By Lauren Tobin | Updated: April 23 2019
I’m so excited to be teaching laterals in this month’s Canine Gym At Home blog post. Laterals (a sideways, “shuffle, step-together-step-together” kind of movement where the dog’s spine stays straight) is one of my FAVORITE exercises to teach in our Canine Gym Class.
Our dogs’ focus and movement is primarily forward. Rarely do dogs back up on their own, and they almost NEVER step side to side. Think about it: Do you ever see your dog walking side to side?! Probably not. (And if you did, you’d probably rush him to the vet!). But we do want him to have the flexibility and strength in the areas responsible for lateral movement, and to do that, we have to teach your dog how to sidestep on command. This FULL BODY workout will strengthen the dog’s proprioception, abductors and adductors, core, and shoulder strength!
NOTE: Make sure your dog has some rear awareness before working on laterals (see our Pivoting blog). If your dog doesn’t have a pivot, you can still work on laterals, but it may be a little more challenging.
Position two mats parallel about 3-5 feet apart. The mats are a great target for your dog to help them understand the movement.
Start with the dog on the mat on your left side in heel position. Have treats in your right hand and turn YOUR body 90 degrees towards the dog (your toes are pointed at the dogs shoulders).
Put the treats in front of your dog’s nose as a lure, and take a tiny step into the dog. Don’t physically push or run into the dog, just use spatial pressure.
This will cause your dog to take a lateral step with one of his left paws (front or rear). The second your dog takes a step, say “yes” and give him a treat, then continue to apply spatial pressure as you keep the treats in front of his nose.
Whenever he moves laterally, reward with a treat.
You want to try and get the front and the rear to move AT THE SAME TIME. Make sure to move slowly and pause between steps (initially), to make sure he can keep up.
Make sure to do the same thing on the right side!
If your dog’s back feet aren’t moving, make sure your shoulders are pointed in the direction that you would like your dog to go to. Keep your treats close to your outside leg, and if you need to, you can move your foot toward your dog’s rear foot to encourage him to step away from you.
Another way you can teach a lateral step is with a hand target!
Have your dog hold a sustained hand target while in heel position, and move one step.
Gradually increase to three steps to the left, and then do three to the right.
Your dog has never moved this way before, so it’s mentally and physically tiring for him. It’s just like when you first started working out!
It’s VERY important to warm up your dog before a workout. A simple 15 minute walk (inside or outside) will loosen and warm up his muscles.
Our “Warm Up And Stretches” blog is coming soon, and we’ll teach you more fun ways to stretch your dog.
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Lauren has her Animal Sciences degree from Penn State University. During college, she worked with both domestic and wild animals, and volunteered at a Wildlife Rehabilitation Center for 4 years of college and even interned at Central Park Zoo. She is a Certified Dog Trainer from IACP and is a Certified Canine Athlete Advisor for Canine Conditioning. She also holds her CGC/CGCA Evaluator for the AKC.