What is hind end awareness and why is it important?
13 Dec 2019
By Sue Van Evra, BScPT, MSc, BHScPT, Dipl Canine Rehab
Proprioception is the unconscious sense of position of the body at all times.
Hind end awareness is the sense of position that a dog has of its hind end. In other words, it is the dog’s ability to know where and how the hind limbs are positioned relative to its surroundings. You would think that dogs automatically have this sense when they start walking! … but dogs don’t naturally have a sense of where their hind end is in relation to the rest of their body and to their environment. Most dogs would be happy to function in front wheel drive!
Why is this important?
Whether your dog is a competitive athlete, or just likes to do leisurely walks around the neighborhood, having hind end awareness is very important in order to move efficiently and to prevent injury. For example, if a dog is landing a jump at an agility trial or landing after jumping up to catch a Frisbee in the park, having a keen awareness of their hind end body position helps to prevent awkward landings and falls that can lead to injuries.
How do proprioception and hind end awareness work?
There are nerve endings (sensors) in every joint in the hind end (hips, stifles, hock, tarsus, pelvis and lumbar spine) that constantly send signals to the spinal cord and brain. These sensors give the brain continuously updated information about the position of the joint (whether the knee is bent, or straight for example). This happens unconsciously – without the dog being aware. The brain then sends lightning fast messages to the muscles surrounding the joint. That way the muscles are always responding and adapting to any change in position, or in direction. The muscles can therefore protect the joints as the dog is moving and support the joints when needed to prevent injury.
Having a lack of proprioception and hind end awareness is most obvious when you watch a puppy running around a yard. The puppy’s little joints are just developing – as are the nerve sensors and muscles…so the information sent to the brain about body position isn’t as accurate, and neither are the muscle reactions! Inevitably the puppy’s limbs are clumsy and flying in all different directions! Senior dogs (and senior humans!) lose proprioception with age – so they might slip on a hardwood floor more easily, for example. Their sense of body position isn’t as crisp.
Exercises to Improve hind end awareness
(1)Backing up onto a soft surface
Encourage your dog to back up and then reach with their hind paws to step up onto a surface that feels different – a piece of foam, pile of laundry, onto a couch cushion for example.
(2)Pivoting with front paws on a stool
Encourage your dog to sidestep with hind legs both clockwise and counterclockwise around a stool.
(3)Stepping slowly over obstacles
Set up poles (cavalletti poles or ski poles/broom sticks) a foot apart and ‘knee height’ (depending on the height of your dog!) and have the dog step over the poles slowly
(4)Standing balance on a peanut
Have the dog try to balance on an inflatable object (peanut or BOSU). Make sure to ‘spot’ them and stand by while they are learning!
(5)Diagonal Leg standing
Lift opposite front and hind limb paws at the same time, just off the ground, hold for 5 seconds then repeat with other front/hind combination
Signs of decreased hind end awareness
- Clumsy hind end
- Dragging hind paws (and wearing hind nails down more quickly)
- Walking with hind paws wider or narrower than normal
For more information, please contact us at the Canine Fitness Centre! 403-204-0823