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Background info on Cavaletti Training For Dogs

Brian wrote: Apparently Cavaletti training is a routine practice with show horses. Does anyone have any experience with this technique with dogs? Do you lay the boards out in a straight line or a circle? How much time per session is required? How long might it take for this training to be effective? Are there other stride lengthening techniques that work?

Pat answered: Yes, it works well. It teaches foot fall and timing and can increase reach.

It is not as simplistic as you were lead to believe. DO NOT raise the bars off the ground or you will get very high lift which is not correct for an Afghan Hound.

It is basic dressage for horses. It is called Cavalettis named after an Italian cavalry officer.

Cavaletti training is something I have taught for a long time. I trained horses for years. I took some of my horse knowledge and changed it to apply to dogs. This was through hit and miss but I finally have it worked out to where it really works for dogs. Pay attention to the formulas.

First - Difference for Cavaletti or dog dressage work.

Dogs unlike horses don't know and usually don't care where they put their feet. Dogs have no appreciation of stepping on things. So it makes sense to make the dog aware of where he is actually placing his feet.

I use plastic pvc pipes which are readily available at home improvement or hardware stores and inexpensive. Boards work too but they don't roll and are not as unstable as round pipes. I want some Cavaletti movement to make my dog aware of sloppy foot placement.

The diameter of the pipes is in accordance with the size of the dog. An Afghan Hound or large dogs would typically need 1 inch to 1.5 diameter.

When and if you get to the point where you want to raise them slightly off the ground,  use empty soda cans and make an indentation or jump cups to hold the pipes fairly steady and raised on both ends. They cannot be rock solid because a dog must realize that things can move so he needs to be careful with his feet.

Take a minimum of eight 3-4 feet lengths of pipe. More does not hurt. Lay them in a straight line on the ground or floor at random distances apart. Put a lead on your dog and WALK your dog through the pipes. You walk on the outside and make your dog walk over the pipes. Your dog will bump his toes and start to pay attention to where his feet are being placed. Work in both directions going forward and backwards and on both sides of you. Do not let him run out. In horse terms that means jump or run away from going over the pipes. Usually a week or five days of doing this and rearranging the pipes randomly is enough to get him to pay attention. You want at least 10 times in each direction for the five days.

Then we go to the next level which is placing the pipes in measured sequence. Typically I lay the pipes down and apart the measurement of the highest point of the shoulder of the dog.

If I find he cannot handle this without rolling the pipes around, I place them closer and in exact sequence or distance. I work him back and forth at least 10 times in each direction. I am at a slow trot at this point. The dog learns to place his feet carefully and in cadence or he bangs his toes.

This training has gone on for about two weeks.

The first week was taken up by teaching your dog to place and be aware of his feet.

The second week was teaching your dog rhythm or cadence. At this point the pvc pipes must be placed at the same distances. That distance is equal to or slightly less than the highest point at the shoulder. Use a tape measure and don't guess. You should be able to run your dog back and forth at the trot and at various speeds without him bumping a pipe.

You will see at the fast speeds, that your dog will pick his feet up higher and shorten or lengthen his stride as needed in exact cadence or timing/rhythm.

Now you want to get his maximum stride length. You will have to play with this distance but I find that the formula that works best for me is 1.5 times your dog's height at his highest point of the withers. That seems to fall into the maximum reach for any dog.

You may also want to get your dog to lift his feet a little higher. This is achieved by raising the pipes with the soda cans that I mentioned earlier.

Please note that there are few breeds that call for a lot of lift or action, so don't raise the pipes more than a few inches for an Afghan Hound.

The taller breeds such as the Afghan Hound do need to have the pipes raised off the floor or ground about 2 inches.

I work my dogs at least five times a week and 10 times in each direction. If I lay off the work for more than one month, I find the dogs revert to their old shorter and possible unbalanced stride. What does seem to hold for a very long time is that the dog you have worked with will always pay attention to where they put their feet. That is the bonus.

I have a photo of Hadjji, a physically out of balance Saluki who was worked with this method. He had more rear angulation than front angulation. He was a really wonderful dog and I have to admit that my training and exercise regime made him look even better.

I get the maximum from my well balanced Saluki Zoom Zoom as shown in his photo. His photo shows the rhythm and footfall and timing and again one half stride later.

If you want to view these photos, please e-mail me and I will send them to you.

Yikes these Salukis are more than 35 years apart!!! Does that count as tenure?

Also here is a link to one of our seminars where we taught this discipline. You can see the difference in the dogs very quickly. This was in a period of less than one hour.

Please note too that the Cavaletti work is not the only exercise the dogs should get. They get free running in a paddock and they get road work at various speeds.

They get to be real dogs.

I also use key words with my dogs as I work. They know when to lengthen or to shorten their strides with my words.

I won a gorgeous specialty under Conni Miller with one of my Salukis because of this training. She was amazed that a dog could "collect and extend itself" as she asked standing in the middle of the ring judging. At the time I thought I was in a Command Class (a horse show class that involves instant response to judge commands by horse and rider). The win was wonderful and I went on to a group 3rd that day in super tough competition.

Cavalleti training is an accepted methodology espoused by Dr. Chris Zink (canine sports-med vet). See her book Peak Performance.  Pat Hastings former handler and now famous author, judge and seminar presenter also recommends this exercise. Many other well known and respected people recommend the Cavalleti work.

As always, if you have questions, please feel free to contact me. If you prefer to do it privately, I am always ready to help. If I don't have an answer, I will tell you and then try to find one.

RESPONSE: Pros & Cons of Cavaletti Training For Dogs
1. It is a good form of exercise that teaches correct footfall and timing.
2. It helps a dog understand how to better sync his mind with his body and legs.
3. It will maximize what he is capable of for movement.
4. It increases agility and turning ability.
5. It helps an animal perform better in all disciplines and venues. Not just the conformation ring.
6. It is low impact and can also be done for rehabilitation.
7. You don't need a lot of costly equipment.
8. You can set it up anywhere.
9. This type of exercise does not conflict with any other type of exercise such as road working, field running, free running, hunting, trailing, etc.
10. It is a widely accepted and recommended exercise used in sports medicine and by dog performance trainers throughout the world. See Dr. Zink's Peak Performance book.
11. It has worked for centuries.

1. You have to go to a store and spend about $30 for pvc pipes, soda cans and a tape measure unless you can find the equipment laying around.
2. You have to commit 15-30 minutes five times a week to your dog.
3. It is not a stand alone exercise. It is not strength or endurance training.
4. You need to do other exercises to build up the total dog.
5. If you do not continue with the exercise, as in any exercise, the animal will revert to their original condition.