efficient and dogs can maintain it for several hours. It resembles an easy swinging action.
A people-jog, or a dog’s relaxed trot use the momentum from the stride action to move forward as opposed to a purposeful walk that engages each part of the foot with the floor at different times – that is what we are going to teach the dogs.
Experiencing it yourself
I would like you to try an exercise yourself, preferably on a staircase for exaggeration, or a level surface if that is easier.
1. Take a cup of water in each hand, filled to approx one third.
Walk at least 10 steps, or up once and down once on the stairs.
Become aware of which part of your body is moving the most, which is having to work, and any tenderness. Be aware of how slow you need to go to become aware
2. Fill the cup to approx two-thirds and do this again
Notice any change in your balance, what needs to work harder to NOT spill any water.
3. Now fill the cups and go through for the third time.
If you have video you are welcome to share. Or make a “good friend” to the task and video it yourself.
Speed is not of any benefit in this exercise. I would like you to become aware of how much more your feet have to bend and maintain your balance so that your arms do not move. You should also find your head does not move either.
Your back, all through your legs, in particular your knees and hips should feel the work. This is “walking exercise”, or resistance walking. The slower you do this the more effective. It should feel like a work out.
We are going to teach the dogs to do the same – and they will get treats for it!
What does walk look like?
Our predators are most efficient when they can move at speed or in stalk AND keep their head perfectly still when they are focussed on the kill. I suppose our equivalent would be the ability to run and aim with accuracy at the same time, but you can use a cup of water instead!
Think about a cheetah running: no head movement, no bobbing, all that contact with the ground and propulsion comes from the super-angulated bodies.
This is the best video I found:
It is the flexibility of their spine, the muscle power and reach of their legs that I particularly want you to notice.
In the walk here:
(1.36) look at the amount of work the whole body is doing just to walk, the animation of the joints, the reach of the stride, the flexibility in the foot. These are all the same elements we want to develop in our dogs.
Dogs in Motion
I was fortunate to be able to attend the lectures by Prof. Dr. Martin S. Fischer, where he showed and discussed many of the videos from his long-term research project on the movement of dogs.
His book Dogs in Motion published in 2011 (available in both German and English) contains comprehensive CD of videos. If you have the chance of obtaining a copy I would highly recommend it.
Here is a sample. Although the video does not explain in detail, from 1.02, you can see the walk in action and the muscle that become active (in red) with each segment of the stride.
Slow is perfect
Whichever way you teach your dog that the Good Walk earns credits, the slower they walk the more they are working – imagine a dog walking in towards prey, stalking. Each leg moves one at a time, the perfect work out. As each leg lifts, goes through the movement, and is placed, the other 3 legs are holding exquisite balance. If you have a game where you can teach your dog to predatory-stalk into a toy, or anything else appropriate (I can stalk the Gordons to the chickens), these are perfect physical exercises. I like to stalk alongside the dog as the speed-controller.
Teaching with food in a cup is a little difficult for the dogs to grasp that relaxed and slow is good. The scent of food is often a trigger for anticipation and excitement, so perhaps you may need to do other training first in the session to get beyond the opening buzz.
When training for “slow and steady” you cannot let frustration get a peek-in. Anytime the dog begins to bounce, whine or jigger around, you are just annoying the dog. Slow and steady evolves because of:
Food come easily and with little effort.
Food comes slowly, but frequently.
Food comes most when you are standing still.
This means a very few steps of the dog, even 2, and food arrives, where you are without any need to take an extra step. There is no animation in between, your movements are slow, the cup refill can be slow and you maintain the “no hurry” atmosphere.
Dog walking at your side
If the dog is at your side, there is an inclination for them to orientate towards you with their head and this will cause their rear end to swing out. This is not a problem, provided there is equal swing when they are on the other side of you.
What I tend to see is that we have a favoured side to walk the dog and the dog’s body has adapted to swing to one side only. If this is the case, then you need to rebalance the dog’s structure with more on their weaker side.
Alternately you can walk backwards, with the dog focussed on the cup and you can watch the dog’s spine to adjust your speed. Both hands need to be balanced equidistant from the cup from the dog’s perspective. If you are not walking backwards in balance then the dog will have very few points of reference to align with.
The cup should be held so that the dog’s muzzle is horizontal or lower and their head aligned with their spine, with no roll or yaw (tipping side to side or twisting)
Again video is going to be your best friend, look for:
their ears held at an equal height, not tipped to one side
the top of the muzzle no higher than horizontal
following their nose “true”, not appearing to walk cheek first.
All of these “tips” of the head will be an expression of the need to balance out a lack of support from the supporting part of the body. We are not going to try to “make” the head go straight, but look for the changes in the head balance that will tell us the body is becoming more balanced.
Rhythm and balance
The first stage is to achieve a rhythmic action with no hesitation, stuttering or fish tailing.
This may take some distance to achieve, depending on the dog’s experience, structure and their normal walking habit. Remember slow-and-relaxed come from frequent food, delivered slowly and in position.
Once achieved, begin to walk large circles in both directions, aim to be able to walk in rhythm with the dog, which may mean you need to take tiny steps yourself.
Your aim is to teach the dog to firstly isolate each step, so their bodies become aware of the action, then we shall be looking for good placement and strength to maintain a balance up the body to the tip of their nose.
Their fitness will build as we ask for these two behaviours:
FIRSTLY: isolated, deliberate steps.
SECONDLY: learning to find a comfortable balance.
Adjustment of the head height, the curve they are following will build the flexibility we need.
Always work both sides, balance out with more to one side or the other if you see a difference. The difference may be noticeable by the dog skipping out of the action, over compensating, or stuttering.
Asking the dog to follow a low cup is an excellent change in balance that can stretch the important parts. Most of the dogs will find a low cup too tempting to mug for food, so in this case let the dog follow the cup for a short distance, then place a treat in the cup, which will then place the treat on the floor. Keep the promise from the cup to keep the focus on the cup, not your hands.
Good Walk skills – co-ordination, mobility and rhythm will be critical foundations for balanced trotting. Investment in walking is always worth-while and an excellent warming up action.
Good Walk in a circle
In conjunction with teaching the dog that isolated steps are going to earn food, I would like you to walk the dog in a circle, at the slowest walk that you can. Their body will be at an angle to the direction of the circle, which demands that the outside legs work extremely hard. Begin with a large circle and as you spiral inwards demand the dog’s rear end flares outwards.
You will have experiment with where you place the cup relative to your body, and also use your body to push the rear end of the dog outwards. Look for a “flare” of their rear action.
We should begin to see the inside leg step under the dog:
When Dilly is moving in the first section, firstly watch her feet and foot placement and then the head angles and tip. In the second section note the differences.
I know it is not easy
This is not an easy exercise, but I think one of the most beneficial.
If you have a cup-mugger, work with an empty cup, and THEN place the treat in the cup to place it to the floor. You can use one hand to shield the cup, the more you pull it into your protected body space the clearer it becomes to the dog that they need to hold off the food, but keep a frequent rate, delivered slowly, for every 2/3 of their steps.
Remember we are teaching them how to use their bodies with exquisite precision and their awareness will come over time, not instantly.
Developing fitness in the early stages will not be that easy, but once we achieve the pleasure from a more balanced and powerful movement the dogs will use it more and more.
Connect and Share
sounds like a biscuit …….
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