Wednesday, 20 August 2014

How and why I started as a canine therapist

“Best job in the world” – absolutely! 

We have two dogs – active (very) collie spaniel crosses, brother & sister. Sam has always been the seagull chaser, which is lucky as we live by the sea. Sarah was the ball catcher. A couple of years ago, when they were around 6 years old, Sarah started to change in personality and gait – she became grumpy, stiff walking and generally seemed ‘old before her time’. As a qualified human masseur I attempted some techniques on her which she seemed to appreciate. So I attended an introduction to dog massage workshop to learn if it was possible to adapt my human skills for a dog. That was it – I was hooked. I took and passed the diploma course and then gave up full-time work as surely nothing could be as rewarding as helping dogs to regain their quality of life, like our Sarah now has (having been massaged almost every day for the past 2 years – actively demanding it). We have our dog back, in fact we have a ‘new’ dog – a happy, bright eyed, loving, bouncy Sarah who doesn’t get the ball so often and when she does it is on my terms and rolled (not thrown).

I didn’t want to be part of a larger business or franchise so set up my own dog massage and muscle therapy service called AchyPaw so that I could offer a personalised service benefitting both dog and owner.

When I was researching about canine massage I constantly read that dogs will present you with their problem or they will show their gratitude and ‘give’ themselves to you. I wasn’t sure what that meant until I started – but they DO. Once you have gained their trust they seem to say “Oh….Dr Les is cool….I’ll give him my back leg now” or “Hmm…I’ve got two sides you know…work on that one now” while giving me big eyes and constant reassuring licks.

My very first client was a deaf Dalmatian so all my interaction had to be by touch and sight – saying soothing words would not work. She was a bit reluctant at first but the second and subsequent times she visited, she saw the massage bed and made a bee-line jump to it – “It’s massage time!” This happens so often I have given up being surprised…it just is. I still get quizzical looks from the owners who say “How did my dog know……?” I shrug and say it is doggy instinct.

Since qualification, I have taken several CPD workshops to further my skills and techniques and each time you learn a little more, to help a little more. In my first year I undertook classes to learn how to give a full holistic massage to a dog and about stretching and flexing exercises.

These came in useful the other day when we were attending a local dog show to promote the service and get dog massage into the local consciousness rather than people thinking that vets are the sole source of help. Of course vets are the professionals, they do the diagnosis but we are there to complement and maintain.

Our tent was a few stalls away from a Greyhound Rescue tent. In that tent was a handsome greyhound called Dick. Unfortunately he had only one front leg but the gorgeous big eyes and lovely personality of greyhounds. His owner bought him over to me and he shuffled himself down on the massage bed – clearly ready for some pampering. Over the next hour or so I was giving him a massage and some passive stretches while people at the dog show were going “Oooo” and “Ahhhh” as they passed – he was generating quite the interest.

As well as only having 3 legs, he also had been attacked by another dog leaving him with some nasty injuries plus he has bone cancer. But did he seem to mind? Not at all. He just settled in for his therapy session and loved every minute – as did I. It didn’t feel like a ‘job’ but a real privilege to be able to work on such a hero.

He was entered into the 6 legged competition which should be one dog / one owner (do the maths to count the legs). But there was a clear problem with Dick – only 3 legs. So his two owners each tied one of their legs together. Now do the maths – makes 6. Of course Dick won and his owners brought him over to us to show us his rosette. Dick saw me and the massage bed and leapt onto it with a big soppy grin as though to say “Now give me my prize”. That was a real tear-jerker of a moment. A dog who I had only met a few hours before trusted me and enjoyed the massage so much he wanted more.

So have I got the best job in the world? Absolutely!

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