Friday, 27 February 2015

Meet Ralph and Auntie Pearl

The handsome Ralph
Lovely Pearl (and Roxy)
I met Ralph and Auntie Pearl for the first time towards the end of last year. Love at first sight for me. They are Sussex Bulldogs which is an interesting breed. Bigger than an English Bulldog (about Rottweiler size I guess) but with a face and limbs more like a Boxer. Extremely sturdy and loving dogs. Their owner once met someone who told her children that "those dogs were not the sort you touched". So the owner said "Its Ok...they are Giant Pugs". That did the trick and the mother let her kids touch them (some muvvers do have 'em!). Trust me...Ralph and Pearl would no more harm anyone than the soppiest dog going. In fact there is a third dog in their household - Roxy, a Jack Russell - who is about 1/10 of their size but rules them both! 

When Ralph was a puppy he had a bad injury to one of his front legs and the elbow never quite set properly splaying his paw out to the side. So he tended to hop and not place pressure on that leg. That led to quite a bit of muscle wastage. Deep tissue massage for an hour helped enormously. 

His Auntie Pearl simply looked 'sad' and on initial palpation I noticed she had a very stiff neck. So she received deep tissue work there. At the end of her treatment she stood up and looked around the room - first time she had done that in a while without actually shuffling her bottom around. 

Their owner has been massaging them both ever since but three months later and I am called round to give them a maintenance top up treatment. I didn't even have time to get my red massage mat on the floor before Ralph was on it. He almost jumped through my car windows to get on his special mat. The pictures show his contentment. Now this is a dog who had only seen me once before three months ago but knew "Oh yes...this is the massage therapy doctor. I'm having that mat NOW". 

Ralph with a big smile
When I had done treating him I tried to move over to Auntie Pearl but Ralph was having none of that..."Erm...excuse me Dr are MINE". So I had to massage his Auntie with him between my legs. 
Ralph pushing Pearl out of the way so he can have more more more...
 Some while later and shuffling between massaging one then the other and it was time to leave. But Ralph was not having any of that either. He sat completely blocking the front door so I couldn't open it...."Erm...Dr Les....I told you. You are MINE". 

The temptation of tripe won him over and I was able to sneak out. I bet he is still looking for me. 

Big scary dogs? Big soppy softies more like! I am looking forward to catching up with my bullie snogs in a few months.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Differences between complementary therapies - made simple

I went to give a talk last week to a veterinary practice in Eastbourne. One of the questions I was asked by them was to help them know how best to use massage therapy as part of their treatment options, namely which cases benefit from it. As professionals they are in a position of having to advise clients whether to pursue physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, specialist referral etc. They are aware that most clients want to be convinced that any intervention is of benefit to their pet at a fair cost (in time and money) to them. 

I'm pretty OK with most complementary therapies - hydrotherapy, for example, helps to rebuild and strengthen muscle while providing non weight bearing exercise to reduce stress to joints/muscles - but was stumped a bit with animal physiotherapy as most sites I looked at seemed to have similar aims as we do. 

Both therapies are non-invasive, both work with vets, both are highly qualified and professional, both would aim to promote movement, reduce pain, restore function and prevent disability, both offer stretches, strengthening exercises, postural training and balance exercises .

I think the biggest difference is the tools we use. Physiotherapists will often include massage in their toolkit but frequently the soft tissue is manipulated with tools such as lasers, heat, ultrasound, traction, manipulation and many more. My tools are largely my hands and education of the owner leaving them with a tailored plan that they can perform on their dogs daily. So everyone I see gets a short workbook from me (with pictures of Sam covered in arrows for directions - bless him!) tailored to the needs of their dog and the issues we found during treatment. Plus massage therapy to me is quite holistic and I find good results not only from treating specific injuries but also senior dogs or dogs that need relaxation. 

That must have made sense to the vets as a couple of days after I gave my talk (where again Sam & Sarah Demo Dogs were the stars looking adoringly at all the vets) I received a referral from them to go and help a 13 year old Labrador who was beginning to wobble a bit. 

