We talk a lot about ‘weight shifting’ in the K-9 Fitness world, but just what is it?
The best way to answer that question is to show you, so let’s go! Stand up—yup, you—with your legs shoulder width apart. Now look up by tilting your head back. You should feel the transfer of weight onto your heels — that would be like a dog lifting its head and increasing the weight on its hind limbs.
Head lifting, weight shifting…
Next, rock forward onto the balls of your feet and stay there for five seconds. And rock back onto your heels without moving your feet. Hold that position for five seconds. As you go forward you will feel your toes grip the ground, and as you rock back, your toes will want to come up. This is similar to a dog’s weight being shifted front legs to hind legs, as you encourage them to stretch and release.
Remain standing, and keeping your head in a neutral position, rock your weight from the right leg to the left leg without moving your feet. Feel the muscles on the inside or outside of your legs contract? Those are your adductors and abductors that assist with lateral movement.
Key to these exercises is keeping your feet in one place, right? So, it follows that the key for weight shifting your dog correctly and effectively is teaching him/her to stand still. Remember, “The Importance of Standing…Still”?
Learning to keep all four feet in place is truly the foundation for canine weight shifting exercises – literally and physically! It’s one of the five basic ground exercises we advocate to begin a canine fitness program, and as you can see, there’s good reason for that. Your dog should be able to stand squarely and still for ten seconds, progressing to longer time periods.
When you rocked back and forth and side to side, you used muscles to keep your balance and to keep your feet from moving. Those are core muscles—abdominal primary core and leg secondary core muscles. Your dog will also use its core and postural muscles to maintain stability when something occurs to disrupt its balance.
Once your dog has learned to stand still, there are several ways you can facilitate weight shifting.
You can do it manually by placing one hand, palm flat on each of the dog’s hips, and gently rocking the hind end back and forth. Initially, you want to feel the dog’s muscles working to maintain balance. It’s a slow, subtle, continuous motion and reaction. Eventually, as the dog strengthens, it will often push against your rocking motion. This same technique can be done to the forequarters of the dog by placing the flat of your hand on its shoulders and rocking back and forth.
You can lure your dog’s head slowly from side-to-side using a treat or toy. You can encourage your dog to stretch forward and down, then release back to a neutral stance with food, as well.
You can ask your dog to target/touch your hand or an object that you move from side to side or up and down, while keeping its feet in place.
Once the dog has progressed to weight shifting on equipment, such as our Infinity, you can gently move the Infinity (bumping it with your knee, rolling it slightly forward and back) to create motion so that the dog must use core muscles to maintain balance.
Weight shifting is a simple, low impact way for most dogs to build core strength, balance and body awareness. It’s also a great way to interact with your K9 BFF, hands on, training behaviors and having fun!