Balance is one of my favorite components of dog fitness training; it’s fun to teach and to share with others! Most dogs enjoy the physical and mental challenge of balance training as well making it fun for the dogs too!
There are many variables involved in balance and stabilziaiton training. These include:
Balance is learned, and any dog can do it. For some dogs it will be easy and very natural, others will have to work harder at achieving better balance - but every dog, and dogs of all ages, can improve their balance.
One of the easiest variables to categorize in balance work is the type of equipment being used for the dog's exercise. By categorizing the balance equipment we can provide a progression of increasing difficulty to continually increase the balance challenge.
Each piece of equipment will challenge your dog’s body and dog's fitness in a different way, but for ease of categorizing the equipment into levels, we have grouped pieces together. The grouping is based on how the equipment may affect the muscles, ligaments and joint capsules that need to strengthen when stabilizing your dog’s body during balance exercises.
While we group some equipment together to provide levels in our balance training, the equipment is not 100% interchangeable; even similar pieces of equipment will challenge your dog in slightly different ways. There is benefit to each and every piece of balance equipment. Exercises on a balance pad, a small disc and a giant disc may seem the same to you, but it is not the same to your dog’s body.
With balance equipment, the general progression is moving from the most stable to the least stable.
Stability is, in part, created by the width and the shape of the equipment. We look at the amount of instability as well as the direction of the instability or movement on that piece of equipment. For example, the K9Fitbone moves side to side but will roll forward and backward as well. And the K9FitBone can be approached from all directions changing it from wide to narrow.
More directions or planes of movement will be harder than one direction or plane of movement. Instability is also affected by inflation levels, but if we use the standard recommended inflation levels provided from the manufacturer, we can limit the variable of inflation and so attempt to classify balance equipment from most stable to least stable. Note that we didn’t say from easiest to hardest because balance is a learned behavior, so what is hard for one dog may not be as hard for another. And those other variables such as previous exposure to the equipment may play a role in whether the equipment is easy or hard for your dog.
We also did not mention anything about the height of the equipment. The height of the equipment as compared to the height of the dog can pull in elements of resistance training. (We use resistance training using body weight when we are doing strength training for dogs. Read how muscles really get stronger here.)
With so many variables, balance training is a never ending playground of fun and exercise for dogs!