Where did the concepts, exercises and techniques behind the Movement Markers™ Clinics come from and why are these concepts remotely relevant to dog trainers, or dog owners, who have enough on their plates just dealing with the challenges of building solid behaviors and preventing or eliminating chaos in modern dogs.
When I began training dogs professionally, many years ago now, I brought with me a background in human and horse sports, as well as many hours of actual hands on bodywork sessions on humans, horses, and dogs. We all look at the world through the blinders of the tools we bring to the equation, and my tool was movement, and movement analysis.
As a result, I was one of the first in this modern era (these concepts have been around for forever) to talk about the many ways in which proprioception (simplified — body awareness and coordination) or lack of proprioception in modern dogs was affecting their overall physical and mental balance and the training equation. When I began teaching these concepts in clinics, the only other person really writing much about this in dogs was Suzanne Clothier, and the bunch of crazies who were starting this sport called agility, who were more focused on giving modern suburban dogs something to do with their brains than they were about the scientific underpinnings of how movement affected learning. My focus on movement and proprioception led to clinic exercises, articles, the development of concepts like Five Week Puppy Syndrome, puppy enrichment development, hands on techniques specifically for the canine, movement warning flags to subclinical gait issues that we needed to take into account during training, recognizing gait issues that needed to be evaluated by our veterinary colleagues, building partnerships in the veterinary community and daily discussions about all these issues on professional email lists before the advent of social media.
Fast forward to the present, when I am being flooded on a daily basis with pix and video from colleagues around the country checking in to ask if there is “anything going on with this dog” that will affect their ability to learn. Just yesterday alone, I looked at:
- 7 mo Pitty cross with exaggerated roaching in the back, disproportionate growth patterns in the long bones of the legs, and disparate curvature from one leg to another.
- Mastiff pup with an overly straight, splayed hind end, weight disproportionately tipped on the forehand (even for a normal adolescent of nearly any breed who will carry more weight on the forehand at various stages of development), no ability to flex or collect behind, and impaired longitudinal, lateral, and rotational flexion,
- Golden pup whose hind end movement looked like an egg beater gone wild…that was not the result of just being a pup, but again disparate growth patterns,
- St. Bernard pup we had seen in pix since babyhood, (thanks to a colleague) whose owner’s insistence on garbage food was now causing distortion at every growing plate and joint,
- A comparison between movement in a docked vs. undocked Rotties of related blood lines,
- Ayoung mixed breed agility competitor with disparate muscle development from side to side in the hind legs, torsion in the gait, and a stiffness in the back and one hind leg that are the kind of profile that raises concerns about an unhappy knee.
We are not veterinarians, thanks be to God. Nor do I have any pretensions or desire to be one. But animal husbandry and basic knowledge of movement falls squarely in our wheel house. We need to know when there is an issue that needs to be referred over to our veterinary colleagues, we need to document for them what we are seeing, and we need to know when there are issues that are going to affect our training strategies, sequences, tool choices and timing.
I am seeing a vast variety of circumstances that squarely affect learning readiness, learning capacity, and behavioral profiles of the dogs sent to us for training. These things directly impact the dog’s ability to benefit from our training efforts and constitute substantial impediments to learning that must be taken into account if we are to achieve results for the dogs and their owners. Some of the most common categories we are seeing for which we have developed protocol include:
- Proprioceptive deficits that affect the dog’s ability to uptake training information, retain information, sequence, generalize and extrapolate information.
- Subclinical gait abnormalities that affect learning readiness and capacity.(“There’s something about this dog that just doesn’t look quite right.”)
- A marked uptick in the resurgence of various bone growth development issues including panosteitis (pano) that need to be referred out to our veterinary colleagues.A situation which is only going to get worse with the current onslaught of canine corporate food marketing strategies.
- Undiagnosed or under treated clinical gait abnormalities that need to be referred out before, or atleast concurrent with, training so a dog’s learning is not impeded by pain or discomfort.Again, not remotely our job to diagnose, or treat, but it is our job to recognize that perhaps this animal needs to be referred out.
- And a new and disturbing category of dogs with bone growth development issues from an utter and complete lack of necessary movement during puppy development.I have now seen 7 of these cases in the last few months, like nothing I have ever seen before, all the exact same profile of a larger breed youngster kept in a too small space with no migratory movement — straight line movement from place to place — i.e. walks, with weird bone growth issues, and concomitant massive behavioral imbalances up to and including severe aggression in uncharacteristic breeds. Pups literally never taken out of a small yard, and never taken for a walk for a whole host of reasons, but primarily, basic lack of training ability of a larger sized puppy when it outgrows the cute butterball stage of life.
Normal, healthy bone development in living creatures requires healthy, progressive stressing, i.e. movement. Dogs are genetically programmed to move, and that genetic code requires certain actions to be fulfilled during development of their bone structure, or it does not develop correctly. Puppies need to run and play and be taken for long walks, long being relative to a puppy. The training trail here on soft ground is a half mile trail and the youngsters do that 2 to 3 x a day when they are here for training.
In response to these floodgates, I developed Movement Markers™ Clinics to help my colleagues
— be able to identify what normal movement and structure in a canine looks like, feels like, sounds like,
— be able to identify when is there a deviation from normal movement that constitutes a problem that may act as an impediment to learning,
— learn how to use a variety of visual assessment protocols to identify gait abnormalities,
— know when to refer those out (always if any question whatsoever),
— how to help that pup/dog and owner when it comes back into our wheelhouse with appropriate training and pre-training strategies, tool selection, tool placement, proprioceptive exercises, hands on sports therapy assessment tools, and hands on bodywork tools for the enhancement of physical integrity for the dog.
There are many pieces of the dog training puzzle. Hopefully, these clinics can add necessary and useful information to anyone interested in maximizing learning and maintaining the best physical integrity in our own and our clients’ dogs.