We asked canine behaviourist, veterinary physiotherapist and TTouch Practitioner Julie Moss to outline the key role the canine nervous system plays in how dogs behave and how important its role is in rehabilitation.
The role of the nervous system
Every second of every day our dogs are bombarded with sensory information. All this information enters the nervous system via the senses and is processed with reference to existing conditions inside and outside of the body and previous experience. A bodily reaction then occurs in response to the arrival of the sensory information and this subsequent processing.
When our dogs are walking along and seeing everything around them those visual images are processed, and their body performs a response to that received information. They may walk faster, fixate, suddenly start to sniff the ground, bark, or growl, wag their tail, or feel the need to run. The visual information has been merged with incoming sensory information received by the nose and ears and all the other senses. It is then compared to previously remembered information and experience for that individual and the result is a physical reaction to this combination, which is unique to that dog in that moment in time.
It can be overwhelming
Sometimes the amount of sensory information can be overwhelming for our dogs. It can cause them to react in ways we would rather they did not. From the male dog who smells a female dog in season and pulls the owner down the road to get to them, to the dog who hears a noise in the distance and wants to run for home. When the sensory information is overwhelming it can be hard for our dogs to conduct a measured response to the world around them.
It can be sometimes be difficult for us to establish what is causing the reaction. Did they hear something, or smell or see something? Or is it a combination of all those things? We have no way to know what it is like to experience the world from the perspective of a dog as most of their senses can receive information which goes completely unnoticed by us.
Mostly we just consider the senses of sight, hearing and smell, but equally important are those other senses that are often overlooked.
Sensory input also comes into the body via the sense of touch, which is another of the senses we often acknowledge but do not give nearly enough consideration. Your dog is affected by everything they touch and by everything that touches them. This includes everything they stand on and walk on and everything they wear. Sensory information from touch enters the body by way of the somatosensory system and whilst the skin on the body is sometimes given consideration, what might be entering via the feet is usually not.
The proprioceptive system
Understanding the proprioceptive system of the dog is crucial if we want to consider the whole picture of the situation the dog is experiencing. Every time they step on something or move over something, information travels back and forth through the body to allow them to adjust body position to maintain balance and stability. If this system is not functioning well this will affect how safe or in control our dogs feel at any given time. If there is a structural problem, such as an underlying lameness, this affects the functioning of the proprioceptive system and therefore the functioning of the whole dog. There may be current pain or there may have been previous pain which is remembered. It affects them emotionally and physically and can cause or intensify feelings of fear and insecurity. Pain can also heighten sensitivity to noise and other sensory input.
Utilising the nervous system in rehabilitation
When trying to physically or behaviourally rehabilitate dogs we can utilize the nervous system effectively to set our dogs up for success. Mostly the focus is on influencing the brain to change the patterns of the body, but even more success can often be achieved by looking at it the other way. We can also influence the body to change the mind by working with the proprioceptive and vestibular systems of the body using specific touch and movement exercises.
When rehabilitating dogs my most used and favourite modality is Tellington TTouch. It utilizes non-habitual touch and movement to change the patterns and habits of the nervous system throughout the body. Working with the whole nervous system is consistently amazing and enlightening and allows a whole new approach to the art of rehabilitation.
I am passionate about teaching this way of working to others. Whether you are a dog enthusiast or you work professionally with dogs, I promise you will be amazed at results you can achieve when you start to work from a more somatic perspective.
Want to learn more?
If you want to learn more about the canine nervous system you can enroll in my course The Canine Nervous System and its Role in Rehabilitation.
There are over four hours of content on the canine nervous system and how we can utilise ALL of it in our rehabilitation work with dogs. It looks at how we can use the body to change the mind rather than the other way around. You will gain an understanding of how the canine nervous system receives information and the whole body changes which occur as a result of the constant sensory input.
This programme takes you on a sensory tour from the tip of the dog’s nose to their gut microbiome and discusses subjects such as sensory processing disorders and somatic experiencing to expand your thinking beyond the usual brain focused approaches to rehabilitation and more towards the somatic approach.
You will also learn how to use the sensory systems of the body to assist you in rehabilitation work, be that physical or behavioural rehabilitation.
Julie has kindly offered our supporters a 15% discount
Please use the code CAM15OFF at the checkout.
If you want to learn about Tellington TTouch for your own dogs or those you work with, you can book a free consultation call with Julie to give you the best option.
Julie Moss BSc. Hons., AdvCertVPhys, Dip.APhys.
Julie is a canine behaviourist, veterinary physiotherapist and TTouch Practitioner. She started Best Behaviour in 2005, which has since become part of her business, Canine Mind and Body Balance. She has a special interest in integrative veterinary care, where CAM therapies play an important role in truly holistic animal care. Her passion is working with older animals to give them back the best quality of life possible and she is committed to education and enabling people to recognise early signs of lameness in our dogs.
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The veterinary Surgeon’s Act 1966 restricts the treatment of animals (usually other than your own*) by anyone other than a qualified vet. Always consult a veterinary surgeon if you are concerned about your animal’s health. *For full details visit the RCVS website