The handsome dog clearly had the will to walk but lacked muscle tone. So I worked on him by gently easing out the tension and exercising his muscles and joints while he lay there smiling. To our surprise he bounded up after 45 minutes to 'race' to the kitchen for a big slurp of water. I think he was as surprised as we were as the speed he could now move. But that was it - he didn't want anymore from me. 45 minutes was his limit. 

I went through a routine with his owner that she could perform daily to keep him mobile. I have just received some heartwarming feedback "Morning Les, firstly thank you for coming to visit my dog and giving him a fantastic massage, he is better on his rear legs today and much brighter in himself, but relaxed at the same time 😀. And what an excellent "how to" massage him myself; so clear, explanatory, & helpful, which we shall be using daily, I'll see how we get on and will be in touch to let you know.

I love what I do!

I have just had an update on the outcome of my session with the dog and owner.  I received an email which said "Update on my dog, just given him a lovely massage- even let me touch his toes! Sleeping & snoring slightly - happy boy! ". Things like that make everything worthwhile.  I am guessing that the dog is far more relaxed now which has to be helping his quality of life and mobility.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Meet Zara Guidedog

Zara Guidedog
Zara Guidedog
Zara Guidedog
Zara Guidedog
Chris regularly goes to a Kettle Bell class (run by M2M Fitness) and on Saturdays often meets up with Sue and her guidedog Zara. Zara is a very special dog (aren’t they all) and even has her own Facebook page – Like most guide dogs, Zara is an attentive working dog while she is wearing her harness. But as soon as the harness is off she is able to revert to being a happy loving soppy puppy. So while her Mum, Sue, is flinging kettle bells around and doing other sporty things, Zara sits contently in the corner having a snooze or a cuddle from Chris. 

Chris has told Sue about what I do with canine massage and she contacted me the other week to talk about it. We ended up being on the phone for around an hour. As Sue is very sporty she understands the value of massage and time-outs. When Zara is in guide dog mode, which happens the moment she puts on her harness, she is always attentive, looking round, ready to help Sue and generally being vigilant. 

Sue told me that Zara is not just her first guide dog but her first dog ever so she went into this relationship with considerable trepidation. She has even read a book about her experience. She didn’t ‘speak’ dog like many of us do who have been brought up with dogs. As Sue says in her book “Then there was the small matter of the fact that I was not really a dog person……I think there is a misconception that when you are blind that you automatically have a guide dog and can read Braille!! Errr no, that certainly not my case”.

So, at first, whenever Zara made a noise or did something out of the normal Sue was on the phone to the organisation who replied “She is just being a dog”. Sue said that she was initially on the phone so much she was convinced they had made a special loop tape just for her which said “She is just being a dog…she is just being a dog”. 

Even things like “Why does Zara not give her a paw?” whereas most of the other guide dogs do so at the drop of a hat, worried Sue. I reassured her that is because Zara is a girl…they don’t need to give you a paw. They are canny enough to realise that they will get the kiss, cuddle or treat without presenting their paws. Our Sam always gives a high five, his sister just looks at you as though to say “Dream on….and give me the treat”. Or why does Zara not always give her a kiss – does she not love me? Again I was able to reassure Sue that Zara is absolutely besotted with her and never takes her eyes off her. Zara may not give out soppy wet ones but that doesn’t mean she loves her less. 

The outcome of our phone call was that Sue asked whether I could come over and show her how to give Zara a relaxation massage. This will help with her down time and help with the bonding between dog and owner even more. I was very excited about this new challenge – not the training of someone on how to massage their own dog as I do that frequently – but training someone who can’t see. This would be a new type of education process for me. Normally when we do training for canine massage, we demonstrate, then give the owners guided help. They may also get a workbook or a picture to follow. Of course, none of this is possible with someone who cannot see, but, as massage is all about feel and is a physical therapy, many people who have lost their sight have enhanced abilities to build a mental map of something. 

