Understanding the Elements Copy

 

The  Labyrinth:

Of all the elements in the “Playground for Higher Learning” the Labyrinth is probably the most iconic. Studies done by Anna Wise have suggested that going through the Labyrinth activates all four hemispheres of the brain for both the handler and the animal which helps explain some of the profound changes we have seen with this deceptively simple exercise.

What you need:

Poles of various material such as PVC pipe, half-rounds, guttering, ropes, painters tape if in a building.

The general size of the Labyrinth may be adjusted for smaller or larger animals and the pole lengths you have available—generally 8-10 feet for dogs.

Benefits:

  • Teaches obedience, focus and patience for dog & handler
  • Improves coordination, flexibility and balance
  • Provides a predictable exercise that can be used as a check-in as new layers are added (eg..bodywraps, or being handled by different people)
  • Helps introduce parameters
  • Promotes fun; which enhances learning.
  • Slows the process down requiring the nervous system to pay more attention.
  • Requires non-habitual movement
  • Helps animals become successful which improves confidence.
  • Handlers become clearer with their signals as they navigate, improving communication and cooperation.
  • Slow movement develops muscle at a deeper level than fast movement

 

The Labyrinth can be done  in various leading configurations.  Generally begin with one handler, with two points of contact for dogs.  Adjust leading positions as suitable to each individual animal.

Regardless of which leading position you choose you generally want to stop before each corner to regroup, refocus, and re-balance.  Requiring a slow, mindful, negotiation of the corners will mean that the animal will better use themselves and organize rather than just fall through the turn.

Give yourself plenty of room to ask for a stop before you actually get to the corner.  Remember that the signal has to go from your brain, to your body, to the animal’s body, then to their brain and back to their body before you actually see the response.  Pausing before asking again will usually result in a more responsive partner.  If you are in Homing Pigeon, the person on the outside asks for the forward signal, ideally towards the outside corner, while the inside handler waits for forward momentum before signally how much turn there should be.  Imagine turning a Tractor Trailer around the bend rather than a scooter.

If an animal is having difficulty falling in on one side, consider using  a variety Homing Pigeon to help maintain balance and create boundaries.  Does your dog have separation concerns?  Consider navigating the Labyrinth with the Bee-Line so they have the freedom to move towards and away from their “person” without feeling too controlled.

Be mindful of HOW your animal is using their body while they go through the Labyrinth. Do they bend the same left and right?  Does the speed and rhythm of their stride maintain through the transitions?  What does their posture do as they start and stop?  Notice how they track through the turns and whether they are able to shift their balance and reorganize.

 

Surfaces

With its humble beginnings as a first step to help horses become comfortable in the trailer loading process, the use of Surfaces in the “Playground for Higher Learning” and “Confidence Course” has grown exponentially. Now much more than a piece of plywood or tarpaulin, Surfaces of all kinds are used for horses and dogs alike.  The only limit is your imagination!

Surface suggestions for the TTouch PlaygroundSome ideas:

  • Plywood
  • Wooden platforms
  • Tarp
  • Shade Cloth
  • Rugs
  • Canvas
  • Astro Turf
  • Rubber mats
  • Flat boards
  • Styrofoam
  • Cardboard
  • Mesh screens
  • Corrugated metal
  • Bubble wrap
  • Laminate flooring
  • Linoleum pieces
  • Foam of various density

Poles 

Poles or similar items are great exercises to help improve balance, focus, confidence and self- control. This pattern is especially good to slow down horses who rush.

What to use:

  • PVC pipe – cut in half lengthwise  so they will not roll – this is good when making a labyrinth
  • 2” x 1” stripes of wood
  • Pool noodles—they can be difficult in the wind or if you have dogs who want to pick them up
  • Dowling
  • Horse jump poles – if you have access

 

Poles can be used in a variety of ways:

  • Cavalettis – in a straight line: raised on one end; both ends; alternate ends;  vary the distances

 

  • Pick-up sticks – The configuration of the Pickup sticks is set up like a slightly organized mess of sticks. You can use any length of poles. Lay them out to create different sized spaces for a horse or dog to step into and through. Be careful that the poles are not set too high and won’t roll into each other.

 

  • Double Triangle or Zig Zag

 

  • The Fan

 

Cones

Simple, yet effective, cones can help Improve flexibility, focus and balance.

Increasing flexibility through the rib cage can be  helpful for dogs with reactivity issues.

Cones can be used as focal points for both dog and handler.   You can use this in Homing Pigeon with the handlers staying on each side and the dog weaving.

Vary the distance depending on your dog’s suppleness.

Tires

Tires offer another element that gives you options.   You can use different types of tires – car tires are larger and stable—you can put them on the ground to walk through; you can put a board on top as a walk over.

 

You can also use motorcycle tires—a little smaller and easier to transport and store.  Alternatively, bicycle tires work well, a bit like using hoola hoops but they don’t move as much.

 

Platforms and Bridges

  If you have access to the materials, low bridges and platforms  can be an excellent addition to the “Playground”.    These can be simple and temporary, made with tires and boards, or solidly build out of lumber or pallets into longer term, “elements”.

Platforms and Bridges can help enhance confidence and balance and create clear signals.

 

 

 

 

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