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5 Must Know Dog Tricks

As dog owners, it seems like we are juggling a thousand spinning plates, especially at the beginning right?

So you’ve just brought your new puppy or dog home and you can’t wait to get started. To build a bond with them, ensure they’re happy and healthy and maybe even try your hand at competing!

But where do you start?

Potty training? Maybe lead walking? These are great places to start with a new puppy but perhaps your dogs already mastered theses and you don’t know where to turn next?

In this blog post and the ones that follow each week, we will take a deep dive into 5 must-know exercises for you and your dog, how to train them and why you should!

As a veterinary physiotherapist, my main focus is on your dog’s physical health, however, all of these exercises will also increase your dogs bond with you, mentally tire them and improve their cognitive ability as well as optimising their physical health and wellbeing.

So if you want to ensure your dog is as fit, healthy and smart as they can be this is the blog series for you!

My 5 must-know exercises are:

  • Sit and down to stand

Asking your dog to raise from a sit or down position to a standing position.

  • Paw

Asking your dog to raise each limb individually.

  • Spin

Turning your dog to the left and the right.

  • Weight shifting

Shifting your dog’s weight from front to back and left to right.

  • Beg and dancing exercises

Asking your dog to balance in their hindlimbs either in a sit to beg or in a stand to dance.

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So you're probably wondering what's so special about a sit to stand or a down to stand.. what's not to love?!

Back to basics:

If your dog doesn't know how to sit (and I mean a proper square sit where their hindlimbs are underneath them) then this is where you're going to want to start.

It's important that your dog can sit square with all their joints in line (i.e facing the correct direction not pointing off to the side) this is because not having joints in the correct direction puts extra stress on our dogs muscles and ligaments making them more likely to get injured.

So something as simple as a sit can be quite a complex exercise for young dogs.

Once you've mastered the sit it's time to progress to the down position.

Again your down should be a square down so you're aiming for the hindlimbs to stay in the same position as they are in the sit and your dog's forelimbs should just come down to the ground.

So what's next:

Once you've got your sit and down nailed on their own it's time to introduce a stand command to bring your dog back up to a square stand (bit of a theme here? 🤣).

The aim here is to get your dog really using their hindlimbs and pushing up from the sit or down without moving their forelimbs at all!!

Why am I doing sit or down to stands?

So many reasons! But here are the main ones-

  1. Improve limb range of movement

  2. Increase hindlimb muscle mass and strength

  3. Increase core strength... need more help with this? Check out our core conditioning guide

  4. Improve proprioception and awareness of where their feet and body are in space

  5. Make you and your dogs bond stronger

  6. Decrease the stress of vet/therapist exams

  7. Make your everyday life simpler

So what are you waiting for?

You’ve probaly all taught your dog a variation of a paw/shake/high 5 but just in case you’ve not lets take a look at which behaviour you’re after.

Back to basics:

So the exercise we’re looking at here is our dog lifting their paw to meet our hand, 1 paw at a time.

You can begin with your dog in a sit and ask for one paw then the next. Once youve mastered this you can progress to a standing position and start to add in the back paws too.

What’s the benefits?

As your dog liftes their paw they are increasing their range of movement and subsequently improving their joint health as each time our dogs use their joints they are increasing the lubrication within the joint which in turn keeps them healthier for longer.

As your asking your dog to target your hand with their paw this increases their proprioceptive awareness making them less likely to trip or catch themselves on obstacles when out walking or during sports as they have a greater sense of where their limbs are in space.

Additionally as your dog is only standing on 3 legs when doing this exercise in the stand they have to adjust their balance to maintain upright meaning your dog has to engage their core muscles. Meaning your dog has greater core strength and balance.

When should I be doing these exercises?

In the beginning to teach your dogs how to complete these exercises you will want to do them regularly (everyday or every other day) but once your dog knows the exercise you can reduce this frequency to a couple of times a week or just in your training warm-ups.

If you need more help with what exercises to do with your dog each week or at warm up check out our recent webinars.

What is a spin exercise and why do you need to add it to your dogs routine?

The spin exercise is a great way to get your dog bending through their back to improve their spinal range of movement as well as stretching the paraspinal muscles (these are the muscles that run either side of the spin) which often become tight especially in dogs that pull on the lead.

To successfully complete a spin exercise lets go back to basics!

