For the next guide in our series on the Beginner’s Guide to Dog Agility, we’ll discuss cavaletti for dogs!
What in the world is a cavaletti? Well, cavaletti for dogs is a series of low poles that your dog can walk over. Training your dog to use cavaletti is our favorite place to start for dog agility. It’s low-impact, easy to set up, and can even help strengthen your dog’s limbs and joints.
We’ll walk you through the benefits of performing cavaletti, as well as common issues and fixes, how to make or buy different pieces of equipment. Whether you’re inside or outside, want to build a DIY cavaletti for dogs, or want to purchase good equipment, we’ve got you covered.
In case you missed the initial article, our Beginner’s Guide to Dog Agility has links to all of our guides on dog agility and is a great place to get started with your pup!
Benefits of cavaletti training
Cavaletti training has many benefits besides just doing a cool trick. A cavaletti is one of our recommendations for the first agility obstacles to try with your pup. It’s a much lower impact activity than some others, like dog agility jumps, easy to make, and can be helpful for your dog’s legs. Here are some of our favorite reasons to use a cavaletti for dogs!
Improve overall movement
Improving mobility is an often overlooked benefit of physical activity for your dog. By manipulating the positioning of the poles, you can force your dog to pay more attention to where their feet land. This can have tangible benefits of allowing your dog to change direction faster, utilize their back legs more, and generally have a better idea of what their limbs are doing. VCA Hospitals (our favorite pet health resource) has an article on exercises to improve proprioception, or your dog’s idea of what their limbs are doing.
For example, walking over taller poles slowly can help your dog improve their joints’ range of motion, decrease stiffness, and improve their balance and core strength. After a few misses, most dogs will figure out that they have to lift their legs over the poles and will start to gain an increased awareness of where their limbs are in space.
Similar to improving movement, using cavaletti for dogs can help increase muscle in your pup. By encouraging your dog to use their legs through a wider range of motion, you can help improve their strength. This is especially important for dogs who’ve had an injury that resulted in atrophy, like our Goomba. By using a cavaletti and some other exercises, we were able to get a significant improvement in his rear half muscle mass within a few months.
Decrease recovery time from surgery
One of the great things about cavaletti for dogs is that it is used as a physical therapy movement! Goomba went through 2 CCL (basically dog ACLs) surgeries a few years ago and had a lot of atrophy in his rear legs as a result of the injury. We didn’t know what the behavior was called at the time (we just called them pole-overs) but performed them frequently over about six months.
We credit his physical therapy post-surgery for his success in rebuilding his muscles and getting him back to playing in our backyard. Our primary veterinarian even commented on how much stronger his back half was at our first appointment after his surgeries!
We wrote a guide about helping CCL surgery recovery be as easy and efficient as possible. With surgery recovery, a little prep work can go a long way to making your dog’s recovery easier.
Some notes before getting started
Before we get started with using cavaletti for dogs, let’s review some important information.
We recommend trying to have any obstacle and your dog on a rug or carpet instead of vinyl or tile to help keep your dog from slipping. Outside this is less of an issue, but try to stay away from slick surfaces, uneven ground, or any other issues that would make it more difficult to complete the behavior safely.
As always, proceed carefully before starting any physical activity with your dog. If you are unsure if your dog can perform an activity, consult a relevant professional, trainer, or vet. This guide is for educational purposes based on our own experiences and what works for most pups, not all pups.
Teaching your dog the behavior
Fortunately, teaching cavaletti for dogs is easy and even possible to do without buying any extra equipment. All you’ll need to do to start is to lay some pole-shaped objects on the ground and have your dog walk over them. That’s it! We recommend grabbing relatively small items, such as wrapping paper, brooms, mops, or yard tools like shovels that can lay flat on the ground.
To get your dog to start performing the behavior, we will start with walking over these objects on the ground. Later, we can adjust spacing or height, but for now, we’re just trying to get your pup comfortable stepping over items. To complete this, feel free to lure or bribe your dog initially. After your dog is more comfortable with the behavior, phase out the lure or bribe.
