Tuesday, 16 December 2014

I love research studies – especially when they prove me right

When we take our dogs to events and shows we always get comments like “They are so chilled” and “Aren’t they well behaved?” After I stop preening myself I think back to how we have always exercised them mentally as well as physically – they are collie / spaniels after all….brains the size of mini-planets (sometimes!).

Whenever I give my clients homework to do on their dogs after a treatment session, I typically add in some stretches or exercise they can do with their dog. It doesn’t have to be vigorous or expensive (see my previous post on how much fun you can have for £1). But is something you can control and means you take part in the healing process as well as helping you bond with your dog. 

We were invited along to a book launch last week and interviewed about what we do and why. One of the questions I was asked was whether physical exercise is the only thing necessary in bringing up a dog. I recounted one the things Chris and I had to learn to get our two through the Good Citizen Dog Scheme Award for the Kennel Club when they were puppies when asked a similar question. We were taught that dogs need a suitable environment (place to live), diet (food and water), behaviour (to be able to be a dog), exercise, companionship and affection with the need to be protected from pain and suffering. We added in mental stimulation too as we had two puppies in lots of need of that. 

One of the first games we were taught by Lee Lampert, who taught us how to bring up two bonkers brainy active puppies, was a simple game called “Go Find”. This involved a handkerchief which you had to rub somewhere over your body to pick up your smell. The original handkerchief had a 10p coin sewn in one corner. But we soon progressed (or regressed) to one of the many odd socks that seem to accumulate when I do the laundry. The idea is to get the dogs to sit, get them to sniff the handkerchief / sock and then get them to watch while you run round the house from room to room eventually placing the handkerchief / sock somewhere at eye level for them to find. On the cue of “Go Find” the kids would run like crazy from room to room to find it. They LOVED this game and now, 8 and a half years later, they still sit like demented things with tails wagging and body shivering in excitement when I tell them we are going to play Go Find. The game has increased in complexity as we now have more rooms to hide things in and also includes hiding the sock upstairs or downstairs. This means a single game can last for several minutes. 

As well as exhausting me while I run around the house hiding the sock, the dogs get quite knackered simply going round the house sniffing happily trying to find it and outwitting Dad. I told the listeners last week about Go Find and a couple of people came up to me at the end to explain it. And at the seminar we gave this weekend I noticed a lot of people in the audience nodding when I spoke about the importance of mental exercise as well as physical. They clearly have the same sort of bonkers dog. 

This week I read of a research study being undertaken at Bristol University which interviewed 4000 pet owners and found that games provided vital stimulation and exercise for most dogs. They found that if dogs don’t get their mental stimulation they often become anxious and even aggressive. They concluded that they can’t say unequivocally that playing less is directly to blame for disobedience but that games certainly do provide intellectual stimulation and exercise. 

I was quite saddened that they found in their sample of 4000 only 1 in 5 owners play with their dogs six times a day. Half play two or three times and 10% only once a day. Goodness….Sam and Sarah would go crazy with that. 

Mark Evans, former chief vet for the RSPCA, said that dogs are one of the few animals to play into adulthood and believed that ‘There is a clear association in the results. Owners report more potential behaviour problems in dogs that play less.’ He also said that the type of game owners play with their dog is important as you need to find ones they enjoy rather than one that is imposed. Sam and Sarah, for example, would not play a game that involves them wiping their muddy feet before they come in but now love the rubby-down game we have to play with the towel to get mud, sand and rain off them before they come indoors. 

Emily Blackwell of Bristol University, who conducted the research, said dogs often enjoy playing so much that they slow down or change strategy to make the fun last longer. She said that they often slow down when playing chase allowing the owner to catch up with them. Our Sam does that. When we place chase, he waits until I am just within reaching distance before galloping off with a big fat grin on his face as though he is saying “Nya, nya nya…..you are too slow Dad” which is probably true. And when they play Go Find, if Sarah finds the sock first she will wait for her brother to catch up so as not to spoil the game. 

I now feel vindicated that my mad dashing around the house shouting Go Find all these years has been scientifically proven as being beneficial and not the ravings of a Mad Dad….although Sam and Sarah don’t care about the evidence…they just love to play. 

"Did Dad hide it in the living room Sam?" asks Sarah

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

If I could talk to the animals

I was referred to an article the other day which really fed my geek. It was by Theresa Fisher and entitled "Brain Scans Reveal What Dogs Really Think Of Us" (1). She referred to a research study on neuroimaging in dogs (2). Somehow the researchers had managed to train a cohort of dogs to stay motionless, unsedated and unrestrained in an MRI scanner - no mean feat I would have thought. 

They presented a variety of smells to the dogs with the intention to identify which smells cause the greatest response. They concentrated on responses from the caudate nucleus as that area of the brain is associated with positive expectations. So the theory was that if that area exhibits stimulation, the dogs liked the smell. 

The scents they used included the dog itself, a familiar dog, a familiar human, an unfamiliar dog and an unfamiliar human. The results indicated that the brain responded most positively to the smell of a familiar human. Interestingly the smell was not that of the dog’s owner but someone the dog knew. 

The researchers concluded that “This.…provides important clues about the importance of humans in dogs’ lives” while Theresa Fisher said that this also means that “Dogs don't just seem to pick up on our subtle mood changes — they are actually physically wired to pick up on them”. 

I love research like this and thank Stephen Flanagan for finding it for me. It means that when I talk to my doggy clients or when I sit them in my lap and they look at me trustingly, it is not hokum pokum but because there is a scientific rationale behind it. They like smelling me and are hard wired to relax. 

