Rugby and I do all kinds of things for fun. They don’t always have to serve a “real” purpose or meaning. Sometimes we just do things to have fun and learn together. Rugby loves to learn new things, and he’s ridiculously food motivated, so it’s pretty easy to bait him into virtually anything. The challenge that he always presents for me is that he’s overly anxious to get the food, so I have to keep things really calm and chill. I use regular dog food kibble for bait most of the time, because he’s less excited about his regular dog food than he would be for a special treat! I really don’t need to get him more excited to get a reward! On the contrary, I’m trying to get him to relax and take things down a few levels!
Today, I’m introducing the balance board. A balance board is simply a wood plank that’s set up a bit…maybe 4″ from the ground. You could even place a plank flat on the ground to start with if you wanted. Mine is raised up just a bit, so that Rugby can easily distinguish being on or off the plank.
The idea is for your dog to learn that he really does have four feet, and where those back feet are! That may sound crazy, but I’ve often seen that dogs simply don’t seem to understand that their back feet are there! When there’s a skill like this, they often try to bypass the board with their back feet altogether…almost because they can’t quite figure out where to put them so they won’t fall off. Mastering this skill is a good confidence booster for your dog!
To get Rugby onto the board, I started at one end, and I “baited” him into position by holding a kibble of food right at his nose, and gently and slowly pulling the bait away from his nose, which made him want to walk forward to get the bait. I started with just having him put his front paws on the board, which was very easy. He didn’t mind putting his front paws on the board one little bit!
The back paws were much more difficult. It took several tries, because he didn’t really want to put his back feet on the board. Some of this is most likely because I’ve been teaching him to ride a skateboard, and he can’t put his back paws on that! So, there was a little initial confusion with the balance board that we had to work through. With experience, he’ll be able to figure out that the skateboard moves and the balance board doesn’t!
With a little bit of work, Rugby figured out that I wanted all four feet on the board! We had several failed attempts and both of us felt a little frustrated. When Rugby gets frustrated, he just snatches at the food, rather than slow down to think through the process and figure out what he needs to do differently. When he’s frustrated, he doesn’t problem solve anymore. He’s all about trying to just grab food no matter what he’s doing! So it’s really important that I stay calm and chill and consistent with him so that he can figure out what he needs to do to get the food! And, it’s helpful to keep his training sessions short so he’s less likely to frustrate!
After he understood putting all four feet on the board, I had him walk both directions…frontward and backward! He wasn’t keen about backing up….I won’t kid you! He fell off a few times, and that didn’t seem to thrill him much. After he was comfortable getting on the board, I asked him to Stand/Stay, and then to Sit/Stay. Each step was reinforced with kibbles to help him understand that he was doing what I wanted.
The real challenge was Down/Stay. I knew once his front legs were down, he was likely going to relax his back legs, and then they would slide right off the board. He was definitely uncomfortable with it initially, but as he laid there, he got more comfortable, and as long as the kibble kept coming, he didn’t seem as if he wanted to hop right off or get up.
The entire project was about 20 minutes today, but Rugby hasn’t mastered it the way I’d like. He wasn’t completely relaxed overall, so I’ll keep trying it over and over until he can do it without thinking about it! I think I’ll cut my training sessions to 5 minutes or less, and I think we’ll have more fun with less frustration. I’ll focus on only one element at a time, and let him get comfortable with that before I move onto the next one.
Be creative at home with things you can try. You’ll enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to encourage your dog into new experiences, and you’ll learn as you go! Don’t be afraid to try something new with your own dog this week!