Sports and Fitness
Puppy Proprioception: Easy tricks to bolster your puppy’s body awareness.
M. Christine Zink, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Body awareness seems so obvious to us. We automatically know where our hands and feet are. We give little thought to natural movements like walking up stairs and placing car keys on a table.
Recognizing the spatial orientation of our hands and feet is called proprioception. Special receptors in the skin, muscles and joints send messages about the movements of our body along nerves to the spinal cord and brain. The brain reads and interprets these messages, allowing you to make coordinated movements.
Learning to move
Just like all nerves, those that govern proprioception can be trained. For example, if you play a musical instrument, you know that at first you had difficulty placing your fingers where they were supposed to be. But with practice, your fingers became more accurate and your responses more rapid. You were enhancing your proprioceptive abilities.
The proprioceptive nerves are among the last to develop in the young. If you ask a 2-year-old to put her hands on her head, she likely will just wave her hands in the air because proprioception is primitive at that age. As the child grows and her neurological system matures, so will her knowledge of spatial orientation. If she plays on a jungle gym or participates in sports, her neurological system will mature faster and she will develop much more accurate proprioception.
Puppies develop the same way. When they begin to crawl around the whelping box, their movements are jerky and not well directed. Even when you bring your 8-week-old puppy home, it doesn’t know where its feet are. It’s endearing to see a puppy try to run after a rolling ball and tumble as its feet get in the way, but that’s really just a result of immature proprioception. With time and practice, the puppy will improve at chasing that ball.
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