Self-stabilization, Proprioception, What is it?

Do you remember a time your dog jumped on the bed and missed?  Or you tripped on a crack in the cement?  Your dog or you had a deficient proprioceptive or self-stabilizing system in the moment.

unstable beach terrain

Puppies are sensitive to the environment around them and are able to respond quickly to every little change.  Dogs have evolved to be deeply aware of their surroundings and adjust to changes for survival.  Their bodies are sensitive receivers taking in new information that translates to body movement.  As dogs are becoming more sedentary their body awareness is decreasing causing more injuries on hikes, work, or in competition.

In scientific terms.

Proprioception is the awareness of the body in space through mechanoreceptors and neuro sensing cells in the skin, receptive to the environment around us.  In English, the dog’s feet have neuro sensing cells that send messages of the ground they walk on to the brain.  These cells also monitor joint position and movement during daily activities. 

Another way to say it. 

This is the dynamic system of self-stabilization.   When your dog or you are on an uneven surface like a pebble road or the side of a mountain the nervous system is receiving input to adjust muscles for stabilizing so you both don’t fall down.  Not only muscles, also tendons, ligaments, and joint compression are modifying how they respond to the environment.  A pretty intricate system when you think about it.

Our dog gets hurt when there is less body awareness to compensate for the change in environment.  All day long they are lying on the couch with an occasional squirrel window chase or outside sound arousal.   After we get done with work we take our dog on a hike, work them, or practice for a weekend competition.   They have not had practice using their body on unstable surfaces during the day so there is decreased body awareness as they are walking over rocky terrain or jumping over an agility pole.  Their body is slower to respond to the change in environment which causes muscles, tendons, and ligaments to adjust slower potentially causing a muscle strain.

How do we improve this to limit injury?

A very simple change in routine can save you and your puppy a lot of pain later. Here are a few simple tips you can do at home or on a walk to improve body awareness then preventing injury.

  1. Walk over different terrain on your daily walks after work.  Stepping over rocks, curbs, mulch, sand, recycled rubber at play grounds, sticks, and grass can improve the input to the mechanoreceptors in their feet.  That input improves body awareness.
Different terrain
  1. 2. Placing poles, broom sticks, or sticks in a path they walk daily to encourage knowing where their feet are in space. In a hallway, outside the door, or after the patio steps. You can use expandable curtain rods in the hallway, don’t leave them up at night. Go to the dollar store and buy 2 laundry baskets with holes and stake them in the yard upside down. Then place poles in them. Be creative with your exercises.
step overs

These simple steps can improve your dog’s body awareness to react quicker to an obstacle helping preventing injury.  You can do the same exercises with them to help your proprioception while creating a stronger bond with your dog.

Leave us a comment or photo of your dog’s proprioceptive exercises.

Be Present with Your Dog

As I am hiking the Colorado trails along the foothills of Ft Collins I see dogs dragging behind their owners as they are on their cell phone.  Are you paying more attention to your phone then your dog on beautiful Colorado trails?

It is the weekend so you want to spend time outside and you take your dog because they have been inside all week so they want to be outside too.  There are so many problems here I don’t know where to begin. 

Sim and Sadie walking on the beach.

Weak Body Awareness

First problem is your dog has been inside all week, lying on the couch waiting for you to get home so they can play some ball or Frisbee.  If your dog is lucky they will get a walk once a day and maybe twice a day.  Physically your dog has poor core, back leg muscles, and proprioception.  I talked about proprioception in ‘Proprioception, What is it’. 

A weak core, hind legs, and proprioception create a weak dog when out on a hike or even jumping in the car.  They have become a couch potato and now you want them to hike with you. As they maneuver over rocky terrain and hills their body is slow to respond to the movements required and they end up with a back, neck, or knee injury that now lands them in pain and your pocket book short on money.  It takes a year or more for physical rehabilitation to heal the injury and then prepare them for normal life as a stronger dog.  

This can all be avoided by daily exercise routine of 10 min or less in the house or on a daily walk.  I talked about some basic exercise to improve core, hind leg muscles, and proprioception in ‘Canine Fitness Workout to Reduce Injury’.  If you are in the Northern Colorado area you can take one of our many fitness classes for your dog.

I Hear You Tina!