Whenever your dog is reasonably comfortable with the cavaletti, you can begin elevating them, if that’s your goal. We recommend taking this slowly with small increases in height. We find this easiest with the Trixie cavaletti kit (Amazon) or another adjustable cavaletti. The Trixie set is affordable and capable of changing spacing, angles, and height to match whatever your goals are.
Remember to be patient with your dog as a lot of pups will prefer to go around instead of over, even if the obstacles are small. Good rewards and excitement from you will help expedite the learning process. Our dogs love this activity, and it is one of our favorite dog games to play inside!
Options for cavaletti for dogs
A cavaletti for dogs is an easy piece of equipment to rig up, create, or make, so we will have a few different options for you. We recommend trying a temporary option before building or buying a cavaletti in case you or your dog doesn’t enjoy doing them.
Based on our recommendations in the Teaching your dog the behavior section, any pole-shaped object can make a great start for cavaletti. We used a pair of brooms and a mop, which worked great! Anything will really work here though, including the aforementioned gift wrap, scrap pieces of wood or PVC, or anything else that’s rigid.
The reason we want them to be rigid so that we can change the height eventually by placing something under them. To elevate the obstacle, we can use almost anything. Some of our favorite items are yoga blocks, dumbbells, or small boxes. You may have to be creative, but almost everyone can put together a temporary cavaletti for dogs with little effort.
If you have a wire crate for your pup, you can also use the crate to hold whatever object you use as a pole. It’s easy to adjust the height, too, because you can use the rectangles of the crate and only have to support one side.
DIY Option 1 (Wood or Composite)
This is the system that we initially used for our DIY cavaletti for dogs, since Goomba was instructed by our veterinarian to perform what we referred to as “pole-overs” after his CCL surgery. It’s easy to make for yourself, too!
All you need is 2 scrap pieces of wood, composite, or any other similar material and some reflector poles like these. We’ll drill holes in the two pieces of wood or composite so that they can hold the reflector poles. We used composite trim scraps instead of wood because we left ours outside for a long time over winter.
Cut the wood or composite to an appropriate length to accommodate the pole spacing you want (ours was approximately 40 inches long and we placed 4 holes for poles in them). To make sure the spacing lined up (we’re both perfectionists) we held them in place with clamps when we drilled the holes. We drilled our holes at approximately 12-inch intervals, but you can adjust yours for whatever size pup you have. Smaller dogs don’t need the poles to be as high or as spaced out as larger dogs. After that, simply slide the poles into the holes.
We had extra garden edgers around, so we used those to change the height, but the $1 pavers from Lowe’s work perfectly if you want to leave it outside. If that isn’t an option, yoga blocks work great for indoor use and other scrap materials work great for outside, if you want something light and free.
One of the main reasons we liked this was that it stores easily and is light. Slide out the cavaletti poles and you just need to find a home for the 2 wood or composite pieces and poles.
DIY Option 2 (Velcro)
If you don’t have access to tools, or simply don’t want to bother with using them, our velcro option for a DIY cavaletti for dogs is perfect for you. You only need 3 supplies to make your own lightweight cavaletti! Here’s the list:
- Plastic cones (link to Amazon) – Anything that can be used as a support for a bar is fine, we liked cones because they are light, easy to store, and cheap
- Velcro strips (here are the ones we got from Amazon) – We find velcro the easiest to use for having removable bars
- Bar (we used 0.5 inch PVC from Lowe’s) – Anything works here, but PVC is cheap, light, and durable
No adhesives, tools, or other supplies required. All you have to do is put the adhesive velcro on one side of the cone and the other on whatever you are using as a bar! It’s easy to adjust the height, stores easily, and cheap to make! Ours cost a little over $20 because we ordered it online and have the supplies for two sets, but you can probably find all of the supplies at a local store for cheaper.
Our favorite cavaletti for dogs option is the Trixie Cavaletti set (Chewy, Amazon). It’s affordable (about $35), collapses into a nice storage bag, and is easy to adjust the difficulty for your pup. You’ll be able to change all three of the height, angle, and spacing with this kit, which means you’ll only need one set!
