Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Puppy Development: Helping a Pup Find Balance


Puppy Development ImageThis puppy is one of the worst cases I’ve seen. To put it mildly, his puppy development is seriously delayed.

The first day I met him, right after he arrived in his new home, he did a lot of collapsing in the grass. I noted it but thought he might be tired or fighting with the leash, which was brand new. He had a hard time going down stairs, but that was not unusual.

But as I spent more time, I got the full picture. He truly did not know where his feet were. He ran awkwardly, if at all – more like a baby rhino than a pup. He did tip over a lot and, in fact, keeled right off a curb like a felled tree. My guess is he comes from some form of puppy mill; raised in a wire-bottomed box that he never left.

His veterinarian found him to be healthy so what this pup needed was help. Right away. The following are three of the things we did. Please note: all this work on a wide, flat collar or an adjustable harness and a four-foot leash so I could steady him as needed.

Slope Walking

Walking up and down slopes is a place to start. Even a mild slope is a challenge. Even more of a challenge? Cross slope walking and diagonals. Those demand that the brain cope with all four feet being at slightly different distances with awareness to pull it off without a tip over.

Uneven Ground

I have an area of largish rock in my yard – about the size of bricks all tumbled and uneven. Walking across those – as the rocks shift slightly and every footfall is different – is both hugely demanding and very beneficial. We persist quietly with time and treats and encouragement. In one day he is much more skilled at this. Walking in sand, gravel or through shallow water would have a similar effect.

SKILZ balance board
Balance Board

I use a balance board (a SKILZ shown here)  myself to work daily on my balance; now he does, too. I put his front paws on it, one hand securely under his chest and stroke him with the other – shifting him slightly as I do. All small movements. Safe, risk-free but demanding. This asks the brain over and over again – adjust, catch yourself, where are you in space? Fantastic for both of us.

My reward? This morning, while he was romping, he leapt a tiny bit as he did his slo-mo version of a FRAP. Leapt and landed in stride like any happy puppy/baby rhino mix. That’s an improvement. His brain is catching up.

I stand watching him with a smile. It doesn’t get better than this.

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