Stronger Bond

Second problem is you are not paying attention to your dog while hiking the beautiful Rockies if you are on your phone.  I see people, all the time, walking on a trail ahead of the dog as they are in pain or thirsty lagging behind.  As a veterinary technician in Jackson Hole I saw many dogs die after heat stroke because their owner left them in their wake riding their bike down the hill.   Please be aware and present with your dog while having fun outdoors.

Being present with your dog on a hike is a very good human animal bonding experience that will fill you both with joy in the beautiful Colorado Rockies.   You are able to monitor your dog’s body awareness and movements as you hike over rocky terrain or along a river.  Your dog is aware of your focus on them and is able to communicate their needs for water or a snack during lunch time.  Sometimes they are just plan goofy to entertain you while you are both communicating on your walk or hike. If you catch a change in their gait or body position you can assess them and prevent an injury later.

I Hear You!

If you have not read my story on animal communication go check out “I Hear You”.  A story about Tina, my best dog, that helped me recover from an illness.

Leave a comment about your best hikes with your dog and how you communicate with each other.


Have you ever experienced a time when you could hear what your dog was thinking or telling you loud and clear? 

Even though I’ve been connecting and working with dogs for most of my life, this awareness jumped out at me when I met Tina.    

Back in 2002

Back in 2002, I was studying at a private veterinary school on the small island south of FL. I was miserable, coughing, and exhausted from long hours of study and a stressful environment. But I didn’t want to go the town doctor, because in addition to sick patients, he had chickens and cats that roaming through his open cinderblock windows.

My fellow vet students felt the same way I did and we would always say; “if I get deathly sick, get me on the next plane to US territory!”.

So we could avoid x-ray’s in the parking lot with the chickens, we did a lot of our own medicating and treatments, all legal of course!  When my friend saw me at school that day, looking exhausted and coughing uncontrollably, she said, “What you need is Elderberry because it stimulates the body’s immune system and helps coughs”.

 I was already swallowing Echinacea complex pills trying to beat the bacteria attacking my immune system.  But we obtained whatever we thought might work, so we didn’t have to go to the doctor with the chickens!

I came home to my small apartment, ready to plop down on my single mattress bed and was greeted by Tina, my black and tan island Shepard that was 30lbs of skin on a little muscle with big pointy ears.  She was a rescue dog, from a junk yard living in survival mode to feed her puppies.

She was looking for food and shelter from me, other than that she kept her distance laying in the yard with the other student dogs basking in the sun, which was her favorite past time.

I was in Survival mode too.  Being so far away from home in order to pursue my vet education, leaving Sade my German Shephard lab dog behind, who died the day after I left the U.S, so my heart was still healing and I was also keeping my distance from Tina too.

I needed to lay down, I was feeling worse, but first I checked to make sure the glass patio door was secure.

We had been broken into once before. The Islanders would break into our apartments because they thought we were rich Americans with our cell phones and computers! I secured the door between the kitchen and bedroom as Tina and I headed to bed.  I retrieved the machete and a knife out of the closet to lay on my night stand, to aid me in protection.

Tina is right next to my side, she’s following me everywhere as I stumble around checking the doors and getting ready to sleep. I am basically tripping over her, as she has been showing this behavior the last few days. This is unusual since she has kept her distance.

But I fell on my bed exhausted quickly falling asleep.  Then I woke up, to a shadow of a man at the end of my bed.  Maybe it was the sun shining through my windows with bars, as I keep blinking my eyes to get a clearer picture with my heart pounding loud in my chest.

And I’m groping for my weapons on the side of the bed, keeping my eye on the shadow  at the same time, and then in the same spot, Tina pops up with her pointy  ears on alert as if to say, wait a minute, don’t get the machete out just yet!  What are you seeing there?  Shadow man not rea!   Tina real.  Shadow man, not real!

As I watched Tina, and really listened to her, I realized the shadow man, just might be the combination of healing plants and self-medication!

I looked at Tina who was still staring at me and I said, “I hear you, it’s the plants”

Tina looked at me smiled as if to say, yup you got it and walked outside to bask in the sun.

Yes, Tina and I were communicating on a deeper level. I didn’t really realize it at the time, but from that point on, we ditched our survival mode and become bonded best friends playing on the beach together. When I came back to the states, she happily came with me, although a little grumpy about the cold weather.

5 years later

It wasn’t until 5 years later, when I was infected with the mosquito born West Nile Virus that I began to understand the intuitive nature of our relationship.

