Proprioception is the awareness of how your body, particularly your limbs, are oriented and how your body moves. A type of self-awareness. And your dog has it too!
When your dog next goes to the vet for an exam, watch how the vet will support the dog’s body and lift the hind paw, placing it on its toes or more of an upside down position. Then watch your dog replace its paw to its normal position. Your vet is looking for how quickly your dog does this and a dog with normal proprioception will replace its paw almost immediately. Dogs with a neurological deficit will take longer. Sometimes this isn’t a problem, and sometimes it is a sign that something is going wrong. It depends on what other symptoms your dog has.
Other symptoms of a proprioceptive deficit include a wearing of the toe nails in an abnormal pattern (I see this a lot in my massage practice) or a strange posture when your dog goes to sleep (paws or legs in an abnormal position).
There are exercises that you can do to enhance your dog’s proprioception. This includes walking over sticks or ladders as seen in this YouTube video:
Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand