Footwork Ladder with Side Rails


Kipp in front of the ladder

This ladder is useful for teaching your dog to

mind their back feet–and is a fun obstacle in-and-of-itself. You can build it with or without side rails (which are helpful if your dog is what is technically known as a “cheater pants”). With side rails as shown, the ladder will take about three to four hours to build and cost about $30 for the materials.

This is a fairly large piece and there are points late in the assembly process where having a helper would be useful. That said, I assembled this alone and didn’t experience any difficulties. (Excuse some of the photos, dusk was falling fast and it looks like I assembled this in the middle of the night!)

We will be building the ladder in two halves and then joining them together near the end of the assembly process.

Tools

You will need a PVC pipe cutter, a sharpie, a measuring tape and something that enables you to determine whether a couple of your glue joints are perpendicular to the main assembly. I used a combination square, but you could use anything that will leave your hands free and which stands straight; a scrap of 2 x 4 or 4 x 4 lumber a foot or so long resting on the “factory cut” end is close enough for this work.

Materials

Below are the pre-cut pieces, ready to be assembled. The straight pieces of 1″ pipe are just barely over 40 feet in total length, which means you’ll need five 10-foot pieces of pipe to construct one ladder. If you carefully adjust dimensions, you may be able to squeeze all of the parts out of four pieces, but you won’t have any room for error!

Ladder Assembly

1 90-degree slip connectors (4)
2 “T” slip connectors (22)
3 slip end caps (6)
4 “X” slip connectors (2)
5 1-¾” pipe stubs (10)
6 16″ pipe rungs (8)
7 9″ pipe sides (12)
8 3-3/16” pipe sides (4)
9 10″ pipe uprights (6)
10 38-3/8” pipe rails (4)

Notes:

  • If you like making your obstacles “pretty,” as I do, you will be driven to contemplate grave acts if every one of these pieces has a price sticker on it (as opposed to nothing or a printed bar code). Buy the “T” connectors in “contractor packs” if you can possibly do so.
  • I have two different kinds of end caps in the photo (different stores) and this isn’t recommended as they differ in height, which could make for a wobbly ladder on a very firm surface. For our rough lawn it’s OK.
  • The length of the upper rails is slightly problematic. In theory it should be calculable, which is what I did, but I think my rails are still slightly short. The length seems like it should be:
    • ( short rail ) + ( 3 long rails ) + ( 4 “T” connector non-glue spaces ) + ( 2 “T” glue spaces )
    • ( 3-3/16” ) + ( 9″ * 3 ) + ( 1-3/8” * 4 ) + ( 2 * 1″ ) = 37-11/16

    However, that proved to be too short, and even my revised measurement in the parts list may be a bit shy. Our ladder still looks good and works well, but if you want rigorous results and exact rail lengths, don’t cut your upper rails until you’ve assembled the side rail sub-assemblies, and use the exact length of those.

Assembly

Please see the tips page for general hints on cutting and assembling PVC pipe. Look for the red glue symbols in the photos to show the freshly glued joints in each step.

In the photos below, there are a few steps where I illustrate one of a particular sub-assembly, while you will actually need to build several. I will note these instances in the text.

Ladder assembly

Let’s start by assembling the four ladder sides. Shown above are the pieces needed to do one side: four 2 “T” connectors, 3 7 sides, 1 5 stub, and 1 8 side.

As you work your way up each side, be sure that your “T” connectors are all coplanar.

Ladder assembly

Shown above are the glued joints in a complete side rail, but you should glue each joint one at a time.

Ladder assembly

All four sides are assembled and ready for the next step, gluing the rungs.

Ladder assembly

Take four 6 rungs and glue them to one of your ladder side sub-assemblies. Glue the rungs one at a time, no need to make life difficult at this point. Repeat this procedure with the four remaining rungs and another of your ladder-side sub-assemblies, so that you end up with two side assemblies with rungs and two without.

Ladder assembly

Now things start to get a bit tricky, but you’ll do fine. We need to glue all four rungs to a remaining ladder side sub-assembly in one step. I applied glue to the four sockets first, then applied glue to the four rungs– doing all eight swipes of the glue brush in two quick dips from the glue can. Once glue has been applied to all of the rungs and sockets, immediately join them together. Start each stub into its matching connector and once they are all started, push the sub-assemblies firmly together by gently leaning on it to insure every rung has seated fully.

You have to complete this step reasonably quickly once you’ve started to apply glue, but there is no need to panic. Be ready to put your glue brush down and start pressing the two pieces together without pausing. You’ll undoubtedly have a lot of dribble clean-up to do with four joints, so have your paper towel handy once it’s all pressed together.

Important: Be sure to glue the ladder together so that the sides mirror each other, as shown! “Bummer” would not be a strong enough word to describe what the situation will be if you don’t.

Ladder assembly

Here I’ve glued both ladder halves up and have set them aside. Let’s move on to the center uprights for the rails.

Ladder assembly

These are the pieces needed to make each center upright: 1 4 “X” connector, 1 5 stub, 1 2 “T” connector, 1 3 end cap and 1 9 upright.

Ladder assembly

Start by gluing the stub and the upright into opposite sides of the “X” connector, one at a time.

Ladder assembly

Next, glue the “T” connector to the other end of the upright, ensuring that it is coplanar with the “X” connector. Finally, add the end cap to the stub. Now make another–you’ll need two total. When done, set them aside and build the end uprights.

Ladder assembly

You will need 1 1 90-degree connector, 1 9 upright, 1 2 “T” connector, 1 5 stub and 1 3 end cap to build each end upright.

Ladder assembly

There are two glue joints illustrated on the cap end because you need to glue the stub into the “T” before gluing the cap onto the stub, as we saw in the center upright assembly. It’s important that the 90-degree connector and the “T” are coplanar and that they face in the same direction! You will need to build four of these uprights.