It comes with 3 cavaletti pole sets and is adjustable for use on the ground (helpful for training), 2.5 inches, 5.5 inches, 8.5 inches, and 13.5 inches. Any higher than 13.5 inches and we’re getting into DIY dog agility jumps, not cavaletti, unless you have a rather tall pup. While our DIY velcro setup will give you more options to adjust the height to, we found the Trixie Cavaletti set to be more than adequate (unless you have a very small dog).
As you can tell, we’re big fans of the Trixie cavaletti kit and Chewy is our preferred place to shop for pet supplies, although Amazon is a close second. Whichever route you go with a purchased cavaletti set, we recommend trying the temporary options first, just to make sure you and your dog enjoy it
There are two primary issues you might encounter when using cavaletti for dogs. Fortunately, they’re both easy to get past!
Your dog doesn’t want to go over
Your pup not wanting to go over the cavaletti is the most common issue. Typically, your pup will either try to go through them, touch the first bar and freeze, or just put the brakes on before even trying. This is easiest to get past with a two-pronged approach. First, make the poles or whatever you’re using as low to the ground as possible. You may even need to lay them on the ground to start. We find this easiest with the DIY velcro option or the Trixie cavaletti set (Chewy).
After this adjustment is complete, we’re going to up the reward. Go snag your dog’s favorite treat or toy, and persuade them to go over the next obstacles. Goomba’s favorite toy is the dog boomerang and works great to make him do whatever we want. If you have a food-motivated pup, peanut butter, tuna, chicken, or any special treat works wonders.
Don’t worry about bribing or luring, do what you have to do to get your dog comfortable. You can phase out the lure later once your dog is comfortable. Remember to be patient and use your best “dog voice” to keep it a positive experience.
Your dog tries to go around
Another common issue while learning cavaletti for dogs is that your pup may try to go around the obstacle. The easiest way to resolve this is to move the obstacle to a hallway or similar narrow area in your house. If you’re doing this outside, or moving it isn’t an option, try to block off the sides with whatever is available. Our favorites are couch cushions, dog beds, or chairs as all of those are easy to move around.
Just make sure whatever you use won’t fall on your pup. It may only cause a minor setback, but if your pup is already hesitant to go over the obstacle, having an object fall on them definitely won’t help.
If your pup still tries to go around, combine the tips from Your dog doesn’t want to go over with this. Lower the bars as far as they’ll go and get out your best rewards to use as a bribe! You can phase out the lure later once your dog is comfortable and gradually remove the barriers. Remember to be patient and use your best “dog voice” to keep it a positive experience.
How to scale cavaletti difficulty
Scaling cavaletti for dogs depends on what end goal you have in mind. For example, changing the angle and distance between the poles will improve your dog’s awareness of their footing, can change their gate, and improve their ability to change direction. Altering the height of the poles will improve leg strength and can help with improving the range of motion.
To increase the difficulty of our cavaletti for dogs, we alter the height for Goomba. We’re still working on building his rear leg muscles and he’s currently quite good at changing direction. If this is your primary goal with cavaletti, we recommend either the DIY wood setup, DIY velcro setup, or the Trixie cavaletti kit (Chewy), as all of these are easy to alter the height with. The temporary setups will work, but it can get frustrating to try to find so many items that are the same height in your house.
If you’re looking to change the angle and distance between the poles, we recommend either the DIY velcro setup or the Trixie cavaletti kit. The DIY wood setup, while easy to make and use, doesn’t allow for the manipulation of these variables.
A great low-impact alternative for working on changing direction is using DIY weave poles, as they result in a similar behavior.
If you prefer shopping at Amazon instead of Chewy, here’s the link to the same kit on Amazon: Trixie cavaletti kit (Amazon).
Using cavaletti for dogs is an easy way to help your pup have fun and improve their ability to move. If you are unfortunate enough to have a CCL injury, they’ll most likely be part of your pup’s physical therapy routine post-surgery. We (and our dogs) love using cavaletti since they’re easy to set up, store, and adjust to suit any dog.
Have you practiced canine cavaletti with your pup? Share your experience with us on Instagram @TheRulyBully. We love hearing your stories and experiences!