Proprioceptive, or body awareness, exercises are extremely important for active dogs, but people often forget about them because they seem so simple. It almost seems like if they are that easy to do how can they possibly be making any difference to the dog?
Well, it turns out that there are specific neurological pathways in the dog’s body that carry messages regarding body awareness. Receptors, which are tiny, specialized nerve endings throughout the body send neurological messages to the spinal cord and then to the brain, indicating where each part of the dog’s body is in space. Of course, we know that the neurological system can be trained. That means that when you practice body awareness exercises you are actually training the brain to use those neural pathways correctly. That can improve performance and reduce injuries!
Benefits of proprioceptive exercises:
1. They don’t require any exercise on the part of the human
2. They take less than a minute or two to complete
3. They can be done virtually anywhere because they require very little space.
My favorite proprioceptive exercise is using a PVC agility ladder or an extension ladder or a good old-fashioned wooden rung ladder - any ladder with parallel sides.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Walk the dog VERY slowly forward across the ladder laid on the ground. Give rewards when the dog doesn’t touch the sides or the rungs.
2. Once your dog can go forward perfectly, progress forward and then backward - that’s very hard!
3. Then do the exercise on hills, each session facing a different direction
4. Then have the ladder perpendicular to the direction in which you are facing, and have the dog step sideways with just the front feet or just the rear feet stepping across the rungs
5. Then do that exercise on hills.
See how deceptively easy it is? Yet this exercise is incredibly beneficial.