How to teach your dog to do a handstand

Maggie is an old pro at handstands but my younger dog, Rossi, is just learning. I’ve filmed a lot of our training sessions, which range from genius moments to oops. But that’s how real dog training goes and you just keep at it with patience and consistency.

For Rossi’s training, I’m using a Klimb from Blue-9 Pet Products. Back when I taught Maggie, I didn’t have this helpful training tool so I stacked up books and used that as the step-up for her back legs. Just make sure that if you use books, the stack is stable and the books don’t slide around. This is a great time to put those thick, heavy hardbacks to work.

But first a quite note, thing isn’t something I would teach to quite a few types of dogs including puppies, dogs that are prone to back or hip issues, senior dogs and more – please use caution when deciding to teach this to your dog. I don’t do this trick a lot with my dogs and that will never change. You can teach this off the wall but I prefer it this way where the dogs weight is still distributed to the wall a little, I don’t plan to change that for Rossi or any future pups of mine. It’s something special we do if required on a set, at a therapy visit to make a sick child smile, etc.

This is my progression with the Klimb:

  1. Klimb with no legs installed, height 4”
  2. Klimb + mini legs, height 6”
  3. Two Klimbs stacked no legs installed, height 8”
  4. 2 Klimbs + Mini legs, height 10”5.
  5. Klimb + Regular legs, height 12”
  6. Klimb vertical against wall
  7. Wall only, no Klimb or aids

So lets break it down…A handstand isn’t something dogs offer on their own. This is something you’ll have to teach your dog. Give yourself weeks or months to confirm this behavior. Rossi took many weeks of regular work – not because he didn’t understand it but to ensure that he was building up the muscles and strength needed for it. We also didn’t do this every day and spread out our sessions to give him time to recover and get stronger.

(Please note that handstands aren’t recommended for dogs with long backs or back issues or with a puppy or senior dog that may have balance issues. You don’t want your dog to fall or get injured.)

First step: back up! With a step-up platform behind Rossi, I ask him to back up. If your dog is struggling with moving backward, step or lean in towards him so that he takes a step back. As soon as both hind legs step onto the platform, reward and tell him he’s done a good job. Every time I’ve taught this I made sure my dogs had something behind them to step up onto (compared to just waling backwards onto a dog bed) – this teaches them to lift their back feet.

Then I ask him to come to me. Sometimes, I mix up asking him to come forward with things like asking for a touch. Asking for a touch requires him to move more forward and take his back feet off the Klimb.

Repeat And repeat again. Ask him to back up and reward. It takes some practice before this feels natural to the dog. Rossi would sometimes think he should avoid the object behind him because dogs don’t naturally step on strange objects. 

To help him understand what I wanted, I put my legs out to the side and this helped funnel him back to the platform. Rossi already knows a backup behavior and once he demonstrated the back up, I’d add my new verbal cue, ‘handstand’, before I said ‘backup’ and then I slowly transitioned to saying just ‘handstand’.

Another thing about Rossi: he often realizes what I’m asking for or what I’m about to ask for and then tries to offer it before I give him the verbal cue. But he has to wait for me. So this is why I’ll randomly ask for something else entirely like a high-five, sit or circle to ensure that he’s listening to me.

Higher and higher Over time – and not on the first day! – when your dogs understands what you’re asking and steps up on the platform consistently, I’ll raise the height of the platform that’s behind him. Raise the platform in very small increments, like in my progression above.

Removing the Klimb This was something that confused Rossi. Stepping up against a wall was quite different from stepping onto the platform. I found that moving in closer to Rossi and having him back up close to the wall helped let him know what I wanted. As soon as he lifted a leg onto the wall, I’d reward so he could connect this to the handstand command.
If your dog is struggling with this, you can place your platform flat against the wall (step 6 above) and ease the transition from the platform to the plain wall. This was one place where Maggie got a little stuck and I found this helped her work through it.

Remember to go slowly, reward even the smallest success and if your dog is struggling to understand, there’s nothing wrong with taking a few steps back to set up for success.

We can’t wait to see your pups in their handstands!

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