Then I found another piece of research done locally at the University of Sussex (4) about how dogs really do understand human speech and that they process language in a similar way to us. The researchers placed a cohort of dogs between 2 speakers which played simple recorded commands. The tests suggested that the dogs are able to pick up on subtle aspects of human speech such as emotional tone, intonation and volume changes. 

They concluded that is because dogs process language in the same way as we do. We have what is called a ‘hemispheric bias’ when it comes to communication, with different aspects of language favouring the left or right side of the brain and the test dogs appeared to respond in the same way. They concluded that this similarity in processing sounds may reflect convergent evolution for processing human speech as if dogs have been selected to respond to human vocal signals during domestication. In other words, like the previous study, they are hard-wired to our speech as well as our smell. 

Now if I could only find myself an MRI scanner I could do all sorts of research on the value of playing music to dogs to bring about positive responses (like dear old Harry) or whether they really do understand “Now lift your left leg for me so I can massage your pectoral muscles” or if they just hear “woof...bark…woof…woof…bark”. But in the meantime I am more than happy knowing that tucking the kids under our blanket when they are anxious is not coddling but evidence based. 

Dog massage
Sam and Sarah being 'hard wired'


1. http://mic.com/articles/104474/brain-scans-reveal-what-dogs-really-think-of-us 
2. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0376635714000473 
3. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0107205 
4. http://www.cell.com/current-biology/pdfExtended/S0960-9822%2814%2901339-6

Friday, 21 November 2014

Canine Behaviour & Massage : A Holistic Approach

Alex and I held our first Canine Behaviour & Massage workshop at Earthed Barn, Fletching with the theme of 'Coping with Canine Anxiety'. 

Sarah & Sam arranging the chairs at the Barn

The Barn was full of dog lovers who were there to pick up some tips, learn a relaxing massage routine and to generally meet and chat in a cosy relaxed venue. Among those who attended were Dr Birgit Ahlemeyer, a holistic vet, Mandy Fischer, an oestopath, Alison Ridley, owner of Doggy Delights plus many caring dog owners who wanted to learn as much as possible to help their dogs. 

Some of the group at the Barn

Alex spoke about how :
  • Anxiety can be inherited or can derive from a deprived early environment perhaps nutritionally, physically or socially. Food consumed is linked to the ability to cope and learn for example
  • Dogs cannot rationalise like humans or exercise escapism
  • Inconsistency in their home environment can also lead to this behaviour
  • The dog should not be forced to confront their fears and the environment should be made as relaxed as possible
  • A routine should be established, anxious behaviour should be ignored where possible and normal behaviour rewarded
  • Pairing the fearful situations with something positive
The latter brought us very nicely to demonstrating a short but effective relaxation routine that could be performed on an anxious dog.  This time Mr Sam was the model but looked anything other than anxious.

Sam showing how it is done to be a relaxed dog

I started my section of the workshop by asking everyone to stand up and look anxious.  As expected, shoulders went up, jaws were clenched and bodies were held tense.  This was to demonstrate how behaviour and posture are so closely related.  In an anxious dog their back often bows, their tail may tuck in holding their back end stiff, their neck may shorten.  Like their owners, being anxious makes their bodies tense.

So we demonstrated a quick routine that everyone could do on their dogs to help calm them donw during thunder or firework seasons.

It seems that this routine has already had an effect on at least one dog as I received an email saying "This evening my dog started his usual quivering (a loud fire alarm test upset him up the yard today when we were passing) and I decided to sit down calmly and do the massage stuff I learned last night at the anxious dog seminar.It really helped!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you so much. He seemed to like it and calmed completely....then fell deep asleep and I sat there calmly reading a mag until he woke 2 hours later"

Can't ask for better feedback than that.

Everyone chatting at the end of the workshop

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Sometimes it is not just the dog you go to treat who needs help

As I wrote in my last post, I received a vet referral to go and help a couple of senior dogs. Sadly Harry could not fight his kidney failure and passed at the end of last week. His owner called me to say that the sessions I gave him during his final days were so very helpful to him. Each time she could see he was totally relaxed and without the pain of muscle and joint aches and strains. It also empowered her to be able to give him some massage rather than just waiting and watching for the inevitable. 

Whenever I went round to help Harry, his sister would sit with me, right by her brother. I ended up with one handed massage on Harry and one handed massage on Tanya. 

And sometimes even one of the five cats got involved in the session. 

Earlier this week we went round to see the owner. Tanya had been missing her brother immensely and had not barked or played since. While I was chatting to the owner (in fact we were looking at photos on Facebook of Portuguese rescue dogs for her to adopt) Chris sat with Tanya quietly giving her some Reiki. He also worked calmly on their other dog who is very excitable. 

The next day I received another call from the owner asking if Chris could come back to offer more Reiki as Tanya seemed a lot happier. She was back to barking at the postman (!) and eating more. 

I’m not sure if the cat is next but it is heart warming how sometimes it is not just the dog you go to treat who needs help.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Massage for Palliative Care in the Older Dog

It has been widely researched that massage and aromatherapy can help with palliative care in humans (see appendix for examples of scholarly articles). Most seem to concur that there is a statistically significant reduction in anxiety after massage, with or without essential oils, and levels of anxiety are reduced. They conclude that massage can improve physical and psychological symptoms, as well as overall quality of life. In several palliative care units massage therapy is offered as a complementary treatment for pain, discomfort, and emotional distress working in conjunction with the health care multi-disciplinary team. 

In dogs there is less scholarly research regarding massage & palliative care but it is available (see appendix for examples). Dr Jessica Pierce states that using several different therapies, drugs and complementary therapies, can create a synergistic response which is more effective than a single therapy alone. Robin Downing states most dogs find massage to be very comforting and adds that massage can be performed by a trained provider, but many massage techniques can also be taught for use at home. 

Alice Villalobos, DVM, former President of the American Association of Human Animal Bond Veterinarians (AAHABV), and founding member of the Veterinary Cancer Society, refers to hospice care in dogs as “pawspice”. 

The event that set me thinking about palliative care and dogs was that I received two referrals the other week from a vet about a couple of elderly dogs. One was terminally ill with kidney failure, the other had suddenly started to struggle to walk. They were aged 14 and 13 years respectively and long-loved members of their families. Clearly I was not going to be able to make them puppies again but my aim was to help them with any muscle and joint aches and stiffness so they could hopefully be pain free to fight any other issues going on in their body – holistically helping them to heal themselves. 

This took me back to my very first case study – an elderly dog who was also referred to me by the same vet. The dog was an old lady with progressive stiffness in her hind legs. She also had a cruciate injury on her right back leg but the veterinarian had recommended letting it heal itself rather than putting this elderly dog through potentially life-threatening surgery. Her owners had taken the dog to hydrotherapy and now wanted to try more targeted massage and myotherapy. When I first met her she was severely hunched and clearly in pain. During the first treatment the owners and I were surprised at how she simply lay down for me making ‘happy vocalisations’ with no protest at all. Effleurage around her neck, pectorals, front legs, back and hind legs resulted in the dog actually turning round and planting a big kiss on me which both the owners thought was amazing as this was the first time we had met. 

After the first session I was sent a picture of a very relaxed dog sleeping happily for the rest of the day. When I walked through the door for the second session she immediately lay on the floor ready for the massage. Her owners said she had been ‘full of beans’ all week and was really looking forward to going out for her walks. In fact she was rather over-enthusiastic so they were taking it slowly as advised. It was also encouraging to see that they had also been doing the homework I had given them and that their dog was now actually coming to them and asking for it – she had turned into another massage diva. I can’t stress enough how giving owners the tools to help their own dog in return helps them too. 

I had several sessions with this dog and her owners regularly brought her to meet us at local dog shows. 18 months later she still remembered that seeing me meant she should lie down for her massage. 

Flash forward a couple of years to my latest ‘oldie’ referrals. The first was a very poorly dog who was suffering with kidney failure. My aim for the session was, at the very least, to help reduce the stresses, strains and stiffness that had built up in his limbs due to his immobility from his illness. Massage can help maintain the circulatory system, boost the immune system and relax the tired muscles. This should also help to quieten their mind allowing them to stretch out safely and concentrate on healing internally so they can continue in a dignified way for as long as possible. There is a double bonus too as the owner can also relax during the treatment session as they give the care of their dog over to me for a while. 

As often happens on the first appointment, the dog was slightly unsure of what was happening but quickly lay down and let me perform a series of gentle warming massage strokes to his whole body and joints. In addition the dog has taken to lying in a bed that was clearly two sizes too small, possibly for security. So his hind limbs had become very shortened and bent. As he stretched for me during the session I was able to gently extend his legs ensuring his tendons did not become shortened. The owner and I also used a bit of stealth to replace his small bed with one that was more his size while he was sleeping off the massage so that the issue would not recur. There is no fooling some dogs though, even elderly ones. When he approached his new bed he looked at it suspiciously, looked at us, then flopped down in eventual resignation. But he was able to stretch out so the dirty looks from him was worth it to us. We made a plan to visit this dog every couple of days to continue with the relaxing massage. As the week went on, his eyes were becoming brighter and he bounded to the door to greet me. 

We even introduced music into the therapy session. The dog had a ‘tune’ which the owner always used to sing to him at night. I downloaded that tune onto my phone and played it while giving him his massage. I’m sure he recognised his tune but even if he didn’t, the owner and I were singing along in a relaxed way. (Listen to "Harry" by Catherine Howe and try not to shed a tear with me.  I'll be a blithering wreck when that comes on shuffle as I'm walking Sam & Sarah)

I had given the owner a short routine to use on the dog before his first walk and during the day. She felt that empowered her in the palliative care of her dog, helping him to maintain his dignity and gave her something to do rather than simply watch him fade away. 

Senior referral number two was a dog who had become lame very quickly. The vet had diagnosed neurological degeneration and there was noticeable muscle wastage over his rear end. This dear dog decided immediately that he loved massage and lay down stretched out on his huge comfy bed for me. He even rolled over after 30 minutes so I could work on his other side – no prompting needed. We made a plan to visit this dog weekly at first to ease his muscular aches and pains and once more I gave the owners a short routine that to perform daily. 

As I have stated in other articles, I would advocate that massage is not just for prevention or injury but has many uses. One being as a useful adjunct to more traditional treatments in palliative care helping to reduce pain, improve circulation and relax muscles. Psychologically it also helps to calm, and comfort the dog thus helping to relieve any anxiety. It has been shown to be of benefit in humans so should be equally effective in our dogs. Combining a regular routine from the owner with a longer maintenance session from the professional could help maintain and even improve their quality of life. The regular routine doesn’t need to be a long session - the session I gave both sets of owners would only be about 5 to 10 minutes - but enough to give both them and their cherished dog a few hours peace. 

For advice on methods for treating elderly dogs, please contact me from the achypaw.com website. 


The American Massage Therapy Association. (Sept 2009). ‘Massage Therapy Can Improve the Quality of Life for Those in Hospice and Palliative Care’. http://www.amtamassage.org/statement5.html [accessed 28th October 2014] 

Pierce. J. (2012) ‘Palliative Care for Pets’. http://www.seniorsresourceguide.com/articles/art01240.html [accessed 28th October 2014] 

Rodier. L. (March 2010). Canine Hospice Care Options : Veterinary hospice care considerations for your canine companion. http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/13_3/features/Hospice-Care-For-Dogs_16206-1.html [accessed 28th October 2014] 

VCA Animal Hospital based on material written by: Robin Downing ‘Palliative Care for Dogs’. http://www.vcahospitals.com/main/pet-health-information/article/animal-health/palliative-care-for-dogs/8179 [accessed 28th October 2014] 

Wilkinson, S. et al (1999). ‘An evaluation of aromatherapy massage in palliative care’. Palliative Medicine. 5 pp 409-417

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Firework time of year – stress, anxiety or relaxation for you dog?

Our two collie spaniel crosses, Sam and Sarah, were bred as gun dogs.  They were both from the same litter and inseparable – except around firework time of year when Sam spent much of the evenings trying to hide into the smallest place possible shivering and quaking.  He clearly never realised his initial calling as a gun dog.  His sister is totally not fazed by the bangs but gets upset to see her twin brother looking stressed.

We have tried everything over the years from CDs that have loud banging noises which you are meant to play to the dogs to get them used to the sounds (they didn’t work at all…the dogs just barked along in tune) to pheromone diffusers (which clearly we can’t smell so you never really know when they have run out).  

But before we tried sometime new last year we thought we’d have a go at introducing a relaxation massage routine.  It is well known that when a dog (or a human) feels in danger or stress, it places stress on their body systems.  This can lead to an increase in muscle tension which can cause further problems.  If we could rebuild Sam’s confidence with massage and touch, the hope was we could reduce his stress and generally help him through the firework season.   

During my time working in canine therapy with my AchyPaw Dog Massage service, I know that some forms of massage helps to calm a dog down (repetitive, predicable, slow & rhythmic strokes) while others help to revitalise them (deep fast and kneading moves).  When performing a relaxing massage session you do feel their heart rate calming and slowing down.  It can also help to calm their nervous state – again something that is evident during a massage session where you see their eyes start to go ‘googly’ in their head and you suddenly get that deep long sigh.  The ‘sigh’ helps to fully expel their breath allowing for a complete intake of fresh oxygen and nutrients.  As an ex-academic I have looked through some literature and several research studies have been performed in humans (and dogs) to show how massage can reduce blood pressure and heart rate (research examples are given in the geeky-style appendix but there are plenty more) so trying this pre-firework massage routine made sense to me.

But massage also helps the therapist.  It is such a joy to perform a relaxing holistic massage – I feel my own heart rate slowing and any tension disappearing.  This has to be a double benefit.  Again research evidence seems to back this up (more geeky appendices).  Most behaviourists say that your dog can feel your tension – either down the leash or just by looking at you.  Knowing that your dog is about to get all jumpy and agitated is stressful for the owner as well as the dog.  So anything that can calm both parties down in one hit has to be good – until they develop a calming pheromone diffuser for the stressed owner!

So last year we decided to give regular and short holistic massage sessions to our Sam to calm him naturally a few weeks before the big bangs started.  Three or four weeks before the season we started giving him 15 minute sessions ending up with wrapping him up warmly in a blanket – like a thunder shirt.  Each night the sighs came earlier into the session and his eyes got googlier and googlier.
Halloween was clearly our first test.  So he was massaged early and wrapped up while we waited for the first bangs of party nights.  This time when he heard them, instead of him running round the house, he simply looked up, still aware of the noise, but lay back down again as though the effort of being stressed was actually too much like hard work.  Yes he was aware but no he was not as nervous as he used to be before the massage routine.

So that was a success.  But as an added extra, WE were relaxed too.  Instead of us dreading the next big bang wondering what we could do to calm down our sensitive dog, we were able to get on with the normal evening things – like watching TV (which didn’t have to be on full blast to drown out the noises).  His sister was also able to sleep through the bangs without worrying about her brother.

We continued the routine through the November 5th firework season with the same result – a much calmer Sam.  

It is not just fireworks that worry Mr Sam but also thunder – he is a bit of a wuss but we wouldn't change a thing about him.  He is just a 'sensitive soul'.  We’ve had quite a few storms this year.  Sam was aware of the noise but this time came up to have his special ‘Dad Massage’ and immediately fell asleep.  It seems he is remembering that fireworks and loud bangs should be associated with massage rather than fear and anxiety.

Hopefully if we start the routines now, by Halloween we’ll have two chilled dogs.

If you want to learn more about this form of complementary therapy, feel free to contact me from my website @ achypaw.com or via our Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/achypaw).  I can happily organise tailored training sessions to teach you how to massage your own dog.  It certainly can’t do any harm and may help you and your dog.

Appendix :

Handlin L. et al (2011) ‘Short-Term Interaction between Dogs and Their Owners: Effects on Oxytocin, Cortisol, Insulin and Heart Rate - An Exploratory Study’. Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals. Vol 24, No. 3, pp. 301-315

Hennessey M.B. et al (1998) ‘Influence of male and female petters on plasma cortisol and behaviour: can human interaction reduce the stress of dogs in a public animal shelter?’.  Applied Animal Behaviour Science Vol 61, pp 63-77 

Kaye et al. (2008) ‘The effect of deep-tissue massage therapy on blood pressure and heart rate’ J Altern Complement Med. Mar;14(2) pp 125-8.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Massage, Exercise & Behaviour - it's all connected

Recently, a friend of mine put up a post on Facebook with a link to pictures of ‘dogs who have no idea where all this mess came from’.  He kindly tagged the post with “A client for Dr Les no doubt”.  Apart from the pictures being great fun I did then have to put my therapist hat on to think more about them.  As I replied to him “The editor’s note at the end sums it up from a massagey therapeuticy point of view. No exercise or attention gets a bored or tubby dog”.  

In a previous blog I have already written how a daft £1 squeaky ball gives Mr Sam hours of therapeutic and fun exercise on the beach.  He comes home too knackered to rip the toilet roll apart even if he wanted to.   Plus I can control when he has had enough so he doesn’t injure himself.

The same day I read another article (it is the ex-academic in me…I can’t stop reading research) by Brandy Arnold about the benefits of walking your dog.  The article states that “Dogs are great at providing strong motivation to maintain their owner’s exercise program – who can resist a happy dog, panting with excitement at the front door?  They make great walking companions and can serve as the perfect social support......Unlike your human buddies who are likely to skip exercise sessions due to appointments or bad weather, dogs will not give you any excuse to miss out on your daily exercise.”

This is a great article as it details not just the benefits to the two-legged walker (i.e. the owner) but also to the four legged walker (i.e. the dog).  To the owner, regular exercise by walking your dog can reduce risks of breast cancer, diabetes, heart disease and even colon cancer.  To the dog regular exercise can improve their physical and mental well-being, aid with socialization, help reduce behaviour issues (stop them ripping the toilet roll apart) and increase their longevity.

Then yesterday I was asked if I would like to attend a book show where I would be interviewed about what I do and ways that massage and myotherapy could help with dog behaviour.  The organiser said “…things like stopping a dog from barking excessively”.  I immediately remembered the above article which also refers to exercise helping to curb destructive behaviour such as excessive barking and digging.   The dog transfers any negative energy which can bring about boredom into positive opportunities to sniff and explore and run.  

As I wrote in a previous post about the myotherapy side of what we do at AchyPaw, exercising the muscles can also be done by the therapist for the client.  If fun exercise can be incorporated into the daily routine of the dog then not only will it help their health and maintain their mobility but also your own!   But if your dog is injured, immobile or maybe slowing down due to senior years, then the owner or therapist needs to help the muscles along and perform the myotherapy.  

A simple exercise to do at home to prevent boredom is a game called Go Find.  When Sam and Sarah first went to puppy behaviour class we were introduced to this.  The idea was you rub a handkerchief over you to take up your scent and then hide it somewhere in the house.  You tell the dogs to ‘Go Find’.   They then spend the next 10 minutes walking round the house, sniffing to find the handkerchief.  Sam & Sarah have always loved this game, even 8 years later.  All I need to do is say Go Find and they are off.  If they are ever recovering from an injury or the weather is totally rubbish for outdoor walking, a game or two of this will give them safe exercise in the house but keep them stimulated and prevent boredom.  Plus it costs nothing.  There are many more such simple exercises which we teach clients.  

Massage, myotherapy and dog behaviour are certainly very connected. 

Monday, 8 September 2014

Lovely ending to the event season

This year we have taken the AchyPaw gazebo and team to 14 shows and events. We have been in torrential rain three times, high winds twice, scorching sun twice, hurricanes once, and all things in between. 

Setting up the gazebo in rain and wind at Seaford

Our final outing of the year was the Annual Bulldog Rescue Picnic held at Lavant. The weather couldn’t have been better for our final outing – we didn’t even need the sides of the tent. 

This is the second year we have done that show and is certainly one of our favourites. Surrounded by bulldogs of every age, shape and colour is so much fun. Plus there were some great stalls such as the Kiss A Bull one – what a clever idea.

Marshall raising lots of money by selling kisses
Other stalls had bulldog bits of pieces of every description from pillows, bowls, mirrors, coats, and so forth.

As well as being surrounded by such a loveable breed, we were also visited by lots of interested owners. It was such a privilege to be asked so many massage questions by clearly caring owners. It could well be that people don’t take on bulldogs as a pet lightly. They are aware of the many physical problems that the breed could have throughout their life. And to rescue a bulldog as well is doubly worthy in my book.

We were questioned non-stop from 9:00 to 16:00 about ways that the owners could help their pets and maintain their mobility. Several even stayed in the tent to have some massage lessons and learn particular tips and techniques that would help their dog and the problems they were having – frequently arthritis (even in the very young) and also spinal issues. One couple even remembered us from last year and came along for their top-up massage lesson.

Soon the word got round the event that the ‘massage man’ was there. We had big bulldogs, old bulldogs, young bulldogs and tiny ones all snuffling in our tent. Plus wriggly Bracken, the collie, who came for a lesson too.

The smallest security guard dog in the world

We are looking forward to our Bulldog fix next year.  Meanwhile the AchyPaw tent is all put away until 2015

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

How much fun can you have for £1?

Quite a lot apparently and some active stretching for your dog...well our dog anyway!

Recently Sarah lost another tooth so I decided to get rid of all the hard balls that she plays with and replace them with soft ones.  She only gets the ball on my terms now but still crunches them as she catches and chases so something softer can't be a bad thing.  The problem is that most soft type balls are also squeaky balls.  

So now when we are down the beach or on the fields and she gets her ball session, there is noise...not just barking.  And something about that squeak does it for Mr Sam. He has to have that ball.  So steals it off his sister.  

We have never favoured either dog....they are both equally spoiled!  Which meant that I had to get a second soft ball that squeaks so that when Sam steals his sister's, I can get the other one out for her. (Yes...REALLY spoiled).  A quick trip to Asda and I came out with a super soft, super flexy, super bouncy, super red, super squeaky ball.  The fact that it was meant to be an Angry Bird probably didn't register to Sam at all...it was bouncy, squeaky and soft.   

I've already posted a video of Sam on the beach and how he loves to dig which exercises every part of his body while having fun.  His favourite digging toy used to be any old plastic bottle I could find on the beach filled with stones.  Free and fun.  But now he has his £1 squeaky ball.  But a problem....this was not a plastic bottle but a soft bouncy ball.  Digging the bottle into the sand was easy but the new bouncy ball has a mind of its own.  It rolls away, it flies off down the beach while being dug, it squishes and then expands (the look on his face as the Angry Bird ball first squished in then expanded back again was a classic).

So not only is he getting his myotherapy exercise from digging he is also chasing, retrieving and holding.  Accompany that with a free low impact exercise session of swimming in the sea.  Everything you need for maintenance, exercise, hydrotherapy and mobility down the beach.  

A part of his £1 myotherapy fun active stretching session can be found on the AchyPaw YouTube channel here.

So how much fun can you have from £1?  A lot and plenty of exercise too at the same time.

Monday, 1 September 2014

I'm always learning...thankfully

I recently wrote a blog article about a post I read where a canine 'professional' had said canine massage is only about prevention. I felt that was rather narrow thinking and gave my thoughts on how there are probably far more benefits.

But I’m always learning about others. Even ones that don’t have a direct physiological benefit to the dog but a benefit to the owner is a good benefit in my eyes.

I’ve been massaging a small dog regularly for some months now. She came to me initially as she was very hyper. She did not like being touched by anyone other than the owner and often went into anxious barking snappy mode when meeting other dogs or people. My aim for her was not necessary to fix any muscular aches and strains but to get her accustomed to tactile stimulation and for relaxation. It didn’t take many sessions for this little dog to just lie in my arms for an hour and have her therapy. She never struggled, she never complained, she certainly never bit me. In fact she sinks into my lap during the session with closed eyes while every muscle and joint relaxes and calms. She always walks out with a smile and an extra spring in her step.

Recently the owner the said that the behaviour of the dog has changed noticeably. The owner now thinks that she would be able to leave the dog at the groomers – something she has never been able to do. Also, when someone comes to the door the dog still barks but it is now a bark asking for a fuss to be made of her and not flight or attack mode. So a new benefit to me is that the owner has got a social life back – one I hadn’t reckoned on when I started this therapy session.

And now I have yet another new benefit, albeit a rather tenuous one. The owner wrote to me and said “You're going to think this is wicked but now if my dog doesn't want to walk when she is out I say we are going to see Dr Les, and you will never believe it she perks up and starts walking”. It means the dog continues with her exercise (so helping her physiologically) while the owner gets to go out (helping her physiologically too!). Maybe that is a cheeky benefit but I’ll take it.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Erm….what exactly is myotherapy, Dr Les?

When people see our sign or business card they tend to understand the ‘dog massage’ bit – although nearly all didn’t know such a service existed – but ‘myotherapy’ confuses them. So what is it and why do I say massage AND myotherapy?

Massage is easy to explain but the explanation I like best is ““The scientific manipulation of the soft tissues of the body, as apart from mere rubbing” (Prosser, E.M. (1941) A manual of Massage and Movement. 2nd ed. Faber & Faber: London). The effects and benefits of massage can be mechanical, physiological and psychological varying according to the intent with which massage is given, the selection of techniques used, the condition of the client and the frequency of sessions.

Another quote that I found when I first started my path along canine therapy was “A practitioner of massage may choose to be either a technician or a therapist. A technician is competent to administer massage as a manual skill. A therapist, in addition to being competent in the manual techniques, understands human anatomy, physiology, pathology and psychosocial issues, and will apply this knowledge when practicing massage. For the therapist, massage is one tool available to choose when, following a full assessment of the client’s needs, an evaluated problem-based treatment plan is designed”. (Holey, E., Cook, E. (2011) Evidence-Based Therapeutic Massage. 3rd ed. Churchill Livingston: Elsevier). I aim to be a therapist rather than a technician. Which is where the myotherapy comes in.

Myotherapy describes muscle therapy or, as I like to explain it, the therapist exercising the muscle for the client. It is a form of manual therapy focussing on the assessment, treatment and rehabilitation of musculoskeletal pain. The term is not just a technique taught at a particular school but was originally used in the 1970’s by Bonnie Prudden to describe a specific type of trigger point therapy which she developed following earlier research and studies into pain and from myofascial trigger points.

Used today, the term myotherapy incorporates a wider range of techniques including massage, joint mobilization, therapeutic stretching, exercise, postural advice and, most important for me, education.

After I have given the dog a massage, to ensure everything is mobile and warm, I typically incorporate some myotherapy and stretching into my treatment session. Stretching serves a very important function in the proper workings of the body; hydration, circulation, oxygenation & detoxification. Passive movements – stretches undertaken by the therapist on the client - aim to improve joint function, blood flow and flexibility and maintain the existing range of movement of the muscles and joints involved rather than to push them further or stimulate nerve receptors. Active stretches are those undertaken by the client themselves and may take the form of simple and safe exercises, which is where education comes in. They shouldn’t be too hard but just enough to help the dog exercising safely. The easiest are weight-bearing exercises.

Demonstrating a few appropriate exercises to the owner that they can do with their dog to stretch and mobilise appropriate joints and muscles can then be their ‘homework’ to build on the therapy session with me and maintain the mobility until the next session. These exercises don’t have to be expensive with lots of kit. They can be simple walking, sitting or standing exercises. Our Sam loves the beach and loves digging in the sand. This is a great free exercise that is under my control. When I think he has had enough, I take the ball away. But while he is digging he is exercising his shoulders, back and rear leg muscles…..and it is free and fun.

Look at this YouTube clip – see how our Sam uses his back, shoulder, neck and thigh muscles while getting a good workout. And all I have to do is watch, video him and grin. Result!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Canine massage – prevention, rehabilitation, maintenance or holistic?

I read a post (well, more a rant) recently from a canine professional which niggled me as it said that dog massage should only focus on prevention. I thought that was rather narrow-minded. Even though I’ve only been working in this field for a year now I have quite a variety of clients in my portfolio.

Some come regularly for maintenance massage session. This suits those who have arthritis which cannot be prevented as such but massage and myotherapy can help maintain their mobility and ease out any compensatory issues the dog might have. One of my case studies was an old German Shepherd who was a real lady but was beginning to not be able to enjoy walking. She had several sessions with me, not working on any muscle in particular but easing out her stiffness, helping to stretch her muscles and joints and generally allowing her to go “Ooooooo….that is what I needed”. After each session her owners would send me a picture of her lying flat out on the floor in what I call the Superman pose (arms outstretched in front) fast asleep instead of being in a stiff ball or being restless not being able to settle down. In a way she was healing herself. When she finally woke up she was ready for that long walk again. OK, she will never catch that rabbit again, but she could certainly move. When I last saw her, a year after her initial therapy, she was still mobile and happy. Prevention or maintenance?

Others come with a specific injury. Massage and muscle therapy can target the area that the vet has diagnosed as being the cause of the injury. Again, it is too late to prevent that injury…it has happened. But what the sessions can do is promote and hopefully hasten the natural healing process. Also by showing the owner what techniques are beneficial to that particular issue, hopefully the injury should not recur. Prevention or rehabilitation?

Four of my clients have been amputees. In these cases you have to use your skills to think what muscles and joints are possibly being overworked to compensate for the lack of one limb. As well as that, there is the back and spine to consider. The spine of amputee dogs often bends slightly to help balance. So that area should also be looked at to assess for any undue strain and tension. Prevention, maintenance, rehabilitation or what?

Other clients I have are canine athletes. They attend agility events where they have to jump walls or hurdles. In these cases maybe prevention of injury is the best therapy. I usually schedule a therapy session before or after their event to make sure everything is in working order. I also teach the owners the importance of warm-up and cool-down massage routines just before and after the actual event. So maybe this could be classed as prevention but it is also maintenance and well-being.

Finally there are the clients who come to me for relaxation. I have quite a few nervous clients who were not able to be touched or were just antsy. Often it takes several sessions to build up the trust with these clients but over the course of these sessions they visibly change from nervous excitable dogs to massage divas who run to the massage mat when they come in and lay down as though to say “OK….I’m ready now Dr Les. Start your work”. One such client is a small Chihuahua who, at the age of 5, was still not pick-upable by anyone other than the owner. She has been coming for some months now and this time the owner said that she actually feels that she would be able to leave the dog with a groomer without her getting too anxious. That was a great result. When she sits in my lap for her session, her eyes go googly immediately now and every muscle and joint relaxes so she is all floppy. Prevention, maintenance, rehabilition, behaviour or maybe just holistic?

Personally I think to pigeon- hole the rationale behind canine massage and myotherapy as having one benefit is not the way to go. I prefer to think holistically – where my therapy can work on the whole body since everything is ultimately interrelated and interconnected.  The focus should be on the dog and the many ways that massage & myotherapy can help them.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Our Sarah's Story...

......or how a grumpy dog turned back into a Diva dog who loves massage

We have two collie/spaniel dogs – brother and sister, Sam and Sarah. We were warned that they would develop obsessive behaviour so knew what to expect. As it happened they developed different obsessions. Sam soon discovered seagulls – which is fortunate as we live right by the beach and sea. His goal in life is to chase each and every seagull in Sussex, barking at the top of his voice. Why? We have never figured that out. He hasn’t a hope of catching them unless he develops wings. But the smile on his face as he runs, weaving up and down the beach, in and out of the sea is enough reason (and pleasure) for us. Sarah is not so fussed with seagulls – she discovered the delights of tennis balls. Being a good Dad (or so I thought at the time) I used to encourage her obsession by carrying a ball in every pocket and constantly giving in to her demands of ‘Throw it Dad...now”.

One day we noticed that Sarah was beginning to stiffen as she got up or walked up stairs after a heavy ball playing session. I’m a qualified masseur so automatically used to rub her down after such a session but didn’t really know what I was doing dog-wise (dogs are different from humans....they have more legs and muscles are in different places!).

We attended a very basic dog massage introductory workshop and took along Sam and Sarah for practice. Although they are siblings they are surprisingly different. Sam is a ‘normal dog’ – you can pick up his skin, it is loose. He has soft fur. Sarah was quite abnormal. Her skin was like it was superglued to her. It wouldn’t pick up. And her fur was like rubbing a loo brush. This was a classic case of the Good Dad being a Bad Dad and causing unknown injury by constantly throwing the ball. Because her exercise was largely jumping (rather than Sam’s weaving and running) she had developed what would be called a stiff neck and back in human-terms – a VERY stiff back. Because her skin was so adhered like Velcro, her fur was suffering as well and was becoming coarse and loo brush-like. Although we were only shown one technique, skin roling, this helped to lift the adhered skin to allow fresh nutrients to circulate

Sarah loved her massage and instead of having to chase her around, began to demand a massage...daily, hourly, all the time. Yes, she developed a new obsession – but a healthy one this time.  After just one week we noticed the difference in her skin – it was getting easy to lift. After a month it was not just her skin and fur but her personality which had changed. She was now back to the bright eyed, happy, loving dog we started out with and not the grumpy tired dog she had become. This change was not only visible to us but others as well. The groomer and dog walker both asked what we had done with the ‘old’ Sarah as this ‘new’ model seemed so much better. The groomer in particular said that when she used to cut Sarah’s fur it was like sandpaper but is now like running a hot knife through butter.

In the meantime, I took, and passed, a diploma course in canine massage plus a number of more advanced workshops and courses - as many as I could find to expand my toolkit of techniques and skills.

Fast forward several months later and we had our girl back. She started to drive her brother mad by constantly teasing him again. At night she slept with both eyes closed in a total relaxed state. She still gets a ball – but on my terms and for limited times only and rolled along the ground not thrown so she would have to jump. The Bad Dad has learned to be a Good Dad. And all this through canine massage and myotherapy. OK...we now have a Massage Diva but we can live with that.  She even seemed to become younger - while out walking she prances, she struts, she waggles her tail, she rounds up the rabbits for her brother....she makes me smile!

This is what convinced me to start dog massage and to qualify as a professional canine myotherapist. Yes, I still get strange looks from people when they ask me what I do and I reply that I am a professional dog massage therapist but their opinion changes when I explain what it does and how it helps. And now my skills are being put to use on more dogs and give them the same new quality of life our Sarah has.  Plus I now deliver my own workshops and courses to empower other dog owners with some of the tips and skills to bring the massage diva out in their dog.  

The chance to spend my working days with dogs was impossible to resist.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Complementing the Complementary Therapist

When our Mr Sam went to see the veterinary orthopaedic specialists recently to diagnose what had caused his sudden lameness, I was like an anxious father all day waiting for the phone to call to let me know the results. At 11:00 the specialist called and said it could be a number of things from Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD) – he is half collie – or soft tissue damage or arthritis or something else. He said there were a variety of investigations they could do with varying degrees of invasion. X-Rays would show skeletal issues, radiographs with injected dye would show any soft tissue issues, injection of steroid into the joint capsule would help with the pain and biopsy of the large lipoma (fatty lump) that has been growing under his armpit would help diagnose if there were any malignant cells. I told them to do the lot while Sam was sedated as I didn’t want the diagnosis to be inconclusive meaning Mr Sam would have to go through the ordeal again.

The outcome was that he does have arthritis in his shoulder, not too bad, and the biopsy showed that the fatty lump was just that, fat with no malignant cells. Big phew! When I brought Sam home he was totally out of it. I carried him into the car and he seemed to forget how to lie down. He just stood there looking vacantly out of the car window. When he got home I carried him into his bed and sat with him. As he came round he really didn’t want to know me. I was “BAD DAD”. Instead he went to over to Chris for his cuddles. The next morning he was still anti-me and only wanted a short walk. So I brought him back and left him while I took his sister out for a longer walk. She thought that was way cool. When we came home she strutted up to her twin brother as though to say “I’m special….Daddy took me out on my own…nya nya nya”. Such a caring girl is our Sarah!!!

The caring Sarah

Fortunately Mr Sam is never one to hold grudges for long and later in the morning I was sitting on the step outside when I felt his head nudge under my arm and he snuggled in for a hug. Clearly he had decided the steroids were working and I was an “OK DAD” after all.

Now we knew what the cause of his lameness was I started doing my geek stuff and researching things we could do to help his arthritis as well as his daily massage. I started by looking up lipomas and the use of frankincense came up repeatedly. So we bought a bottle and he now gets that rubbed into his lumps twice a day. As well as making him smell rather nice it seems to have helped. One of his lumps is decidedly smaller while the big one under his arm is a lot freer so will not be such an obstruction to his movement. I also read that giving your dog filtered water could help so now they only drink freshly filtered water. I’m not sure if that is doing them any good but they seem to love it and get through a lot more each day – there are far more dribbles all over our floor now. The addition of fish oil and bee pollen tablets was also mentioned so they are given those too as well as Rhus Tox homeopathic pills.

They have always been on glucosamine and chondroitin supplements but I found that,in the research I was doing for arthritis, the addition of a variety of tablets including turmeric/curcumin, boswellia, cat’s claw, devil’s claw and ginger could all help alleviate the aches.

We are working through this list, seeing which work best and which seem to make little difference. We can’t give him too many at one time as we are running out of food to hide the tablets in. One of the other things we were told is that they need to lose some weight – about 3 kg each would be good over the next 9 months. So we can’t keep topping up their diet with cheese spread which is our normal subterfuge method for hiding tablets.

Adding these components to my toolkit of therapies has helped me enormously too. I always thought that massage therapy for dogs was the only thing that would work. But I now realise the clue is in the name we are given – Complementary Therapists. I am far more open to adding other therapies into the mix. Chris has taken a course in Reiki which is something else we use while he has his nightly massage.

I’m not going to be using frankincense on my AchyPaw clients but it sits alongside my MSM gel and massage cream with lavender, arnica and comfrey so I can offer it as an appropriate option for the owner to try. And if the supplements start to take effect on Mr Sam, then they can be added to the list of suggestions as well. Maybe some of the other therapists or dog owners in The Pet Shop Connection community could offer me some advice for things you have found useful? I'm guessing that not every dog will respond to the same complementary treatment but knowledge of what has worked for some and not for others would be handy.

My handsome man