Purpose: This Head Nods exercise introduces the important concept of keeping feet still while moving your other parts. It also begins the process of teaching weight shifting via a shift in the pup’s center of gravity.
Heavily rewarding this behavior prevents the pup from rehearsing “dancing feet”, teaches impulse control, and reinforces proper alignment/biomechanics. This is also a great exercise to help the EXPERIENCED DOG who has “busy feet”, or lacks individual limb awareness. The Teaching Stillness: Beginner exercises takes this concept one step further, putting the stillness itself on cue.
Equipment: 2 balance Bars or 2 sitting platforms
Targets: This exercise begins to challenge body awareness, core stability, and the proprioceptive sense by moving the head/shifting the pup’s center of gravity. Using “balance bars”, spaced at a distance appropriate for your pup’s proportions, will help guide your pup’s limbs into proper alignment (front legs vertically aligned under the shoulder and hocks vertical). Make sure to reward heavily for proper foot placement, mark/reward proper foot positioning/repositioning with your marker word or clicker, and try to be consistent with your criteria for that session. When in doubt, reward and reset to avoid confusion and frustration.
My criteria for this session was…
1. All 4 feet on the balance bars
2. Feet in (more or less) symmetrical alignment on the median plane (not one foot more forward than the other)
3. I decided to let go of symmetry on the transverse plane and allow some “crabbing” (rear feet to the right/left of the front feet) for now
4. Following the lure without stepping off the balance bars, but some foot movement/repositioning was acceptable. Especially if it was moving toward more correct alignment
5. Having a well thought out criteria keeps ROR high, prevents “over asking”, and keeps things consistent for both the handler and pup.
Watchpoints: When introducing the lure / “horizontal head nods”, it’s important to use smooth mechanics, keeping the deviation from neutral conservative, and watch your pup’s feet! Any stepping off the balance bars means you’re…
Asking for more core/shoulder/hip stability than your pup has
Asking for more impulse control than your pup has
Moving the lure too quickly
Not moving smoothly
NOTE: As your pup grows, the distance between the balance bars will change, different work will be required from growing muscles and bones. Make sure to spend a few repetitions allowing your pup to “figure out” where their new body is, as it’s likely to be different than the last attempt at this exercise.
Necessary Prerequisite Skills:
- Following a cookie in the hand
- Following a tossed cookie
- Only once your pup is fluent in the prerequisites, is it fair to ask for a “combination” of those pieces, as is demonstrated in this exercise.