A dog's normal pace of movement is faster than a human's walking pace so puppies need to learn how to co-ordinate their body and walk slowly in order to be able to walk on a loose lead; greet people calmly; use their body language to communicate well with other dogs.
The photograph shows an example of how normal growth and development can affect a pup's physical and emotional balance. Note how Trance's hind end is higher than the front, throwing her weight forward. There was nothing physically 'wrong', it was just the way she was growing, but it affected her ability to communicate well when meeting strange dogs at a critical time in her emotional development. Some perceived a threat because her movement was fast, erratic and forward tilting, so they challenged, which in turn affected her confidence with strange dogs. She started to bark and lunge forward 'just in case' they were going to attack her. The groundwork exercises helped her to move in balance, more slowly, without the forward tilt. This significantly improved her interactions with other dogs and avoided the development of a difficult behaviour problem.
The physical effects of a medical condition or physical injury can make animals adopt an out of balance posture to 'guard' the area which was painful. This affects performance and emotional response to different situations. Often they need a little help to learn how to move in physical balance again.
Jake (left) had a progressive back condition which seriously compromised his mobility. He could not have an operation to help because there were too many vertebrae involved. As they wore away at the base, the nerves got pinched and damaged and he lost a lot of sensation in his hind legs and tail. He was a very large and energetic dog, standing 28" at the withers. When he was x-rayed 3 years before this photo was taken and we saw the extent of the damage, his potential to continue to enjoy life looked very bleak.
Hollycroft Vet Centre looked after Jake's primary care and medication and he received accupuncture to aid pain relief on referral to Acorn Vets. Swimming at Corley K9 Pool helped to make him feel good in the non-weight bearing freedom of the water and maintain as much muscle tone as possible in his hind legs ... so where does TTouch come in?
The gentle groundwork exercises helped him to adjust mentally and adapt physically so that he was still mobile. The daily body TTouches helped to comfort and relax those poor overworked shoulder, neck and leg muscles and gave him a sense of well being. The result? A dog who managed to adjust to his disability and still keep his amazing enjoyment of and zest for life.
Note the pressure put on Jake's neck, shoulders, front legs and head as his posture has adjusted to accommodate his disability. He still manages to have a wonderful time playing at catch the water from the hosepipe and still gets into all sorts of mischief to keep us on our toes!!
Over excitement or fear can encourage animals to hold tension in certain parts of the body. This affects the ability to move in physical balance which in turn feeds the emotional state, locking them into a cycle of boisterous or reactive behaviour.
This beautiful young labrador is very boisterous and 'pulled' on the lead. In reality she leaned into the lead to enable her to stay upright because she did not know how to move at the much slower human walking pace and still keep her balance.
Notice how the pressure of a single connection on her collar/lead causes her body to twist away at the front, away from the handler's leg. This caused a lot of discomfort to her owner's shoulder and back while they were walking.
Using a harness and flat collar with a double clipped lead helped us to teach her how to keep her weight over her legs and move slowly, without having to lean into the lead.
This lively little Jack Russell was very noisy and reactive to other dogs while on the lead. Note how he leans into the lead, even with the double connection of harness and collar. He cannot keep his balance even when there are no other dogs around. His lack of confidence physically causes him to be reactive when there is another dog around and he is restricted by the lead.
He needs the additional help of Homing Pigeon (see below) so that he can learn to be more aware of his movement and balance and so improve his confidence in a variety of situations.
The Journey of the Homing Pigeon, with a handler either side leading, helps the dog to centre itself as it learns to use the non-habitual movements required to negotiate the Confidence Course.
A Confidence Course helps to teach co-ordination and balance. We use objects on the ground to encourage the dog to make non-habitual movements and teach them how to move their body slowly and remain in physical balance. It is very easy for most dogs to rush blindly around these objects but when we ask them to move slowly, with awareness, and halt frequently they can find it difficult and worrying to start with.
Fluffy is demonstrating how the step-over is used to teach dogs how to use their legs mindfully and independently. The soft poles can be set at different distances, heights and angles. A wand is being used to help her focus on the direction we are moving. A soft rope harness is being used to help her to balance as she learns to lift each leg independently while moving slowly.
These soft poles can be adjusted to different shapes and angles to help Fluffy to learn to co-ordinate and shift her weight over her legs as she turns. Notice how hard she is having to concentrate. Again the wand is being used as an additional cue to the foward movement.
Sometimes a dog will freeze and just not know which leg to move next. The legs and body can be gently stroked with the wand to encourage the nervous sytem to make a connection and move forward. It avoids having to crowd or lean over the dog.
The Teeter-Totter helps her to move up a slight incline, halt and re-balance. Move forward a pace, halt and re-balance as the board tips forward sightly so that she can walk calmly and slowly off the other side.
The labyrinth also teaches a dog to change direction and remain in balance. Notice how Fluffy is out of balance as she comes to a halt after turning the corner. The direction signal of the wand helps her to lower her head and move forward in balance to take the final turn.
We have found that reactive dogs can often be more easily de-sensitised to the presence of other dogs outside the labyrinth while they are inside it. We can then progress to them following other dogs through it.
The hoops provide another variation of equipment to step over and through. Confidence Course exercises can be varied by using different textures of surface, hard-standing, grass, rubber matting, canvas.
The Low Walk Over just inches from the ground (not shown here) is also a really useful piece of equipment to teach a dog how to negotiate ramps and steps with confidence.
Watch this short video and see ground work in action
Repoduced by kind permission of Marie Miller and Paws 'n' Learn Training. For information about TTouch and dog training with Marie Miller please visit www,pawsnlearn.com.