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Doggy Brain Games! (Part 1)

Big Barker has teamed up with Philly Unleashed, a very popular dog training company here in the Philadelphia area. We're here today because we have a lot of customers that have dogs that are older, dogs recovering from surgery, that just can't get out as much as they used to, and we know that mental exercise and mental stimulation is often just as good as physical activity in a lot of cases. So Nicole is going to teach us some skills that can help exert our dogs mentally when they can't get outside like they used to.

Nicole: When Eric asked me to come on and do this, I'm going to admit that it really hit home. Big Barker Beds are fantastic, first of all, and I have two senior dogs. So I'm your demographic for this. So when you think about training senior dogs, it's kind of a common misconception that people are like, yeah, you get a puppy, you do a six-week puppy class, and then you're done. But for me, training is really for the life of the dog and you've got to keep these guys mentally fit as well as physically fit. So I'm going to introduce you to my demo dog for the day. This is my girl, Uluru.

And it's not often that I get to use her in videos because everybody wants to see puppies or starter dogs, but this is my own senior girl. She is 13 years young and she is still kicking. The things that we're going to be doing for you today are exercises that I do with her all the time. So she already knows these. She should be able to demo them pretty well, and I'm going to try to talk you through how to do them with your own dogs.

Now we're going to try to combine a little bit, and we're going to do exercises that keep your dog mentally fit because you're doing training games with them and that strengthens the brain. But these tricky exercises will also keep your dogs physically fit. So if you've noticed that your dog is getting a little bit stiffer or they're not getting out of bed as quickly or they're taking longer to recover from walks, these exercises before and after your walks are really pulling double duty for you.

So in this class, we are going to break this down into three exercises that will give your dog a whole-body stretch if you do them. And I'm hoping that you guys are going to do these right along with me. All you're really going to need is a bunch of treats, and just as an FYI, I like squishy treats because they're a little bit easier for them to chew and treats should be about the size of your pinky fingernail, not much bigger.

If you've got a dog that's a little bit pickier, think about some interesting things that you can use as squishy treats. Like I'm just using some pepperonis, but if you have string cheese or little bits of lunch meat, that works too. Anything that's going to entice your dog to work and that they can swallow pretty quickly and come back for more is going to be your best friend here.

Spin and Twist

The first exercise that we're going to do is a Spin and Twist. So let me just show you very quickly. So spin is one way, twist is the other direction. When you do spin and twist, these are actually lateral stretches. So if you think of if you're taking a yoga class and you stretch up and then you stretch over to one side and over to the other side and you get a full-body stretching both of those sides, this works that way on dogs. When we teach it, we're going to take treats in both hands. Here's your starter. So get treats in both hands, maybe like four or five treats in both hands, and we're going to do a technique called luring. So in luring, you are just going to pull the dog a few steps to the right and you're going to pick them up with a treat and you're going to pull them a few steps to the left.

Uli thinks this is fantastic. This is how training should be. Your dog should see treats come out and know they're going to do training and be like, "All right. Time to train." Training should be friendly to your kids, it should be friendly to your dogs, and the more you reward the dog for things that you like, the more excited they are about training and the better they are to listen to you even when you don't have treats.

So again, lure to the left. Then, lure to the right. When your dog is following that lure pretty well, we're going to take it around in a spin, so nice and slow. Lure, so that your dog's nose touches their hip. That's where that lateral stretch comes in. And at the end of the trick, when the trick is over, it's a fast spin. That's how you make it fancy. But if we're really looking for stretching, what we can do is put a hand on that hip and then lure the dog over so that their head is touching their hip. When that dog is lured over, that entire opposing side is stretching.

So let's just give it a try and isolate it. Without knowing your dog's fitness, you've got to judge how easy it is for them to do this lateral bend. So if you've got a dog that's particularly stiff, hold that hip and just bring their head to a little bit of turn and release. So just a little way, and release. And if that seemed easy, you can go a little more. And if you can get them to touch their hip with their nose that means they're really flexible. So let's try the other side.

What you'll find with dogs, and this is kind of interesting, is that dogs are either left-sided or right-sided. So if you found that you picked one side and it was pretty easy, but then you go to the other side and it's a little bit harder, it's normal stuff. Just like we are stronger on one hand than the other usually. It doesn't mean we can't use that other hand, but most of the time we don't try.

