By Nicky Grant BSc Hons Physiotherapy, MSc Veterinary Physiotherapy, MCSP, ACPAT A, HCPC, RAMP

We have had a few questions about why we haven’t introduced tunnels yet in to our puppy series even though we are now at 8 months. The 9 months is coming soon, we promise! We are a little behind, we like to blame Charlie for this as he can’t really defend himself being 4 months old but the reality is we have both been super busy, Bonny with her EO prep and me, well helping Bonny really (and running the Win Clinic in my spare time haha). We did film the 9-month video but the wind was too much of a disruption to the sound so we couldn’t use it, a real shame but exciting news though, there is a tunnel in the 9-month video and it is coming soon.

By addressing the tunnel question it also allows me to discuss why we have been pretty conservative with what we have done through out the puppy series. I know some people will be thinking too conservative, too slow, not enough training. Well, we disagree and are proud that we are trying to provoke discussion and a change in how we think about training our puppies and young dogs.
We have been deliberately very steady with our progressions and very considered with the challenges that we have asked of our puppies in this series and a number of reasons sit behind this. We need to be better at getting the basics right, to not be in so much of a rush to get our young dogs out competing before they are ready. Having a better understanding of normal movement and function is really important so we can make sure our young dogs are learning correctly. We also want to highlight the importance of training our dogs to have an off switch, to settle, to be quiet and calm allowing them to recover and grow, both mentally and physically.

I see far too often in clinic young dogs that come to me that are already out competing that aren’t strong enough, they don’t have good body awareness, they can’t walk on a lead at a steady walk with balance and coordination. They can’t sit or stand square and maintain their balance using the appropriate musculature. These are some of the basic things that we must be getting right with out puppies from the start. If we get this right at an early stage we build the best possible foundation blocks for our dogs. These are the things that we cover in our early months in the puppy series and until our young dogs have these basics we don’t introduce the challenge of a tunnel. So why is the tunnel such a challenge, well here are some of the reasons that I feel the tunnel is more of a physical challenge that we think.

• Tunnels are a change in surface; this requires adjustment from the dogs in terms of their movement and muscle activation. These adjustments are usually minor but sometimes these smaller movements and adjustments are harder than the bigger gross movements.
• They often go from light to dark and dark to light again, try standing on one leg, then close your eyes, see how much harder it is?
• If they are bigger dogs they will need to crouch to fit through, this requires a lot of strength from their legs. Try bending your knees to a half squat and walking, you will soon feel the burn!
• If the tunnel is not well secured it can move, this adds a huge amount of complexity to how the dog will need to physically react to this movement under their feet to remain balanced.
• If the tunnel is really well secured the dog’s momentum can be significantly decreased in a very short space of time, to be able to physically cope with this is hard.
• The surface can be slippery making maintaining balance much harder
• If they slip or lose their footing they need to be optimised physically optimised to be able to recover from the stretches and strains and prevent a serious injury.
• Growth plate are still not fully formed, certainly in larger dogs at this age therefore why do we want to put the above mentioned stresses in to an immature body?

These challenges are obviously significantly more evident as the speed increases hence we will be introducing a tunnel in our nine month video at a pretty leisurely pace but these are the main reasons that we haven’t introduced a tunnel until now, conservative maybe, reasoned definitely. Check out the puppy series for more information and keep your eyes peeled for the nine-month video coming soon (promise!) and as ever if you have any comments or questions please do get in touch.

Photo credit - Annabelle Stoate