How to start? Whenever I get stuck for ideas I put on the DVD presented by Natalie Lenton of the Canine Massage Therapy Centre and there it was.....lesson one, join the dots! Obviously I couldn’t use actual dots but what I could do was to place Sue’s hands on the bony landmarks of Zara so she can recognise what is where and then, by joining the landmarks, start to trace out the main superficial muscle groups – joining dot to dot. In that way she would learn where Zara’s muscles are and what they do. 

I wrote to Natalie asking if I could ‘borrow’ her dot to dot method and received some good advice of doing a full body palpation myself beforehand so I could warn Sue if Zara already had any sore parts that we didn’t know about. Sue had already obtained the vet referral form necessary for me to work on Zara so everything was OK. As it was, Zara was a little reluctant to have her hind legs massaged and we guessed that was probably because she once had a necessary but uncomfortable procedure there, so maybe associated hind leg touch with anxiety. 

So on Sue & Zara’s 2nd Gotcha Day – the 2 year anniversary of when Zara and Sue became an item – I went round to meet the lovely couple. Zara won my heart in seconds. And Sue was the perfect pupil. 

All guide dog owners are taught a basic groom and feel routine so that are aware of lumps and bumps but this does not extend to the depth of massage. Interestingly, the first grooming move is the same as the way I do effleurage, namely toward the heart from rear end to neck, i.e. the opposite to the lie of the fur. I explained to Sue how dogs quickly come to associate this direction as ‘therapy’ rather than simple petting which Zara did immediately. Stroking her from neck to bottom resulted in frantic tail wagging whereas massaging her from rump to neck made her lie there attentively and eventually close her eyes in bliss. 

We started by joining the dots of the bony landmarks so that Sue could picture where things were before we got down to actual massage training - again with me holding her hands and moulding them into the correct shape. 

Sue picked everything up like a natural. We went through the various moves that I use for relaxation purposes and Sue seemed to immediately get the idea for pace and depth of pressure. OK, Zara was a bit wriggly and wanted to have tummy rubs, but this amount of attention was all new for her. She knew it wasn’t petting, she knew it wasn’t grooming so what was it? But she quickly got the idea and settled down. I had warned Sue that massaging a dog for the first time often involves you moving round a bit to fit in where and how the dog wants to lie but Zara is a bright dog, a VERY bright dog, she will get the hang of this Mummy and Zara special bonding time. She soon peppered us with big sighs of pleasure and grunts of approval every couple of minutes as well as the soppy massage smile and sleepy eyes. 

At the end of the session I was chatting to Sue about her life with a new dog talking about her book and was generally massaging Zara when I noticed that quite a bit of heat was being generated from her neck area between the front and back of her shoulder blade. I asked Sue to put on Zara’s harness so I could see where it lies. Obvious really, the harness sits right between her shoulder blades. Also the harness is quite rigid and held in the left hand along with the lead so the neck and front end of the dog is always slightly turned at an angle when walking with their owner. Imagine the back end being straight while the front end is slightly turned forward with the neck slightly tipped upwards and to the right (have a look at the video I refer to at the end of this article). It is inevitable that Zara will be a little offset which was displayed by the difference in tension between the two sides and the heat being generated as I lifted her skin where the harness usually sits. 

Sue quickly picked up on this so we tried a few skin lifting moves later which seemed to help very quickly. The fur on Zara’s back which was slightly coarser where her harness lies already started to feel softer. 

The plan that Sue and I made was to carry on with the moves we went through today and then to return to add some more into the mix. Zara has already posted an update on her Facebook page of “I thoroughly recommend that all dog owners let their dog have a massage and learn the techniques like mummy, especially us working dogs… so all you Guide dogs talk to your owners and have this massage as it will keep us fit and healthy and in tip top condition.” Thank you Zara…it was my pleasure and I am looking forward to seeing you and any of your special guide dog chums again soon. 

If you want to see a heart-warming video about two of Zara’s friends in Brighton made by some students of the University of Sussex, watch this YouTube clip. ("). As well as being a great watch, it is very informative about how sighted people often disregard people with guide dogs and really raises your awareness of how special these dogs are. 

Acknowledgements to Natalie Lenton who runs the Canine Massage Therapy Centre and her informative DVD “Canine Massage in 3 Easy Steps”.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Dogs and our facial expressions

Probably any dog owner would say "Well..I could have told you that" but it is always good to read another scientific research article which proves us right (as this previous post did). 

A recent research study has shown that dogs can discriminate emotional expressions of human faces. The researchers performed a series of tests to show that dogs could accurately tell the difference between pictures of a happy and angry faces in humans not only for people they know well, but even for faces they have never seen before. 

They said that "It appears likely to us that the dogs associate a smiling face with a positive meaning and an angry facial expression with a negative meaning." Amazingly even when the research team tried to train dogs to choose a picture of an angry face, by tempting them with treats, the test dogs were reluctant to do so. 

The team sampled 24 dogs, mainly Border Collies and German Shepherds, in several behavioural tests with touch screens which the dogs could touch in response to an image of happy faces and angry faces. They were consistently able to differentiate between the two expressions.

The research team concluded that dogs probably use their memories of real emotional human faces to accomplish the task. 

There have been several research studies in the past few months showing the links between dogs and us, such as being able to determine the emotional tone, intonation and volume changes in human speech and how they interpret human commands which make great reading.  All of these studies assist in my reasoning that adding another tool into the bonding mix, namely massage and touch, can only help owner and dog become the best friends ever.  Incorporate a smiling face, soothing voice and touch into a daily routine and that's it....they will listen to you forever (unless you are 3 minutes late with their food of course but dogs being able to tell the time is another piece of research waiting to be done)

Listening to every word I say.....when they want to!


Muller et al : "Dogs Can Disciminate Emotional Expressions of Human Faces" : Current Biology

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Introducing Canine Massage workshop at Paws, Play & Stay Dog Hotel and Day Care, Rustington

AchyPaw Dog Massage class
Setting up the room at the start

We had a wonderful day teaching a full house of owners how to massage their own dogs.

The day started with some interactive fun where everyone was given a set of muscles to stick on themselves and then to stick on their dogs.  As we have found before this is a good icebreaker and really gets people thinking about where muscles are and what they do.  It also means that as the session progresses they are aware of which muscles they are actually working on.

AchyPaw Dog Massage class
Everyone wearing their muscles
We had lots of ideas on when owners thought massage would be useful for their dogs and when you should not perform a massage.

We took everyone through eight different techniques which they were able to put into a routine. 

AchyPaw Dog Massage class
Skin rolling time
AchyPaw Dog Massage class
The lovely Finn having a massage from Sophie

AchyPaw Dog Massage class
Gracie centre stage

AchyPaw Dog Massage class
Gracie in the middle

AchyPaw Dog Massage class
Leo and Gary

AchyPaw Dog Massage class
Brandie and Dawn

AchyPaw Dog Massage class
Everyone putting the routine together
AchyPaw Dog Massage class
Gracie's face says it all

We included demonstrations of a few passive movements and active stretches (which involve cheesey bribes) and then made sure everyone could put the routine together.

More pictures can be seen from our Facebook page where we have also received some feedback and even a video.

"I thoroughly enjoyed learning eight different massage techniques and Brandie responded well to helping me learn what she liked and when she'd had enough of a particular move. Les explained how massage can support dogs in many ways including behaviour, fear and relaxation as well as the physical benefits and also how it can improve the bond between dogs and owners. I liked that Les made it clear that we need to observe our dogs to take our cues from them as to whether to massage, when to stop and when our dogs are preferring certain moves.  Brandie really benefitted from the workshop, she was very sleepy for the rest of the day and was snoring her head off from the minute we got back in the door for several hours, she woke up for her dinner and then slept solidly for the rest of the evening"

"Thank you for the massage course yesterday, I think we all enjoyed it, Skye and I certainly did! She keeps coming over to me to ask for more. I look forward to your next course, I might try our other dog next time!" 

"Thank you for such an informative and fun session. I learnt so much and will certainly put it all into practice. Gracie certainly enjoyed it, especially the cheese"