How to begin training a spin:

  1. Start by finding out what your dog's favourite treat is, this could be a toy or a tasty snack

  2. Now you’ve picked your dogs treat you can use it to lure them into the correct spin position. To do this place the treat in front of their nose and draw it backwards towards the tail

  3. Once your dogs head has come around to the tail continue to lure them round to complete their circle

  4. You’ve just completed your first spin!

  5. Be sure to practice on both sides

  6. Once you’ve practised this and your dogs beginning to anticipate the spin you can reduce the luring and add a spin command (mines just spin cos I’m not imaginative enough to come up with anything else if you are please share them with me)

  7. Now you’ve got a command you can stop your luring and instead move your hand further away. You should still use your hand as a hand signal but your dog should now not be following your hand

  8. Now you’ve got a solid spin command! Yay well done!

What to do now you’ve mastered the spin?

Now that you’ve got your left and right spin nailed you can start combining them to form a small figure of 8 spins. This ensures that you are getting equal bend to the left and the right.

You can also try doing double spins in one direction then the other to challenge your dogs balance and coordination. When you use a double spin your dog has to adjust their centre of gravity to make the turn, this is great practice for situations they may encounter in day to day life or sports.

Need more help?

What is weight shifting?

Weight shifting is really as simple as it sounds just shifting your dogs weight from one leg to the next.

So why do we do this?

Weight shifting is one of the fundamental exercises I believe all dogs should know. Not only does it allow you to assess your dogs response to carrying weight on each limb but it also helps your dog even out any imbalances they may have.

A lot of dogs carry the majority of their weight on their forelimbs and are therefore not correctly utilising their hindlimbs. This leads to overuse injuries in the forelimbs primarily muscle strains and joint hyperextension due to the increase weight.

How do I get my dog started with weight shifting?

There are many exercises that fall into the weight shifting category so here’s a little run down of them all some we’ve already spoken about and some are coming up in the next few weeks:

  1. Static weight shifting where our dogs are stood on the ground and we move their weight slightly from one foot to the next without causing them to step over

  2. Dynamic weight shifting where our dogs forelimbs, hindlimbs or both are on an unstable surface such as a wobble cushion or board

  3. Removing a limb or more with leg lifts in the form of paw exercises or begging

So where’s best to start?

You should always start with static weight shifting if your dogs done this before you can just progress more quickly through dynamic or removing limb exercises. If your dog hasn’t done this before, start with just a few reps each day and gradually increase. As your dog gets used to these exercises and their core becomes stronger you will be able to make bigger movements which will further increase their core strength and postural stabilizers.

This is the last installment of our 5 Must-Know Dog Tricks blog series!

So just to recap what are the 5 Must-Know dog tricks?

Asking your dog to raise from a sit or down position to a standing position.

Asking your dog to raise each limb individually.

Turning your dog to the left and the right.

Shifting your dog’s weight from front to back and left to right.

Asking your dog to balance in their hindlimbs either in a sit to beg or in a stand to dance.

Want to read their in depth blog posts? Simply click on the trick you want to read about.

In this post we’ll be taking a closer look at what bag and dancing exercises are, how to teach and perform them and why you should.

Firstly what are beg and dancing exercises?

The beg position I think you will all be familiar with where your dog moves from either a down or a sit to a sit position with the forelimbs raised off the ground. This is often done unsupported but if you are trying this for the first time here are some steps you can take to make it not only easier for your dog to learn but safer too.

  • Support your dogs back by being behind them as you lure them upwards into the beg position

  • Start from the sit and work up to the down as your dogs strength and confidence increase

  • Don’t hold the beg position for long

  • Use high value treats you dog can’t resist

Dancing is a little different, you may have seen it if you do heelwork or heelwork to music but it not the easiest trick for our dogs to perform so we don’t see it too much in the general dog pet population.

Dancing is when we ask our dogs to stand only in their hindlimbs.

It's important to note here if your dog has any issues with their hind legs this is not an exercise or trick that they can perform.

If you dog is healthy and has no hindlimb problems then this is a good progression on from the beg exercise. You should start by supporting your dogs forelimbs and gradually reducing this support as your dog gets stronger.

Why should you train beg and dancing exercises?

These exercises are great for improving your dogs core strength, balance and proprioception (awareness of where their bodies are in space). Dancing exercises increase hindlimb strength and joint extension if your dog is fit and healthy.

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