The basic premise behind using the various sized stability balls is that you can either do an all over body workout, or you can isolate different muscle groups and strengthen them. I started doing this with my dogs when I started taking classes from Bobbie Lyons (and if you have questions, I doubt she'll mind if you shoot her an email). She had one day seminars as well as a six week class. I have taken both with both dogs. The seminar we've done a few times now and I'm hoping to host one at my house in the fall, once I get my schedule figured out and touch base with Bobbie.
I always start my dogs out with the lowest to the ground objects to warm them up and then I slowly work them up in size. Usually we start with the small balance disc. This I bought at Fred Meyer in their fitness section. It's not too big and therefore requires a fair amount of concentration for the dogs to first just balance their front feet on it and then secondly to move around with it. For the small balance disc, I usually just first have the dogs get their front feet up on it, then I have them pivot around the disc, while keeping their front feet stationed on it the whole time. I work them in both directions. This can be a little tough at first, but after a few sessions they get really used to it and can wip around quick enough that I end up getting dizzy! This exercise helps work the shoulder muscles as well as the core muscles and also helps to increase hind end awareness because the dogs are having to manipulate their back feet while their front feet essentially stay stationary. This is something that they're generally not used to doing. This is VERY helpful for giant breeds doing agility. They need to know where their back feet are when they're on obstacles like the dog walk, which is relatively narrow.
Next we move on to the larger balance disc. These are a little harder to come by, and I'll include the site that I ordered it from at the end of this post. I do basically the same thing with the large disc as I do with the smaller disc. Because it's larger, it poses its own challenges for them when they're pivotting. However, I'm able to more things with the larger disc than I am with the smaller one. For instance, I can get the dogs to sit on the disc, which teaches them to pull their hips in tighter when they're sitting and really focus on their back ends. Bess is very eager to do "tricks" and I can actually get her to sit on the large disc and quickly raise both front paws up in the air, while just balancing on her hind end, in a sit. It's pretty cool and takes a lot of concentration and muscle control. Heffner isn't as eager to even sit on the large disc and we've been slowly working on it. I've been able to get him to start sitting on it, but he's not paying as much attention to his hips and lets them go wide so that his legs will slide off the disc. But we're getting there!
Next we move on to the air mattress. I have just a regular old twin sized air mattress that I got from Fred Meyer in their camping section. Works great! This may seem a little odd, but the air mattress makes simple things like downs, sits, and even just walking around on it, more work because of the air component. I'll take the dogs through figure 8's on the mattress where they're not allowed to let even one foot go off onto the mats. Then we do sits to downs and downs to sits. Doggy push-ups in a sense. Bess likes to do her double high fives on this!
When I was starting Bess out and getting her used to manipulating the various different balls before actually getting her up on them (you really want to build their confidence with this so that everything is a very fun and positive experience!) I would work her with the light blue pill shaped ball that you can see in the picture at the top of this post. I would just have her roll it back and forth with her front feet. These balls are nice because they essentially only roll in one direction because of how they're constructed, versus every direction like the spherical balls. And always make sure that when you're using something that will roll out from under the dog, that you support the object from the opposite side of the dog. That way they are carefully able to manipulate it without injuring themselves. None of these exercises aren't meant for you to just throw your dog at an object and let them try to manipulate it solely on their own. They could seriously injure themselves in addition to making it a very traumatic experience! At any rate, the pill ball is great for smaller breed dogs and for getting all sizes of dogs used to manipulating an inflated "ball." It's also relatively inexpensive. Another "toy" that I bought from Fred Meyer!:o) I don't have any pictures of the dogs on this one, because it's been a while since I've actually used it. I mostly keep it around as a beginner toy, for our next puppy!
