For me Rear End Awareness it is not just about picking up a hind foot but instead it is about muscle engagement to propel the dog in motion and also to teach the dog how to "put on the brakes" with their whole body. If what we are teaching the dog is to shift their weight forward, then we aren't teaching active muscle engagement in the rear needed for collection, braking, stabilizing and power. Braking with the whole body is essential for good performance and injury prevention.

Many would say that “awareness” and “muscle engagement” are different things, but I believe they go hand in hand.

There is a lot of controversy out there about rear end awareness and how you achieve it. Below is a list of common exercises that people use to increase rear end awareness but IMO these things “primarily” teach the dog to bear more weight forward which essentially is teaching the dog to NOT use their rear limbs.

  • Targeting something higher with rear feet
  • 4 feet in a bowl
  • Spider up the wall
  • Targeting individual hind feet
  • Back up stairs

Common things in the performance dog world that contribute to front end loading:

  • Handler treat position
  • Leaning forward due to handler position, prop position, other trained behaviors
  • Nose target to the floor or forward
  • Cone work - circles and figure eights
  • Common tricks that encourage forward weight shift

In the years that I have been teaching fitness, I have taught all the things listed above as rear end awareness exercise at one point or another. However, it has come to my attention that these behaviors are teaching our dogs to shift more weight forward thereby erasing the whole reason we teach “rear end awareness”.

The reasons we teach rear end awareness is to improve

  • balance
  • strength
  • actively engaging the rear end in movement
  • the use of all four feet and “core” to brake or collect

My definition of “rear foot awareness” is the dog’s ability to shift weight into their rear feet to access muscle engagement to power in all directions, to know where the rear feet are (where they are in space) AND understanding how to actively engage the rear limbs in movement. . If the dog does not have weight distributed to their rear feet, they are relying heavily on their front limbs.

In my opinion, the dog has to have weight shifted into their rear feet in order to be more "aware" of them. If the dog is lifting back feet to a raised object it is simply teaching the dog how to bear more weight forward and balance using head, neck and front assembly instead of actively engaging the rear end muscles.

~ Bobbie Lyons, CCFT, KPA CTP