At 6 1/2 weeks post-op, we’re continually looking for new ways to help rehabilitate Roxie’s leg and work on building her muscles back up. Months of limping pre-op, plus crate rest and recovery time afterwards, led to a LOT of muscle atrophy. The key to rebuilding muscles, human or canine, is slow, controlled exercises. Cavaletti, which were originally designed for use with horses, are a great tool for rebuilding muscles and improving balance, with little impact. SO, I made my own Cavaletti is a great tool for building your dog’s balance, rehab, agility, strengthening muscles, and coordination. Build your own DIY Canine Cavaletti for $13!
What is Cavaletti?
“Cavaletti” is basically a series of poles arranged in a row on the ground or slightly elevated.
“Cavaletti were invented by Federico Caprilli and designed to help a horse improve its balance, adjust its length of stride, and to loosen and strengthen its muscles. They are often used in sets of at least four to six placed in a row, but have nearly unlimited ways they can be configured.” – Wikipedia
You can find canine agility cavaletti kits pre-made online, but they are EXPENSIVE. On Amazon, there were 2 options. A set from FitPaws for $78.60 and a set from Agora for $60.97. I am a self-proclaimed cheapskate and while I don’t mind splurging if I HAVE to, this is one of those things that was way too easy to make and to me was a no-brainer. So, I set out to make my own. I only needed 2 things, cones and poles.
How I made my own DIY Canine Cavaletti for $13
Cones: $8 ($1 each)
I checked the dollar store first (Dollar Tree) and while I did find cones, they were really short and solid, so I was going to have to drill holes in them and would be really limited in terms of height. Next stop was Five Below, where I found these awesome 4-packs of cones for $4! That’s just $1 a cone! Woo!!! AND they already have holes in them that I could use to adjust the height of the poles. Double win. So far I’m only in $8.
If you don’t want to drive around looking for a deal, you can get a similar set on Amazon for $11.99 here.
Next stop was Home Depot for poles. Initially I was going to buy wooden dowels, but they were going to cost me $2.50/pole and I needed 4. So then I thought, what about PVC? I wonder how much that is? $2.51 for 10 feet of 1/2″ PVC. At that price, PVC was a lot cheaper than the wooden dowels AND bound to hold up better. SOLD! I picked up 2 10′ pieces, for $5.02 total. Plus, I’ll have enough left over to make 2 extra poles, which I may to at a later date to make a longer course.
Okay, so now we have the cones and the PVC for the poles, all that’s left is to cut the PVC to the correct size. Don’t worry if you’ve never worked with PVC before. You do not have to be super handy and you don’t need any fancy tools.
Hand Saw (or Hacksaw)
Mitre Box (optional)
Step 1: Measure & Mark the PVC
First, you need to determine how long you want the poles to be. For a little dog like Roxie, I could have gone shorter, at like 2 feet, but I wanted to make sure that I could use these new Cavaletti poles with any of my dogs, including my larger two, so I decided on 3 feet poles. To start, I’m making 4 sets of Cavaletti poles, so we need to cut four 3′ sections of PVC pipe.
The best construction advice I’ve ever gotten is “Measure Twice, Cut Once!” It takes a lot less time to double check your measurements than it does to re-cut, or even worse, run back to the store because you messed up and ran out of PVC to remake an extra pole.
Step 2: Cut the Poles
Using your hand or hack saw, cut your pipes to the desired length. The first few passes aren’t the easiest, but once you get a little groove in the plastic, PVC is REALLY easy to cut. If you have/want to get one, a mitre box would come in really handy right about now. It makes it a lot easier to hold the pipe in place while you cut it and helps to ensure nice straight cuts. BUT, given what these are for, they really don’t need to be perfect, so I didn’t waste the time digging through the garage to find mine.
You can also use a pipe cutter if you want to get really fancy, but I don’t have one of those… and again, I’m cheap. So yeah.
Step 3: File on a Hard Surface
So, using a hand saw, the pipes didn’t come out exactly perfect on the end, but I found the easiest method imaginable for filing them down and making them smooth… My driveway! Rather than using a file or sand paper (which you can totally do if you want, but why?) you literally just take the uneven sawed end of the pole that you just cut and scrape it on your driveway or patio. The hard surface will file down any bumps and get rid of any splintered pieces and VOILA! Smooth pole, ready to use. Repeat 3x for the other 3 poles.
Step 4: Assemble
Now that you have all of your poles cut, all that’s left is to set up your Cavaletti course!
There are a bunch of tutorials out there about how to use cavaletti, which I encourage you to check out, but here are the basics for the first-time user.
Step 5: Try It Out
I am by NO MEANS a cavaletti expert, but, after doing boat loads of research for my own personal education, here are a few basics that I can pass along:
For a basic cavaletti setup, you want to set your poles to match your dog’s stride. When they walk through, they should be taking one step in between each pole. To determine this distance, measure the length of your dog’s leg. This should be about the length of their stride. You may need to tweak this a little, depending on your dog, but it’s a good starting point. This will not work for all breeds, for example, Dachshunds and other low-riders with super short legs, who may have to do 2 steps in between the poles. Also keep in mind that if your dog is recovering from an injury or surgery, their stride may be a little different than normal, so just watch them on their first few walks through and adjust the spacing as needed.
If your dog is new to cavaletti, start with the poles no higher than your dog’s carpus, otherwise known as their ankle. We did a few run-throughs on the ground and then put the poles in the lowest hole in the cones, about an inch or so off the ground. Once your dog gets the hang of it and can walk through confidently without knocking any poles over, you can adjust the height and/or spacing to engage their muscles and work on their balance.
Cavaletti is not a race, nor are they hurtles. They are not meant to be run through or leapt over, but rather walked through, focusing on balance and stride at a comfortable pace.
There are a MILLION different ways to use cavaletti poles. Different heights, spacing, orientation, and different ways of moving through them. If this has peaked your interest in trying out cavaletti, I encourage you to do some reading on other uses for this simple, yet versatile training tool. Plus, if we get really into it, we may be back with more tips and tricks in the near future.
Cavaletti is not just for muscle rehabilitation, which is what we’re using it for. It’s also great to improve your dog’s balance, rear end awareness, muscle tone, and coordination. Have you ever tried it? Do you have other suggestions for things that we should try? Leave us a comment below!
Remember to use lots of treats and have fun!
Thanks for reading!
Debbie & Roxie