If you practiced, you would get better. Dogs are the same way. So I went to Uli's easy side first. I'm going to try or more difficult side this time. So again, grab that hip and then bend. And so you can see on this one, Uli was trying to go into that spin. It might be because she's just trying to do a spin and get the treat, or it might be because she's a little bit stiffer on that side. On the first side, she could bend all the way over and hold it. This side, she's not really holding it as much. So I'm going to isolate it and I'm just going to pull and I'm going to stay right there because she's a little bit stiffer on this side. 

She's kind of pulling away. So for me that makes me think that this dog's probably a little bit stiff on that side. When we went towards the right the first direction, she could bend all the way around like a pretzel. But when we're going towards the left, she's giving me a little hesitation.

When you're dealing with an adult dog, an older dog, take that into consideration, especially if your dog is a really strong worker and they want to do it like Uli's heart is in this, but she's giving me hesitation on that side. That to me says she might have a little bit of weakness. Maybe she's a little bit stiff in there. Let's back it off and scale it a little bit. So that's what you should be thinking about with a senior dog is what can we do to make it better? Can we scale it if we need to? So I'm going to try that hard side one more time and then we're going to stop the stretch and we're going to go into the trick.

Now that we've stretched out both sides, let's make a trick. Spin. So it's the same thing as that lure, but now you're not pressing on the hips. You're not bringing their hip back and stretching them. You're trying to just fade the lure. Give it a try, spin. Good. And then the other direction. Twist.

Question: What do I do if my dog keeps sitting down?

So if your dog is sitting down, it's probably because you're luring too high. Get lower and just lower their head down towards the ground a little bit more. They're using opposing muscles. The muscles that allow your dog to sit happen when the head goes up and back. So if the dog's head is down, physically it's really, really very difficult for them to sit. It's easy for them to lie down, but it's difficult for them to sit. So if you're working and your dog is sitting, just lower their head down a little bit and make the lure lower.

 

Question: If my dog is older, is jumping detrimental to their hips?

I'm not a vet, but I think you have to think about who your dog is and what their physical prowess is now. Like my dog is 13 but she's still very, very active. So I do still allow her to do some light jumping and if you're on a carpeted surface you're probably okay with that. We don't do agility anymore. That's probably too much jumping. So I think if they're jumping high or jumping on a surface that is slippery, you could get into some trouble there. 

 

Question: What if my dog isn't treat motivated?

So if you have a dog that's not particularly food motivated, you can use a toy or a ball with this too. So I've done spin with a tugger like a rope tug where you tug, tug, tug, tug, tug, tug, tug and then you lure their head around with the rope just like you would lure around with a treat. A lot of times for the foundations for teaching it, you want to get a treat because it's very palatable. You can deliver it really quickly and you can keep delivering more. So treats are the easiest way to do it, but if you don't have a terribly food motivated dog, a toy like a ball or a rope or something like that will work.

If you have a dog that is more ball motivated than food, and I have one of these two, he's in the house. I didn't use him for this one. What I did with him to teach this trick is I started it with food and then I finished it with the ball. So I taught the lure around with a piece of food. Once he knew it, once I could say spin and he would do it, I would say spin and then he'd get a ball toss instead of the food.

The reason I don't use ball motivated dogs for a lot of these videos is because it takes a little bit of time to regenerate the dog and get them back to work again. Like if I get one repetition of spin and then I have to throw the ball, he needs to go fetch it, drop it before he spins again. So again, it's a lot easier if you can use food, but you can 100% use other motivations too, yeah. All right, let's go on to our second trick now that we've done spin.

Take a Bow

Our second trick we're going to do is called Take a Bow. And take a bow is a dorsal stretch. So if you think about the spine and the muscles that go down along the spine, this is going to stretch those out. It's also going to stretch the dog's hamstrings out. Here's how you teach it:

This one is a little bit trickier to teach, but you're going to be able to do it. So we're going to start the dog in a stand and you're crouched down for this one. Again, you've got your food. And we are going to lure down and back for this. So the reason you lure back is because if you lure down and out, that becomes a down. But down and back, will teach the dog to keep their hips up.  And before their back goes down, pull the treat forward. So ready, down, back and up.

