Most dogs love their walks; they get to run around at full speed and play with the other dogs in the park. Once they get home they sleep for hours until the next walk… right?
Some dogs, no matter how much “exercise” you give them still have energy to burn. Border Collies come to mind. Breeds of the “working” variety e.g. working Cocker Spaniels or working Labradors often don’t have an off switch either.
Perhaps the exercise they are getting is just half the picture? The organ that uses most energy is actually the brain so how do you work that part of your dog?
Opening your eyes is the first step. I recently went to St. Ann’s Well Gardens with a client with a high-energy Springer Spaniel cross. He loves to run around but also loves to be with his human. As we walked around the park we looked for things to do. There is a long log that is on its side on the grass. We lured Lord Nelson onto this with a treat which he was happy to take and then jumped off again. He jumped off because he didn’t have the balance to stay on and was also moving quickly. On his second attempt we used a second treat to keep him there. This was great fun for all of us. Next Nelson was asked to sit on the log, his back legs quivered as he did this as all the small mussels worked together to control this delicate manoeuvre.
We then set off to the next adventure in the form of a tree trunk. Nelson was asked to jump onto it which he was happy to do but did so at speed but then flew off the other side. The next attempt he took it a little more slowly and managed to stay on.
Around the park we found an upturned tree with a 30 degree incline which Nelson happily trotted up but then had to work out what to do at the end. He turned his body around slowly, a little unsure of what his back legs were doing, but managed it without falling off!
The next obstacle was the well itself. Nelson’s task here was to jump on and slowly manoeuvre around the edge. This was a tricky task since it was very narrow. Another great success for Nelson.
When we got home Nelson crashed out on his bed struggling to keep his eyes open.
This brings me back to my original question “Proprioception – what’s that?”. Proprioception is knowing where your body is in space. Anyone who has practiced yoga may understand how difficult it is at first to control our body slowly. With practice comes improved strength, flexibility, and balance. Slowing down so the mind has awareness about what their body is doing has similar advantages for dogs. The added bonus for a dog that has used his mind and body is he may then crash out after his trip to the park.
I call these training sessions Urban Agility since you use whatever your local park has to offer to mentally and physically work your dog. I can train these sessions with you or as part of my Groundwork service where I work your dog for you.
Mike Garner is a dog trainer and behaviourist at Rainbow Dogs in Brighton & Hove, Sussex.
Follow Rainbow Dogs on Facebook.