After these objects, we move on to the egg ball. The one I have is the 85 cm EggBall (I'll explain about size mattering later). This ball is GREAT for getting a more timid dog the confidence to actually fully get up on an inflated object! I use food lures to slowly get the dogs up onto the egg. The nice thing about these balls is that they're oblong shaped. They're not too tall, so it's relatively easy for the dogs to climb up on them. And because they're longer shaped the dog can fully lay down on them. Even giant breed dogs! This ball is where the real workout starts. Just standing on the ball initially will be a work out for your dog. They will be engaging ALL of their muscles to balance themselves on it. You may see some initially shakiness. This is their muscles having to work really hard at doing something that they're not used to doing and therefore are weaker at. Kind of like when you start doing situps or crunches. When you do a lot of them after doing none, your stomach and core muscles start shaking while you're doing them. But after a while of doing it, the shakiness goes away because you're getting stronger. It's the same things with dogs. You can have them go through simple exercises like stand to a sit to a down and back up again. You can slightly rock the egg ball with the dog laying down on it. This way they are having to adjust their muscles to compensate for the movement. When you get your dog to this point, start off with only spending a few minutes at this. It's hard work and your dog will feel it the next day if you over do it. Build them up slowly just like you would when starting a new work out routine! Here's Heffner laying down on the egg ball:
As for ground work with this ball, you can have them do a sort of pull up. You start the dog out in a stand with just their front feet up on the ball. Then you have them lower their body down into a sit, while leaving their front feet on the ball. Then back up into a stand. This REALLY works their hind end and core muscles! Here's Bess with Bobbie during a seminar for danes at my house doing this exercise:
After the egg ball I sometimes pull out the 85 cm silver ball. This is the first ball that I got Heffner all the way up on. It's not ideal for a dog that size to be up on because there's really not that much space up there, but he was willing! I mostly use this ball for having them roll it around all over the place in different directions working the shoulds, hind end, and core muscles. I don't really use it quite as much any more.
And now for the REALLY fun ball! I use the 120 cm ball for getting both of the dogs on it and doing exercises from there. This ball can very adequately hold them and has enough space for them to be comfortable up there. It's pretty much the same exercises as with the egg ball, it's just that this ball is for focusing on exercises meant to do on top of it. It makes me nervouse to try and use this ball in the garage because I don't have a nice smooth wall to prop it up against, so I always do exercises with this ball outside. I prop it up against the side of the house (we have a covered "patio" area) and put a tarp underneath it to protect it from the paved area. This is not a cheap ball and I'm a little paranoid about random things that might pop it. I keep the dogs' nails short and blunted, so I'm not worried about them popping it or tearing it. Here's the dogs up on their big ball (again, these are pics from the seminar at my house with Bobbie working the dogs so that I could get some pics)!
And here are a couple of videos that Adam took of me working the dogs on the ball (sorry that they're so dark. This is before we got our new camera):
I do have a few tips for you!
1) Keep those nails short and blunted! It'll save your balls.LOL ;o)
2) Inflate the balls in the room that you want to use them in. I'm speaking from experience here! Before we got our air compressor, I pumped them up by hand and wasn't thinking about the fact that most of these balls DO NOT fit through door ways (another reason why I use the garage, so that I can just open the front doors there and walk out with the ball when I need to). It really sucks to spend an hour or more inflating a ball only to have to deflate it to fit through a door and then reinflate it once you get it where you want it!
3) Keep the balls UP when you are not using them. As soon as the various balls hit the floor, my dogs are ready to jump or at least put their feet on them. If I'm not ready, then the ball would go flying some where and I might have an injured dog.
4) For a ball that they just roll around you want it to be roughly 4 inches shorter than the dog at the shoulders. For a ball that they get fully up on, you want it to be 4 inches taller than the dog at the shoulder.
Places online that you can buy balls:FitBall USA
The Active Canine (if you want a REALLY great deal on a 120 cm ball, $70, give Kristine a call and see about ordering one. I don't know if she'd be willing to ship or not, but it's worth a shot!)
Hopefully this post has been helpful and gives you something fun and new to do with your dog!