I have a big dog. She has so much fur that she doesn't need to wear boots in the winter, so I don't have to put her through this:
While this video is entertaining, it also raises interesting mind-body questions. What is going on with these dogs that makes their movement so uncoordinated, and why are relatively similar movement patterns created in all of the dogs? We can't just assume that the dogs hate the boots and want them off: if that were the case, the best solution would be to lie down, apply teeth to boots, and rip the suckers off.
My first theory is that something must be going on with the dogs' proprioception - the body sense that tells you where your body is in space and what it's doing. Having something extra on the feet could be messing with that, by giving the sensation of a bulkier, weightier foot. Basically, your brain is always mapping your body, which creates your body schema. This schema then tells you where you are so that you can do things like stand up and walk around and function in a coordinated way.
To diverge for a bit away from dogs and into body mapping and Rolfing® Structural Integration (SI) – more dogs later! – the body map is probably part of why amputees get phantom-limb pain, feeling a body part as if it were still there after it has been removed. Interestingly, I've heard that a few of my colleagues have mocked up doing Rolfing work on the phantom limb, which helped to decrease the clients' pain. While it could be purely a placebo effect, it would also be that they are somehow influencing the body map that still includes the missing limb.
The body map can also become distorted through injury. Here is an interesting story by Rolfer Robert Schleip about a man who "lost" his head due to injuries – basically, his brain no longer accurately mapped the location of his head, and as a result he was constantly bumping his head. Schleip devised an interesting and playful exercise for him to do at home that quickly re-mapped his head through sensory input, and the head-bumping stopped.
If you are curious about the brain's body mapping, this book is an excellent resource. Also, its author, Sandra Blakeslee, is interviewed here by Rolfer™ and Rolf Movement® Practitioner Kevin Frank, discussing why Rolfing sessions can help restore and improve your body map – increasing coordination and grace in movement. Frank believes that body mapping offers a new theory on how Rolfing SI works to improve posture, coordination, and movement, as he discusses here. Originally we attributed the results of Rolfing SI to thixotropy – the property of a gel to become more liquid when pressure is applied, or in this case the idea that the fascias of the body can be softened and reshaped when a Rolfer applies manual pressure. Frank believes that research into brain mapping suggests that we are changing fascia/posture/etc. by changing the brain map and giving the body corrective sensory and proprioceptive movement.
With my Rolfing clients here in Seattle, I always have them stand up after a session and ask them to feel what is different. Things change in Rolfing sessions, and if you can feel it, you can own it and live from it. I also tell clients to go for a walk (particularly after any work on the feet or legs) to "hard-wire" the changes into their movement patterns. This is particularly useful to do before engaging in any sort of automatic movements or patterning, like jumping in the car and driving off to the next thing in life. Rolfing sessions are as much a process of education into body awareness as they are a process of receiving hands-on work, so I work to enhance somatic awareness. On a mind-body-spirit level, what we are doing is balancing the head, heart, and belly (movement) centers, so that the person functions in a balanced and embodied way. The more this can happen – the integration of changes into the "felt sense" and the body map – the more the improved posture from a Rolfing session will last over time, rather than disappear the next day as often happens with massage.
Back to the dogs. I posted the video link to a Rolfers forum, and asked my colleagues for their thoughts – as Rolfers are an inquisitive and thoughtful bunch – and I got back some interesting responses:
- Rolfer Deborah Weidhaas speculates that "when a dog lifts its foot, the world/ground is supposed to go away. With boots on it doesn't, the ground sensory feedback continues, so they lift farther to try to get away from the sensory input."
- My colleague and fellow blogger Linda Grace concurs on proprioceptive factors, and also tells me that the leg-lift move may have to do with a primitive reflex being activated. In human infants, primitive reflexes tell the baby to seek the breast for nourishment, to suck, to step into contact with the sole of the foot.... Puppies also have canine-appropriate reflexes, and according to what a researcher told Grace, one of them is to raise the back leg for their mom to clean them up. She speculates that the dogs in boots may be lifting their legs to say "Mom! Get this off me!"
- Rolfer Allan Kaplan noted the theory that the movements may be due to "the hairs between the dogs’ toes getting erroneous stimulation when confined in the booties. Once they get used to them, they make the adjustment." This again points to proprioception – a disturbance messes up proprioception, then when the body map adjusts to the input, all is well.
If you are going to put boots on your dog, here is some advice on how to acclimatize them to this new sensation in a gentle and kind way. If you want to try a Rolfing session, here is where you can find a certified practitioner in your area.