For the third and final segment of the 'Walk This Way To a Happier Dog' (the importance of groundwork exercises), I want to stress the importance of exposing your dog to new and novel surfaces to walk on. This may not sound like a big deal, but it can be! This is part of groundwork-working with your dog on slow, purposeful walking through cones, over obstacles like cavaletti and finally, walking on various unique surfaces.
I have seen dogs refuse to walk on strange surfaces simply because they haven't been exposed to many. These are dogs that live in a relatively bland environment, may not go on many walks and may be very limited in the time they explore outside. Having your dog walk on various surfaces-slippery, moving, gritty, wet, etc. can build confidence and focus. This exposure also helps improve sensory integration, balance and proprioception, or awareness of the position of their body.
Try a variety of surfaces and objects and guide your dog on leash to walk over them carefully and at a pace that is comfortable for your dog. If he shows some anxiety, you may want to offer a treat for first touching, then stepping on, then walking across the surface that upsets him. At our facility, we have a 'Fumble Mat' which is an ever-changing collection the dogs are asked to walk over. We have bath mats, car mats, bubble wrap, crumpled craft paper, plastic sheeting.... anything and everything we can find that will feel strange, sound strange and look strange to our dog students. With guidance and positive feedback, even our most timid dogs are willing to try these exercises and often graduate to being able to walk across the 'Fumble Mat' on their own, with one of us on each end encouraging the dog to keep going.
If you want to add to the challenge, you can try adding wobbly or moving surfaces (which can be helpful for dogs who ride in a car and become nervous with a "moving" seat). You can create your own wobble board out of materials you have around the house: a rolled up towel can serve as the base of your board and a scrap piece of plywood can serve as the board your dog will stand on (just be sure you sand down any rough surfaces!). Start with a board that barely moves and you can gradually add to the 'wobble' factor. You can find inexpensive balance discs online that not only help with groundwork but are also wonderful for building your dog's core strength!
So have some fun working with your dog on exposure to new and novel surfaces. You'll be helping your dog gain confidence, improve focus and encouraging him to think. Just keep it fun, do not pressure your dog into doing anything he refuses to do,
and reward all attempts at trying new things!