This little gent is one of my senior (geriatric) customers but he is still able to benefit enormously from balance training in the right way

Balance balls!!

Balance and stability are to so important to many aspects of health for dogs and humans.
It can help dogs of any age, from puppy development skills to the senior dog that has lost strength and stability from age related weakness.

It is really important to think of safety and understand how you utilise balance equipment. In human physical therapy, as with canine rehabilitation, we are focused on functional strength and functional mobility.

We first need to think about what we are asking our dogs to do on a daily basis:

* Are they hanging around the house all day – sleeping/resting?

* Are they active? Sporting or hunting dog?

* Do they have carpet or wood/ tile floors? (We are going to need to think about getting our flooring right for our home gym!)

* Or do they need mobility assistance to go outside for a bathroom break?

* Are they performance dogs? Agility dogs or perhaps canicross?

The goals of balance and stability activities are to enhance the proprioceptive feedback (body awareness), encourage weight shifts and muscle contractions, facilitate balance and function.

Remember, if you have any concerns about whether or not your dog is healthy enough to try these activities, seek the advice of your Veterinarian first.

Fitness from balance training can enhance any training program

Where to buy your fitness equipment

Each country has its own favoured brands  but the most important thing to look out for if buying from online stores is that the ball or cushion needs to be described as suitable for dogs and burst resistant! 

Some brands are better known than others and one of the greatest challenges can be obtaining them in your country so have a good hunt in local pet stores and online dog sites. 

Some And it is a good idea to get some tips on which pieces of equipment will suit your dog at his or her stage of development from a qualified fysio or canine sports instructor. If you have any doubts about your dogs comfort and fitness please seek a plan and assessment from a vet and a physio. (Remember professionals like myself often offer telemedicine sessions since the pandemic which makes a range of professionals now available to dog owners from all over the world). 

I use a mix of K9, FitPaws and Gula Rehab all of whom make safe, dog specific kit but I also use wobble boards from ordinary human gym companies so long as the top and bottom are nonslip and suitable for paws!  

These fab over sized disks are available from Gula Rehab

The Right Support - safety first!

Safety is paramount.

The bigger the piece of equipment the more support you will need to provide.

I often advise my clients to use a chest support harness or a long towel or scarf under the ribcage  to support the dog from the chest if working on their own with the dog.

The idea is not to support or lift the dog’s weight instead it is to provide control, the support is distributed through the chest, and less likely the dog will fall.

It is also important to consider your own comfort and body mechanics. Ensure you are comfortable and using good posture.

Think about the floor! Always provide a safe underlay so that as the dog jumps on and off the equipment the landing isn’t slippery. Yoga mats or gym mats work well for a temporary surface on top of wooden or laminate flooring, for example.

Remember even small pieces of equipment like balance cushions can slide so make sure you have all areas covered abs are able to support your dog. Consider supporting the equipment either with your legs or hands, or up against a wall. Some items require platforms such as the dognut balls.

And some companies make platforms for larger items (peanut balls) that look a little like an upturned coffee table.

Working with two humans to provide appropriate support on a challenging course for a retrieving competitor

Consider how much air is in your balance equipment

How blown up or not an item is will also affect the complexity of the task of standing on it.


Balance cushions, for example, can be a very good beginning but if over inflated they are a huge challenge as they become much less stable.

Once the item is properly supported your dog will be standing on a firmer surface making it easier for them to both feel and be safe.

Last and possibly most important for safety please never leave the equipment unattended.

Do not allow your dog to jump on them without personal support. If your dog is on the equipment you must be giving it support.

Muscle Targeting:

Balance work enables you to target postural muscles and reflexes. These are slower twitch, high endurance muscles and muscles that help hold you up against gravity.

It works the whole body with contraction and co-contraction of many muscle groups, from the shoulders and forelimbs, all the way down the spine and core, to the hips and hind legs.

Instead of repetitions (like you would in strength training or aerobics), in balance work think about duration, or how long can they can sustain it. Start with a few minutes at a time and observe your dogs tolerance.

Starting Out:

Begin with standing and holding activities, then progress to functional movements like sit to stands, and turns with slow purposeful movements.

These activities can be done every day for a few minutes at a time.

Mix it up.

Try doing some balance work before or after a walk. Vary the activities and types of balance pieces to make it fun and different each time.

Each dog is different and you must be able to tell when your dog is close to fatigue.

Some signs may be panting with tongue out, muscles twitching, leaning into you, trying to sit or lay down on it. Make sure you stop just as your dog is beginning to get tired. Don’t push too long or injuries can happen.

Stop well before this happens!

Rewards

Choose a reward for balance that suits your dog and the task.

I use a lot of food rewards because I see a lot of different dogs and most will respond to a relative stranger with nice treats like bacon cheese in a tube but some are too intensely food motivated meaning they forget to let you know when they are tired as they are so keen for the treats you hold.

Obviously for those who are training to lose weight you will need to remove any reward food from their full daily calorie allowance.

Others are hard to motivate so using the harness to help them up with the support of another person may be the only way to work with balance equipment.

Let's try it!

There are three basic ways to create a challenge for your dog on any platform: 1) Ask your dog to stand on the item and physically manipulate your dog with small motions, side to side and front to back.


2) Manually manipulate the surface under your dog to make it more difficult.

3) Reduce the amount of support you provide (reduce air or increase depending on the equipment concerned), less harness support, but please make sure the balance equipment itself cannot roll or move away) to make them more unstable.

 

if you would like more support or a structured course you can join my online or in person balance courses called four feet balanced!