If you have a dog like Uli that continues to lay down, you are going to switch sides here. You are going to take your hand underneath and you're just going to kind of hover it there. So you don't want to lift up on your dog's hips. Because if you lift up on your dog's hips, they're going to like, "Whoa, what are we doing here?" You just want to have that hand and you can like tickle a little. But a lot of times dogs are so sensitive that the presence of your hand down there will make them keep those hips up. Come on, let's try again. 

Question: If your dog has hip dysplasia, is this going to cause it pain?

I don't think this is going to cause dogs with hip dysplasia a ton of hip pain. I am not a vet though. So you're going to ask your vet that question and more importantly, you are going to read your dog's body language. So just like that last exercise we did where I noticed that my dog bend really easily to one side and didn't bend to the other side, I wasn't going to force her into a deep bend when her body wasn't ready for it.

So even if you're doing this sort of like downward dog, take a bow, even if you just get your dog's head down and they don't go back into their hips as much, this is still a good stretch for their entire back and their hamstrings. So a modification for this exercise would be for your dog to stand and just bring their head down to the ground and back through their paws.

So again, your dog is going to be the best indicator of if they are sore or if they're in pain. Is your dog a stoic dog who doesn't show pain until he's really hurt? Or is he a dog that you know, if one hair's out of place, he's going to let you know. But if you can get some of these gentle stretches, it is more than likely helpful. 

Sit Up

This is an exercise that helps strengthen our dog's core muscles. So we all need to strengthen our cores. It's the human equivalent of doing planks. So this will be us doing 30-second planks. 

So sit up is especially helpful if they hold it, because you're asking the dog to bunch all of their ab muscles together, pull their shoulders back and rise up through their hips. Again, it does strengthen the back a little bit, but this is all core. So this is like a dog doing a plank. When you're teaching, sit up, you want the dog in a sit position with their hips staying on the ground.

This is not about the dogs standing up on their toes to reach the treat. This is a core strength exercise that really asks them to control everything up here and rise up. Your lure with the treat is up and back, but it's not straight up because straight up the dog's going to jump. We don't want that. So keep that treat super tied in on the nose, up and back, and just have them go in for one or two seconds.

If you do have a dog that is standing up on their hips, your treat is probably too high. Get that down. And it's almost like you're giving a heel of the hand or upper cut almost when you're luring this. So it's up and back. And if your dog's getting that pretty quickly, you're going to start to add a little bit of a stay. And you're going to add a little bit of duration into this. 

Uli's always been just sort of a very strong dog. So this was not a hard one for her to learn. My other dog's like a string bean, he's long, he's thin, he doesn't have a lot of muscle tone. When I taught him this, it looked like a tree in the breeze. He'd get up and he'd sort of like wobble around. He had to build it. Now he's pretty good at it, but you have to work on it. If your dog does not have a lot of natural core strength, they can get it. You just have to practice it. So just practice it for one second at a time.

But you'll find some dogs just kind of pop up like a chipmunk and can hold this forever. If you have that dog... I like to sort of add a little whimsy into this and I'll ask them for something they already know. Can you do your paws?

It's really great for engaging those legs and engaging those hips. Again, if your dog has hip problems, you want to think about it before doing something like this. But all dogs can do this core strength exercise. Think about doing on a carpeted floor instead of a hard or shiny floor. Because again, your dog has a tendency to sort of spin out. We don't want that, especially with a senior dog.

This one is probably the most intense exercise that we're going to do in this class. So again, if you've got a dog who's really not very fit or is very stiff, stick to those first two and then add this one in as your dog gets more fit. But if you've got a dog who's like Uli, who as a senior doesn't have a lot of restrictions, there's no reason you shouldn't be doing all of these stretches every day to keep them nice and pliable.

If you're interested in one-on-one training sessions, reach out to Nicole at Philly Unleashed

And, be sure to join us on Facebook Live Wednesday, April 29th at 3pm EDT for our next Doggy Brain Games session! 

 

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6 Ways to Keep Your Big Dog Agile

Good Exercises for a Dog With Hip Dysplasia

Shannon Wells

Big Barker's Content Director 🐾