You see my nervous system was in survival mode since being attacked by the virus. After busy days I would have what I called a ‘replase’ from nervous system exhaustion.  It was on such a day that I could feel my body starting to fatigue with a headache.  I was tripping over Tina as I was getting ready for work.  Actually she has been sticking to my side the last few days. I notice her looking up at me with those sweet brown eyes and pointy ears on alert. It is with a smile, that she’s telling me again, survival mode is not reality; Tina Real, headache not real!  I tell Tina “I hear you… I hear you…I hear you!!”  She turned around heading for her fleece bed circling several times to find the right comfy spot satisfied with herself providing me the message, again.

From that moment Tina was my guide, to stop a West Nile Virus relapse before it started, until she passed away in 2013.

Since I’ve become aware of this health intuition I could relate to my dog clients reality, to support them recovering from an injury and my journey as well.

Today I help owners..

Now I help owners work with their dogs special super powers for a stronger pawer pup.

The last 6 months I have noticed dogs are more aware of my presence through their body language.  They will turn to look at me through a car window or try to cross the street to greet me while on a walk with their owners. Today as dogs and I pass each other on the street we silently acknowledge our communication and openly say ‘I hear you. I HEAR YOU!’.

Leave a comment about how you and your dog communicate.

Stronger Dog Stronger Bond!

Canine Fitness Workout to Reduce Injury

Does your dog really need a workout routine?

  I thought this was a crazy idea a few years ago, I mean they are dogs and they know how to take care of themselves.  Right?

Dogs use to live in packs where they would play bow, weave, wrestle, and chase each other.  This was more apparent to me as I watched a friend’s pack of dogs playing in the yard.  Today dogs live in a household of one or maybe two dogs so they do not get the same play that their predecessors did.  As a result they are becoming injured at an increasing rate when jumping off the couch, bed, or out of the car.

What can you do?  If you are a pet parent or owner that truly wants to create a healthier dog then it is very simple steps you can take.  Canine physical fitness is a new field in the animal world.  It consist of people that have anything from a little training to lots of training and it is your job to research those people so your dog does not get injured in the process of helping them become stronger. You can find ‘My Story’ on another page.

You researched and found an canine fitness trainer your dog trust and relates to your needs.  Give them a call to have a quick consult to see if it is a good fit to work together and then get started.

Here are 2 exercises that will help to start improving your dog’s health today. 

  1. The Number 1 Exercise!! Front feet up or elevated stand- ask your dog to step up on a low solid step to shift their weight to the hind legs which will help strengthen their glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calf muscles.
  2. Step over sticks- ask your dog to step over sticks on the ground as you are on walks.  This will increase the proprioception in their feet to help them be more agile.   Read more on proprioception on my previous article ‘Proprioception, What is it’
Front feet up or elevated stand

If you want video instruction jump over to our Facebook page for a video pinned at the top of the page on how to do the above exercises and more. These are easy to add to your routine on a daily walk by stepping up on a curb and holding it.  These are simple ways to create a stronger canine and improve your animal human bond.

Leave us a comment on how your exercises are going.

Update: If your dog does sustain an injury they are recovering from, here is a good article on how to make both your lives easier during the healing time.

K9 Fitness Works is creating stronger dog human bonds through canine physical fitness. We are proud to help owners feel more confident in the quality of life for their pawer pup!

Expert Canine Fitness Trainer

K9 Fitness Works is focused on educating the community on healthy dogs through our blog and soon to be membership site with videos on how to create a stronger core and more in your dog.  We enjoy speaking at club events to share personal dog knowledge to decrease knee and spine injuries in dogs.

K9 Fitness tutorial and knowledgebase articles

Fitness is easy to do daily and is natural to humans and dogs.  Over the centuries we have gotten lazy! Humans and dogs have sat on the couch more then hiking the mountains, unless you live in Colorado.  Even those in Colorado sit at a desk most of the day and the dog sit on the couch most of the day leaving them both susceptible to injury when on a hike up the mountain.  There are simple daily exercises you can both do to decrease injury and create a stronger bond together.

What are your most pressing questions?

Let K9 Fitness Works know what you are looking for in the health of your pet.  What are your concern’s when it comes to the quality of life for your dog?  What do you want to achieve in competition?  Comment below so we can share our knowledge to help you and your dog grow stronger for a better community!