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How do I stop my dog or horse from tripping?

Updated: Apr 1, 2021

Why does my horse stumble all the time? And why does my dog keep tripping on walks? These are questions I get asked all the time, perhaps you’ve even asked them yourself?

You probably thought it was a one-off, but then it happened again.. And now you keep noticing it? Should you be worried? Will it just go away?

And now you’re frantically googling and have found a whole host of scary articles about your pet having a neurological condition or brain tumour and now you can’t sleep? Sound familiar?

Don’t worry!

In this article, we’ll talk through the most common causes (and none of them are scary brain tumours) of tripping and stumbling in otherwise healthy pets and how to fix it.

So what are the 3 common causes of tripping and stumbling?

  1. Poor proprioception, or poor knowledge of where your pets limbs are in relation to their body and other things in space like our feet!

  2. Lack of flexion in the joints of the limbs, meaning that your pet struggles to lift their limbs high enough to clear the ground without clipping it leading to a stumble or trip or more commonly just a drag of the toe you might notice this as a scuffed nail in your dog or a worn toe or front shoe clip on your horse's.

  3. Long nails in dogs or in need of new shoes or long toes in horses

Do any of these sound like your pet? Yes!

So how do we fix it?

You’ve got a few options depending on the cause. If your dog’s nails are too long or you’re concerned they might do book a groomers visit and ask for a nail trim. Same with our horse's if your farrier appointment is overdue get it booked in the diary.

Now if you’re all up to date with your pets foot care it’s time to look at some exercises to help them become more aware of their limbs, feet and improve their joint flexion.

Let’s get started with our dog’s proprioception exercises:

Proprioception dog training can be used in any dog, of any age, breed or size. But you should assess your dog before starting any new exercises and if in doubt about what your dog can handle give your vet or vet physio a call and ask their advice.

Let’s start by looking at the easier exercises and as you go down this list the exercises get a little more challenging. Always start with the easier exercises and work your way up gradually each week.

  1. Toe tickling to stimulate the nerves in the leg

  2. Raking of the paws on different surfaces to get your dog familiar with different textures

  3. Walking on different surfaces and inclines and declines

  4. Standing, sitting and down square making sure that they are aware of whether or not they are stood and sat square

  5. Weight shifting exercises begin on the floor and progress to memory foam and then wobble cushions this pushes your dog slightly off-balance reminding them of where their limbs are in space

  6. Paw lifting exercises asking them to lift and replace each limb

  7. Backing up

  8. Slow lead walking, walking slowly requires our dogs to be more aware of where their limbs are

  9. Weaving, figure 8 and circles moving around obstacles during our lead walking challenges our dog’s spacial awareness even more

  10. Pole exercises challenge your dogs even more as if they are not aware of where you have placed the poles randomly they must use their proprioception so as not to trip

Now let’s take a look at proprioception exercises your horse can do during horse riding?

Just like our dogs start with the easier exercises at the top of this list and work down the list to the more challenging exercises if your horse is doing well each week.

  1. Standing square can your horse adjust themselves?

  2. Walking on different surfaces and up and down hills

  3. Lateral tail pulls shift weight between the hindlimbs

  4. Wither rocks to shift weight between the forelimbs

  5. Lifting and replacing each limb ensuring they can place it back square

  6. Backing up

  7. Pole work like with our dogs if you place these randomly our horses have to use their proprioception so as not to hit them

If your dog needs to improve the range of motion and flexion of their limb joints these exercises are going to be your go to:

If you feel like your dog keeps tripping over their front paws you will want to focus on forelimb exercise.

Forelimb exercises:

  1. Paw exercises

  2. Down to stands

  3. Hill work

  4. Walking on different surfaces

  5. Pole work from flat to raised poles

Hindlimb exercises:

  1. Paw exercises

  2. Sit to stands and down to stands

  3. Hill work

  4. Walking on different surfaces

  5. Pole work from flat to raised poles

How to get my horse to pick their feet up? You need to improve your horses range of motion and joint flexion, these are the exercises for them:

If your horse has ever completed any rehab exercises or physio exercises you will probably notice some of these exercises.

If your horse is often tripping behind or tripping in canter you need to focus on hindlimb exercises that improve both your horse's sacroiliac joint (between pelvis and spine) and their hindlimb joints (hip, stifle, hock).

  1. Hill work

  2. Pelvic rounding to improve sacroiliac joint range of motion

  3. Caudal and lateral tail pulls to shift weight between the hindlimbs

  4. Pole work from flat to raised poles

  5. Passive limb lifting

  6. Walking on different surfaces

If you feel that your horse's front legs give way or they keep stumbling and falling then you’re going to need to focus on your horse's front limbs. If your horse has fallen more than once, stop any ridden work and speak with your vet to ensure no damage was done and there is no more serious underlying cause.

  1. Hill work

  2. Pole work from flat to raised poles

  3. Walking on different surfaces

  4. Passive limb lifting

  5. Wither rocks to shift the weight between the front limbs

  6. Carrot stretches 3 times a week

Need more help choosing the right exercises for your pet? Book a free call here ( head over to our shop and check out our fitness planning webinars (

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