The Cavaletti is a series of obstacles, normally identical obstacles, that are arranged in sequential order on after the other, and that permits the dog (or horse) to move from one obstacle to the next in a walk for beginners, and as the dog progresses to a slight trot.
Using a cavaletti is not only really fun, but it can teach the dog several important elements.
I like to use the cavaletti with my own dogs or client’s dogs to teach them how to move with ease. In order for the dog to move without hitting the (pvc) pipe that is lying horizontally, they must pick their leg and paw high enough to clear it. Of course, at the very beginning of the training, the pipe can be very low; this measurement depending on the height of the dog or on the ground for puppies or dogs with mobility issues. As the dog improves and has gotten some stamina, yes my dogs are panting some after a few of these reps, we can raise the poles slightly so that now the dog has to lift even higher as well as extend in order to clear the pole.
Not only is the dog learning to walk with ease in mobility, it is also learning to walk – or in more advance cases – trot with correct extension. As you can appreciate, this will not only prove to be a more efficient way of walking or running, but it can provide a gentle stretch to the dog’s limb and shoulder.
A second application of the Cavaletti is the focus that it requires from the dog to perform. We want the dog to start at the first obstacle and move with intention through all of them, turn when directed and start again.
There are, of course, many ways to teach a novice dog how to do this.
One of the things that I do whenever I teach dogs to work on a piece of equipment is to pair the equipment itself and the activity with really tasty stuff. I want to make sure the dog looks forward to working with the equipment, instead of fearing the experience. In fact, this is the way I want to teach pretty much anything!
I begin by tossing tasty morsels between the obstacle and just having the dog step over the pipe in order to retrieve the goody. If the dog appears comfortable doing this and without hesitation, I will not stay at this level for too long for several reasons:
- I do not want the dog looking at the ground searching for food as this will put its body in a compromised position for the exercise.
- Remember I mentioned the importance of “intentionality”? What I want is a dog that is moving on both a vertical plane (to and extend) as well as a horizontal one. If the dog is looking down, the dog compromises the horizontal/ extension related movement.
- If you are wanting to work on focus now the focus of the dog is on the ground and not very helpful if I need the dog to watch a hand cue to go into another piece of equipment.
The next progression is one where I can begin to walk with the dog on the side from one end of the cavaletti to the next, making sure that I do not lure the dog by fussing with the treats, put a treat in front of its nose in order to get him to move forward because he wants the food. This is how much of agility is taught by the way. I personally do not like to teach it this way as it can very easily put the dog in conflict: I want the food but I am afraid of “x”.
The next step I move towards once the dog is getting the treat at the end of one side is to stop moving with the dog and just stand in the middle of the cavaletti and to the side. At this point I can ask the dog to continue to move forward with a verbal cue and pay by throwing one treat at the end of the last obstacle.
In no time and if this was trained properly, we can dispense from using food as a reinforcer as the exercise itself is reinforcing for the dog. Dogs in general really like movement, so it is rare that a dog will not enjoy the cavalleti.
While it does sound simple and fun to work with the cavaletti, there are certain requirements that we need to keep in mind:
- The distance between the poles has to be the same between the obstacles. In other words, the gap from one pole to the next must be the same. In order to determine what is the appropriate distance between the poles we need to consider the natural gait of the dog.
- In order to determine the natural gait of the dog, take a measurement of your dog from the dog’s front toes to back toes.
- Make sure your dog’s topline remains parallel to the ground. Some dogs of equal height and weight might have a different gait so do not assume just based on this if you are working with more than one dog at a time.
- Find a way to secure the cones that support the pipe so that they remain in place otherwise you will be re-adjusting all the time.
- Do keep in mind that there is a cardiovascular component to doing this which means that your dog must work up its level of fitness.
- Go slow to make it safe and fun for your dog and make sure that your dog is getting some rest periods while moving in between reps. By reps I mean going all the way through in one direction. I like to set up at least 5 obstacles in a row and for dogs that are more advanced, I would set 10.
- Be super mindful in doing this exercise with young puppies and young dogs.
- For young puppies keep the duration to a maximum of 4 reps (4 obstacles) at once with breaks in between sets and having the puppy engaged in another different activity in between sets. This activity should include movement as it is not advisable to go from mobility to immobility back to back. A good option is a leash walk to return for the next rep in the cavaletti.
- For dogs under two years of age, and even three years of age for the giant breeds, we must also ensure the dog is moving on the horizontal plane and with just the correct elevation. I ask you to check with your vet, so that you can verify what is the optimal height for your dog. Do not skip this step! In order for your dog to develop appropriately, we must take into consideration the stage of their growth plates as to not compromise the future structure of your dog’s skeletal and musculature systems.