At home dog obstacle courses are a fun, easy way to increase your dog’s physical and emotional confidence! Offering our dogs an opportunity to use their bodies and brains is a perfect activity on those days where they have extra energy to burn, or for those pups who experience stress when going out into the world and could use a confidence boost!
When determining what obstacles to offer your dog, safety should be the first thing considered. Obstacles should be unlikely to fall over or slide around, potentially frightening or injuring our pets. We also want to make sure that we’re only asking dogs to jump over obstacles that are placed on flooring that provides grip and traction, so they are not slipping as they take off and land. For these games, jumps should only be the height of their wrists, or lower. Repetitive jumping over high obstacles puts pressure on joints that is not necessary for these purposes. Finally, if you are going to ask them to jump up onto an obstacle, it should be low enough that falling, slipping, or injuring themselves is unlikely.
A conservative approach would be to limit the height of objects to the height of your dog’s shoulders or elbows. The goal of this game is to build confidence and provide enrichment, not test the limits of their physical abilities, so focus on fun and functionality above all else! If your dog has a health condition that limits their ability to be physically active, please consult your veterinarian before doing any type of guided exercise or obstacle course.
Types of Obstacles
When choosing obstacles, pick out items that are easily found around the house. A broom set across a book on each end can make a great jump obstacle! A child’s play tunnel? A perfect tunnel for smaller dogs! A few couch cushions laid across the ground can be perfect for supporting your dog with walking confidently over new and uneven surfaces! A play cone? Teach your pup to walk around it! Use your imagination and embrace creativity as you play this game with your dog. For each round, aim to have 3-7 obstacles for your pup to navigate.
Introducing the Obstacles
You’ll want to keep in mind that novelty can be scary for dogs! Even obstacles that are a part of our normal environments can be strange for dogs when we change what context they are seeing them in. Because of this, once the items are set out, we will simply scatter a few treats around each of the obstacles. From there, we let the dogs decide. If they choose to fully approach, or walk over the obstacles without prompting, to get the treats and they seem unbothered, that’s great! They may also approach more cautiously, stretching their necks out to grab a treat or two, but not fully approach and not take all the treats. That is completely normal and fine as well!
If your pup is uncertain about the obstacles, you may try different obstacles, or you may have the first few sessions consist of just scattering treats around them and letting your pup explore independently. Be sure to never force your dog to interact with an obstacle.
Once they are comfortable approaching the obstacles, you can begin to lure them with a piece of food in your hand (i.e. use a treat in your hand to guide them). Make sure that you remember your pup will likely focus more on the treat in your hand than where they are going, so only direct the treat where you want their bodies to follow! In any given session, you may take them through the obstacle course a few times in a row, if they seem enthusiastic. Be sure to give them plenty of breaks and provide fresh water during play and training with your at home dog obstacle courses.
Going Forward with At Home Dog Obstacle Courses
Long-term, you may work towards your dog navigating the obstacles by your side independently and rewarding them with a treat afterwards. You can also increase the length of your obstacle courses, until your pup is navigating the entirety of the yard or living room as they work with you. Physical confidence in safe environments can have a positive, healthy impact on emotional confidence while out in the world. Remember, the aim is above all else, to give your dog an opportunity to be successful, earn reinforcement, and grow in their relationship with you. Have fun, be safe, and love your dog! If your pup attends a Central Bark location for Enrichment Day Care and boarding services, ask how Training Tutor can help build your dog’s confidence.
For more information about Central Bark, our doggy day care, boarding, training, grooming, and other services, visit centralbarkusa.com.