Puppies are adorable! They are floppy and uncoordinated--often tripping over their own paws, creating adorable chaos wherever they go. When I picked up my puppy, Kiwi, I decided to take her to training because I wanted her to be a well socialized dog, and I was hoping to try her at bitework, dock diving, herding, and a myriad of other fun dog sports and activities. Even if you don’t plan on doing any of these things, these exercises are a great way to bond with your pup and keep them mentally and physically stimulated! It was very clear that she was incredibly uncoordinated, which I expected from a puppy, and leggy. She was constantly tripping over her own feet, tearing out cords and cables, and stepping on my older dog. Fortunately, with rear end awareness exercises, puppies are trained to be aware of their back legs and how to move them. After speaking with a few of my trainer friends and watching some videos online, I picked up some great exercises that help puppies become aware, that hey, there’s two more legs back there! I can use those!
1. Pivoting on a surface
This first exercise requires a ton of patience! Especially if you have a slower maturing breed or a larger dog! For this exercise, I purchased a rubber feed pan (like what you would feed a horse out of) from Amazon or your local feed store. I flipped it upside down, so the surface is stable and the puppy can step on it.
Nyx, the Belgian Malinois, with her front paws on the target!
Using a high value treat (I used Real Dog Box elk!), I put the treat in front of the puppy’s nose, luring the pup forward, until they put their front paws on the surface. I then make sure to praise the puppy emphatically!
After the pup realizes that putting their front paws on the surface equals tons of treats and love, we can move on to the next step. With the pup’s two front paws on the surface, I start to move around the rubber pan. This will be difficult for the pup at first, as they are not very aware of their body, so walking into them and nudging them with your legs will give them guidance.
After the puppy is used to going one way with you “walking into” them, you can try getting them to pivot the opposite direction. You can do this by getting the puppy to put its front paws on the surface, holding a treat in front of their nose, and luring them to turn their nose towards their shoulder.
2. Walking backwards
The second exercise that is incredibly helpful is teaching your dog to walk backwards. It’s not natural for pups, and they really have to think about where their legs are, especially the back ones and how to place them. This one can be difficult. The first step is to use a treat to lure the puppy between your legs. Treat them, when they are between your legs, and then start walking backwards. Have the treat right above the dog’s nose, and make sure to move it backwards as well, so their head and body moves backwards with you. Once again, even if the pup takes one or two steps, praise them immediately! Remember, make training fun!
*You will need to start off using your legs to guide them, and eventually you will be able to ask them to back up without guidance!
This one is a fun one that a lot of people love to teach because it doubles as a fun party trick if you want your dog to show off! Take a tasty treat and lure your dog to follow it and make a circle, once they have done that, praise them!
4. Ladder exercise
You guessed it! It involves a ladder! For this exercise I will lay a ladder flat on the ground. I then guide the puppy through the rungs of the ladder, putting a treat in front of their nose. This exercise is awesome because it will tire out your pup mentally and physically! They have to really think about picking up their rear and front legs, so they don’t knock against the rungs. They really have to learn and be aware of where their legs are, so they know where to place them. If the pup knocks against some of the rungs and skips a few the first few times, don’t worry about it! Eventually they will get used to it and be more aware of their legs!
Remember, the most important part of training is to keep it fun and keep it light! Have fun with these exercises, and have fun bonding with your dog!