Helping your dog to engage all his senses can boost his confidence and open up his world, says Sarah Fisher.
ACE techniques improve our awareness of a dog’s needs, and highlight areas of his life where he may require additional support on a physical, emotional, and/or cognitive level.
The focus is on the whole dog, not disconnected parts, as every element of our canine companions is involved in an incredible process of filtering, processing, responding, and adapting to sensations and experiences from the dog’s internal and external environment.
However, it’s worth taking a moment to consider each of the senses, since although similar, not all are identical to ours. Dogs don’t always experience the world in quite the same way as we do; it’s something we often forget, but need to take into account in all our interactions with them.
Dogs are much better at spotting movement and have better peripheral vision than we do.
Often considered to be poor compared to a human’s, but in reality it’s simply different. Dogs see colour in a muted range, in shades of blue, yellow, and grey and are less able to discern detail at a distance; but they are much better at spotting movement, can see better in the dark, and have better peripheral vision.
The mobility of the ears, combined with acute hearing, enable your dog to accurately pinpoint the source of noises.
More acute than ours, and able to hear sounds in different frequencies (such as those ‘silent’ dog whistles); also able to discern subtle differences we miss completely. This may account for the distress many dogs feel when fireworks are let off; the sounds may cause actual physical discomfort.
Items your dog touches with his nose, such as snuffle mats and food puzzles, also provide sensory feedback.
One of the first senses to develop, sensory receptors are present within the skin, with the most numerous being those that sense pressure. Located at the base of hair follicles, they’re activated whenever disturbance of the hair causes movement in the surrounding tissue. The nose and muzzle are particularly rich in sensory receptors and around 40 per cent of the area in the brain that processes all sensory information is dedicated to data received from the head, particularly the upper face and jaw.
Taste is less well developed in dogs.
Less well developed than it is in humans — around 1,700 taste buds compared to 9,000 on your own tongue. Nevertheless your dog can still detect sweet, sour, bitter, and salty tastes, tends to dislike bitter and prefers
meaty foods, using his superb sense of scent to help him distinguish between different types. In common with humans, many dogs also have a sweet tooth.
If your dog can’t easily stretch to sniff low down, he’ll be missing out on a rewarding and fulfilling experience.
Most of us are aware of the phenomenal power of the canine sense of smell — the average dog possesses around 200 million scent receptors compared to five million in humans. They don’t just have the ability to smell things undetectable to us, but scent in an entirely different way, enabling them to identify individuals and acquire information about sex, health, and status. So sensitive and finely tuned is this sense that dogs can even tell the passage of time by the fading of a scent.
Dogs live in a world in which smells predominate in their environment, and can provide the same sort of pleasure and even joy that a beautiful view might give us.
The hidden senses
We tend to focus on the five senses most evident to us, but there are others equally important to both you and your dog, which often get overlooked. Proprioception and the vestibular system are essential to almost everything you do. They enable you to pick up a cup, lift it to your mouth and take a few sips, then walk across to the sink, turn on the tap to rinse it out, and place it on the draining board — all without really having to think about what you are doing, despite it being a complex series of actions involving many parts of your body.
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