Benefits of figure eights include weight shifting, proprioception, core strength, balance, and coordination. I prescribe this exercise often because it is useful for the injured dog that is in the process of recovery, as well as the healthy dog to strengthen the core and prevent injury. Also, figure eights are a good exercise for warm up or cool down, as it incorporates some active stretching.
Figure eight is a functional exercise because it strengthens the muscles that are required for turning. Turning in both directions is important for the agility dog, who needs to be able to turn and look toward the next piece of equipment on the course; the geriatric dog, who may get “stuck” in a corner when he finds it difficult to back up or is too stiff to turn in either direction; or the pet dog, who likes to play a game of fetch.
Weight Shifting and Balance
When people think of balance work, they usually think of having the dog stand on an unstable surface. This is a good way to improve balance, but the dog tends to be standing still. Figure 8s also influence balance, but they do so while your dog is moving.
Figure 8s cause weight shifting to the limbs that are on the inside of the pattern. This means that as your dog weaves around in a figure eight pattern, he is shifting weight from the left side to the right side and back again.
Proprioception is defined as awareness of the position of one’s body. Some injuries cause a loss of proprioception. Improving proprioception in the healthy athlete can prevent injury.
Figure eights improve proprioception by using a pattern that requires variation in gait length. The limbs on the outside of the pattern take a longer stride than the limbs on the inside of the pattern. Your dog needs to know where his feet are to keep from stumbling.
Core strength involves strengthening the muscles that are present from the shoulders to the hips. These muscles support the spine and allow it to side bend, flex (arch like a Halloween cat), extend (flatten back out), and rotate.
Dogs will contract those core muscles as they bend to turn a tight turn. Dogs will also benefit from the stretch that occurs in the core muscles that are on the outside of the pattern.
Coordination is defined as the ability to use different parts of the body together smoothly and efficiently. Balance, core strength, and proprioception all affect coordination.
If you want to offer a greater challenge for your dog, you can add an unstable surface. Below are some ideas: