Bashir tests his balance on
the wobble board.
I was cleaning and organizing my garage recently, sorting through things to donate or throw away, and had some boxes and items piled up. As I turned to add to the pile, I saw my sixteen months old puppy, Bones, calmly perched on top of the pile. Even though the items were wobbly, he was happy to sit there and watch me.
Although I picked him up and placed him back on the floor, I also had to laugh. After all, I was the one who taught him to try new things. During puppyhood I introduced him to the wobble board and that showed him uncertain footing need not be scary.
The Wobble Board
The wobble board is a flat board large enough for your dog to stand on with all four paws. You will need another small board – a twelve inch long piece of two by four or four by four is great – and then a rubber ball that squishes a little bit with pressure.
To introduce the board, place it flat on the ground. Let your dog investigate it. Use a small treat in front of your dog’s nose and lead him on to the board. When your dog takes a step or two onto it, praise him, “Sweetie, walk up. Good boy!” and give him the treat. After a few steps on the board, encourage him to walk across the whole board. Be generous with your praise and treats. Before you stop for this training session, encourage him to jump up and down, spin circles, and dance on the flat board. Praise him and give him the treat. “Yeah! Good dog!”
For the next training session, rest one end of the board on the piece of two by four or four by four. Make sure the board is propped up securely so it won’t slip and startle your dog. Introduce it as you did when it was flat on the ground, starting with your dog stepping on the low end and eventually walking up to the higher end. Keep this fun – not serious – and if your dog hesitates, begin again at the first training steps.
When your dog is confidant with the slanted board, then remove the small board that is under one end. Place the rubber ball under the flat board. Begin with the ball in the middle of the board, but the exact location isn’t important as it will move around. The ball will cause the board to move as your dog steps on it. The ball will squish and roll, and the board will move with it. This will create an entirely new learning experience for your dog, so be ready for it. Have good treats in your pocket and be ready to encourage and praise your dog.
Introduce it as you did the previous board exercises. When your dog feels the board move under his paws he may startle and jump off the board - and that’s okay. Let him investigate the board again, reward him for checking it out, and then encourage him to step on the board again.
As he gains confidence, encourage your dog to move around on the board. As the board moves and the ball squishes and rolls, your dog will need to adjust his movements and stature to cope with it. Not only is this fun, but the skills your dog learns can be used throughout his life.
In the Real World
When your dog has mastered the wobble board and is confidant with his ability to balance with the board moving under his paws, then find some other things for him to walk on. My dogs and I walk at our local harbor on the docks that go up and down with the waves. Manhole covers in the street often shift and wobble. Kids’ playgrounds often have toys that move.
There are all kinds of things that move and are accessible to your dog. Teach each of these in the same manner that you taught the wobble board. In addition, obviously, keep your dog safe.
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