While some dogs seem to be complete naturals with Agility, they’ve likely had extensive training. An Agility course exposes dogs to a variety of obstacles, many of which require the dog to go far outside their comfort zone.
The Seesaw (Teeter), for example, really tests the dog’s balance and ability to maintain control on an unsteady and moving surface. Training on a Wobble Board can be a huge help when preparing a dog for different areas in Agility.
What is a dog Agility Wobble Board? A Wobble Board is a simple tool used to train balance and Agility with dogs. As the name implies, it is just a board that rests atop an unstable base. For instance, it might be as simple as a flat board with a hard plastic or wooden ball on the bottom. While Wobble Boards come in various sizes and shapes, circular boards are most commonly used with dogs.
Here’s one of the top-rated wobble boards out there…
How Is A Wobble Board Used?
An unstable board might not seem very useful, but it is. By standing on this surface, you force the dog to correct their balance and footing so as to avoid falling. Not only does this help your dog to develop their balance, but it also reduces any fear that they might have. It is perfectly natural for an animal to be nervous about an unstable surface, but this instinct can be overcome.
Wobble Boards are sometimes used for humans, particularly for purposes of physical therapy. In this study, a patient with Asperger’s syndrome was trained to use a Wobble Board in an effort to increase general motor control and coordination.
Wobble Boards have a long history of use in physical therapy, and over time they have been known by several different names. “Balance Board” is probably the most common term for this type of training equipment. “Rocker Board” is another common name, although this usually denotes a specific type of design.
Purpose and Benefits
In the context of canine Agility training, the Wobble Board has one primary function: To prepare a dog for the Seesaw. As you may know, one of the standard exercises for an Agility course is a Seesaw (or teeter-totter). The dog should walk up one side, and when they pass the middle point the board will dip and lower the dog to the ground.
Since most dogs will not perform this trick on the first try, it is helpful to use the Wobble Board as a first-step exercise. By doing this, the dog learns that wobbly surfaces are not as scary as they thought. If you do everything correctly, your dog should see this as a fun activity.
The effectiveness of the Wobble Board is not strictly limited to teeter training. There are quite a few standard Agility exercises that require balance, and the Wobble Board is likely to improve performance for all of these obstacles.
How To Introduce A Wobble Board
When you first begin using a Wobble Board, don’t try to go for big results on day one. A slow training process will have a much greater impact on the dog’s long-term behavior, so don’t be afraid to start slowly.
However, you can’t do any of this stuff until you acquire the Wobble Board itself. You could go ahead and purchase one of the many versions that are commercially available, but it is a lot cheaper to make your own. There are a huge number of DIY Wobble Board designs online, mostly because the commercial versions are a bit pricey. Some of the more high-end Wobble Boards can be priced as high as $100 or even more.
Wobble Board Exercises For Beginners
As we said earlier, it is very important to treat this kind of training as a process rather than a single exercise. As such, we have divided up the process into three distinct phases.
Phase One: Acclimation
Lay the Wobble Board on the ground in front of your dog. Place one or both of your feet underneath the edges of the board. This will prevent it from moving and scaring your dog away. When your feet are underneath the board, it will tilt and wobble a little bit, but not enough to dump the dog to the ground.
You may need to use dog treats, a clicker, or some other kind of reward in order to get the dog started. There will likely be some confusion in your dog’s mind when you first place this board in front of them. By using rewards, as well as common commands, you must help the dog to understand what is expected of them.
If your dog shows no fear of the wobbly surface, your job will likely be a little bit easier. You can increase the challenge by partly pulling your foot away, increasing the wobble without allowing it to achieve maximum tip. This will give the dog a little bit of a “curveball” and allow them to progress to the next level.
Phase Two: Unassisted Use
The method for this phase will be very similar to the method you employed in phase one. However, this time you will refrain from using your feet to limit the motion of the board. The whole point of this phase is to build up your dog’s confidence and appeal to their natural desire to please their master.
Phase Three: The Balance Game
Once your dog has the hang of this exercise, it’s time to make it fun. Begin by using a treat to lead your dog onto the Wobble Board. Use the “stay” command to keep them on the board. This command tells them that they need to hold their position in order to be rewarded. Repeat the command gently, every few seconds.
Allow the dog to move around on the Wobble Board, but scold them and tell them “no” if they step off the board. Follow this up by sticking the treat in their pocket so that the dog sees it’s no longer being offered. Don’t pull it back out until the dog is back on the board.
Use a stopwatch (every mobile phone has one) to time your dog and see how long they can stay on the board. This will give you a way to measure your progress. Reward the dog at the end of the game, or whenever they break their previous record.
Here’s A Wobble Board In Action
Top 4 Wobble Boards To Buy
As stated earlier, most people should be able to make a Wobble Board. However, it is worth taking a quick look at the commercially available boards so that you can get some ideas. It should be noted that all three of these products are meant for humans, but will work fine for most dogs.
1. FitPAWS Giant Rocker Board
As mentioned above, this is one of the most popular wobble/rocker boards for dogs because of its size and usability.
It can easily accommodate Medium to Large dogs thanks to its 30-in square design.
2. Day 1 Fitness Wooden Balance Board
This is easily the most typical design for a balance board. The whole thing consists of a round platform, with a rounded plastic bottom. The support is placed directly in the middle and is not flexible or collapsible. It comes highly rated and is available on Amazon.
This is a very sturdy Wobble Board, made of thick plywood and solid plastic. The surface is covered in a gritty liner that provides excellent traction. This product is almost as cheap as the DIY option.
3. Strongtek Wooden Rocker Board
This is a good example of a “rocker” board. Unlike most models, which use a rounded surface in the middle of the board, this one works more like a rocking chair. As such, it does work a little more smoothly.
At the same time, it also means that the board can only move in two directions. This means that the range of motion is lessened, making it easier to balance on this type of board. This one is a good fit for beginners and you can get it on Amazon.
One good thing about this board is that it maintains a little more contact with the ground. Both the top and bottom surfaces are covered in a non-skid liner to prevent the board from sliding out of place during use. However, this type of board does have one downside.
Can you make your own Wobble Board?
Yes. In fact, making your Wobble Board is a good way to save money. However, you must take care and make sure that the board is sturdy enough to hold up over time. A poorly-made board could prevent a safety hazard.
What is the best dog Agility obstacle to start with?
The answer to this question will vary slightly with each dog. Just like humans, dogs have different skills and aptitudes, and no two are alike. That being said, the raised Dog Walk is probably the least intimidating of the standard exercises and the least complex.
Wrapping Things Up…
Not only is the Wobble Board a great way to train your dog for Agility competition, but it also gives your dog a way to have fun with you. Remember: A dog does not understand the concept of “training,” but they do understand the concept of having fun with their master. Keep this in mind, and your training sessions will go from being a chore to being a reward in and of themselves.