So now that we've convinced you that groundwork is important for helping your dog build confidence and gain body awareness, we're going to look at another great groundwork activity: cavaletti (or walking over poles).
A cavaletti is a group of poles, often raised, that can help with building confidence and body awareness in your dog. Cavaletti consists of 5-10 poles laid out on the ground, equal distances apart. The rule of thumb is the distance between each bar should be equal to the height of your dog at the shoulders. When starting cavaletti, keep the poles on the ground and gradually raise as your dog becomes more confident on the course. Cavaletti are meant to be used as a groundwork activity-the dog should not use them as hurdles or a broad jump.
With your dog on-leash, have your dog walk over the poles in a row. This will challenge your dog to develop balance and perception, and to strengthen his ability to stretch, lift, and use all 4 legs in a more accurate manner. These exercises can also help dogs that are easily distracted and lose focus, can help improve stride length and can help settle reactive or hyperactive dogs.
The picture shows cavaletti poles you can buy from a dog agility site, such as www.affordableagility.com, but you can be creative and use almost anything as cavaletti: mop or broom handles, bamboo poles, even PVC pipe (as long as it's light enough that it won't smash a toe).
Once your dog is walking comfortably over poles laid out in a row, you can increase the challenge by creating different patterns with the poles. Try putting a few poles on top of other poles so some are raised higher than others. Do not make them so high your dog feels like he has to jump over the poles-remember this is a calming, thoughtful exercise. Walk with your dog through the pattern at a pace that is comfortable for him. You can walk through this pattern several times, making a weaving pattern, leading in both directions, etc.
You can create a star pattern with the poles by putting one end of all the poles together and spreading out the other end of the poles so they are fanned out. An aerial shot would make the poles look like a fan or star laid out on the ground. Increase the challenge by raising one end of the poles and/or adding more poles to the pattern. Start by having your dog walk through the lower ends of the poles, then gradually have him move towards the raised ends to encourage him to lift his legs higher.
Using cavaletti exercises are a great way to help your dog learn awareness of his rear legs, increase confidence, and improve balance and coordination. And always remember the #1 rule: have fun with your dog!