Ladder assembly

Here are all six uprights, ready to be attached to the ladders and rails.

Ladder assembly

Now the exciting part begins! Take one of your end uprights and lay it on your work surface, which should be flat–level helps too, but flat is important. We are going to glue the stub end of one of the ladder halves to an end support, using the combination square to ensure the ladder is perpendicular to the upright. Apply glue to the socket on the upright and the stub on the ladder half, and press them together with the upright flat as shown and the square as close to the first rung as possible. Gently adjust the ladder to perpendicular by eyeballing the gap between the first rung and the square so it is even over the entire distance.

Do a dry run first–this will help you get the square into the best possible position and will ensure a successful mating of these two pieces. This is probably the trickiest part of assembling this obstacle, and it’s not that hard, it just requires a bit of care. Once you have it glued, take a short break to allow it to set.

Ladder assembly

Glue 1 10 rail to the subassembly from the previous step. (On these joints that are glued “on the board” it helps clean-up to have your paper towel under the joint before pressing the pieces together.)

Ladder assembly

Moving to the other end of the sub-assembly from the previous step, glue a center upright to the rail and ladder half. Be sure the end upright on the opposite side of the sub-assembly is sitting flat on the work surface. There are only two glue joints here, a piece of cake compared to the four you glued to get the ladder halves together!

Ladder assembly

Take careful note of what is happening here. We’re about to glue the other end upright to our growing assembly, and to facilitate that we’ve slipped on but not glued the other center upright. This will allow us, because the ladder is sitting on its feet, to use our square again to ensure that this end upright is perpendicular to the ladder. Glue the end upright to the stub on the ladder, ensuring that the upright is parallel to the square by making the gap between the square and upright even as you push the pieces together. Let these pieces set for a few minutes once glued.

Ladder assembly

Night was falling fast at this point, so this photo shows two easy steps. First, glue 1 10 rail into the end upright we just attached to the ladder. Next, glue the remaining center upright to the ladder assembly. As with the previous center upright glue-up, you’ll be gluing two joints at the same time.

Ladder assembly

This is only a couple of minutes later than the previous photo–however, a flash was now mandatory as the light was fading. It looks like midnight!

In any case, tip the ladder assembly from the previous step up so that it rests on its end supports, with the center uprights uppermost. Take the remaining ladder sub-assembly and glue it to the main assembly. Again, there are two joints to glue at once here. Press the ladder firmly together.

Important: Glue the longer rail end, not the stub end, of the ladder section into the center upright!

Ladder assembly

Take the two remaining 10 rails and glue them to the center uprights.

Finally (and for some reason I don’t have a photo of this–some creature of the night stole my camera, perhaps), take the two remaining end uprights and glue them to the ladder assembly, one at a time, two glue joints each. I did this while the ladder was still upright, but the whole thing is a little over seven feet tall at that point (I’m fairly tall so it was comfortable for me to fiddle around up there). You could easily tip it back down and glue the uprights on at a more comfortable height, which would also allow you to double check that they’re perpendicular using your square, though the rails you’re gluing them too should be a good enough guide.

Finished ladder

And there’s the finished ladder, being enjoyed by Tess!

Alternative Designs

  • This ladder can be built without the rails. Simply substitute a “T” connector for the “X” in the center rung and use 90-degree connectors on the ends, eliminating all of the uprights and rails.
  • By not gluing the upright pipe segments 9 into the lower connectors in each upright would allow the rails to be removed as desired.
  • Some versions I’ve seen eliminate feet entirely, resting the ladder directly on the ground. Building a ladder without feet would be fairly straightforward; however, build it one rung at a time in one large assembly (as opposed to assembling the side rails first)–otherwise you will be faced with having to simultaneously glue a bunch of rungs at once (imagine eight simultaneous glue joins, urk).
  • I have seen a version with only one side rail, presumably the trainer is walking alongside the dog on the open side.
  • You can make the ladder longer or shorter. If you shorten it down to six or fewer rungs you can probably eliminate the center support, which is there to prevent the rails from sagging (which is purely an aesthetic thing). I suspect the ladder we just built is about as long as is practical to easily move around (it’s not heavy, but would be awkward if it were longer). If you want a longer ladder, consider building two ladders and setting them end-to end.
  • You can adjust the rung width or rung spacing, of course.

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Reader Comments

I am working my second project ladder with sides. The center rung spacing dose not work out. If you change the 3-3/16 sides to 4 the rung spacing will be eaqual.Also the 38-3/8 will also work. Instructions and photos are great , make the project doable for the novice. thank you for the effort.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill may have used a different type or brand of connector. See comment below.

Hi Bill, aside from the top rails, the measurements I presented are exactly the ones I used to build ours–I wonder if we got slightly different connectors with different glue depths? If I build another I will definitely make careful notes and see if that’s the case.

Thanks for your feedback!

This looks great I’m going to build one!! Are the parts easy to get?

Roger,

I train with an 80# dobe bitch that is 26 inches at the withers. Is the distance between rungs critical for certain dogs or does it not matter. I am curious given a specific distance between rungs would not cause the dog to stutter step on the contact obsticles?

Great equipment. I am already laying out plans to start building.

Regards,

Fred Lusen

Hi Fred,

The point of the ladder is to teach your dog to make note of where they are putting their back feet. That is all. The ladder is not going to teach your dog to walk certain size steps.

Many dogs have no clue that they can control where they put their back feet and that is what this obstacle is for.

My dogs are more confident on the teeter having gone over this obstacle many times, in spite of the fact that they often skip a rung or two (or three) here and there.

I hope this answers your question. If not, please post again! :)

Allie