Canine Therapeutic Touch is a powerful tool and is part of Therapeutic Handling

Canine Movement Enrichment techniques consists of Therapeutic Handling and Clinic Enrichment. These techniques use an holistic approach when working with dogs requiring therapeutic treatments within a clinical setting.

This is so much more than just a group of techniques and strategies. It’s a system of practice to build a trusted and mindful bond with each dog, empowering the therapist to interact and work with their canine client in an active and connected way.  

Gaining the trust, confidence and consent of each dog is paramount to those wishing to work with dogs. Building a professional bond empowers the therapist to connect with each dog and gain their active participation in a wide range of different therapeutic interventions. This in turn leads to a high proprioceptive rating value of the session resulting in excellent outcomes and improved canine lives.

Movement Enrichment is a flexible and adaptable method, meeting the specific behavioural needs of each dog within a clinical setting.

Working with dogs in a seamlessly proprioceptively enriched way, maps directly into how dogs organise their motion and functional tasks, such as standing balance, toileting, rising after rest, eating, drinking and changing posture. These daily functional activities are central to the dog’s quality of life.

Therapeutic Handling results in utilising a system which provides a complete therapeutic approach for therapists focused on improving canine movement. 

Canine Therapeutic Handling includes – Therapeutic Holds, Therapeutic Lifts, Therapeutic Touches, Terra and Aquatic Movement Shaping, Proprioceptive Paw Placement (PPP) techniques and canine Key Points of Control.

Canine Therapeutic Touch is where  every touch is considered, clinically relevant and mindful.

Introducing Canine Therapeutic Handling in 2003,  into the Royal Veterinary College’s Masters programme in Veterinary Physiotherapy was exciting and transformational to canine clinical practice. K9HS was opened originally as a satellite training centre for the RVC canine clinical training and is now an established accredited training centre and canine clinical service. It’s clinical services are continually oversubscribed and offer an integrated canine service of land based and water based therapies – physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, aquatic therapies, rehabilitation and positive behavioural solutions.

A scoping exercise and clinical audit of 457 clients over 2 years confirmed the third most important factor of our service to our clients was their dog’s treatment programme and progress. This was astonishing news to us, as we sure this would be at the top of the list for every owner client.

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So what were the top two highest-rated factors?

What our clients reported and valued most was Therapeutic Handling, evidencing the importance of these proprioceptively enriched  techniques both clinically and from a business perspective. It’s important for business longevity to listen carefully to the feedback of your target population and prospective clients.

Canine therapists make large investments in training, time and financial commitment to open a service, clinic or a centre, especially if this involves canine hydrotherapy, as this type of specialist service is renowned for high running costs and low profit margins.

Research highlights how important it is to have support and mentoring to ensure business success in the canine therapy industry. Therapists are committed to a career long journey of learning and progression and our series of free webinars found on the K9HS YouTube Channel aim to provide advancement in canine therapy skills linked to scientific knowledge.

One of my own pivotal career moments happened in 1980, when an eminent physiotherapist with amazing manual skills, shared her wisdom and experiences that Therapeutic Touch is a two-way process. I mulled this over and made a note, but it was much later when I truly appreciated this gem.

I soon realised Therapeutic Handling is so much more than a two-way stream of information between my hands and the muscles and tissues. The connection it created between me and my canine patient was something humbling and exciting. Moving from human practice to working full time with dogs in the mid nineties, I was amazed to discover just how successful the professional bond and connection using Therapeutic Handling was for each dog’s progress. The positive outcomes achieved at each session were incredible and the realisation that this professional bond was pivotal to practice was enlightening.

This was such a key moments in my career, when I fully comprehended that manual therapeutic skills are so much more than just being able to palpate and assess tissue, muscle tone or apply a treatment technique.

My passion to help dogs be happy, healthy and enjoy their life to the full became my work focus. Integrating Therapeutic Handling to clinical practice including therapeutic hydrotherapy, physiotherapy, rehabilitation and positive behaviour solutions, has influenced all my choices. Sharing these canine skills for over 25 years with everyone I have had the privilege and joy to work with has been a fantastic journey. Listening to their canine successes never ceases to amaze me. So many dogs have been helped by therapists using Movement Enrichment techniques, so lets explore some facts –

Consider how dogs communicate and the main systems they use with other dogs and with us.

Then reflect on how we as humans communicate.

There is often a mismatch across the species. Dogs mainly use body posturing and facial expressions whereas humans mainly use language. We know dogs are watchers; they watch and observe, whereas people are listeners. Dogs respond and give out a continuous stream of social signalling, (also called feedback signals or calming signals). Observing, understanding and responding to these feedback signals appropriately, in context of a clinical therapeutic session is the first step.

I was inspired by Dr Moshe Feldenkrais in the 1980’s, with his Feldenkrais Method. Moshe explored habitual patterns of movement and body awareness to regain efficient movement patterning and overall well being. These concepts are utilised by and have influenced both the TTouch and Neuro-linguistic-programming (NLP) organisations.

The Alexander technique was developed in the 1890s by Frederick Matthias Alexander and teaches improved dynamic posture and movement, to help reduce and prevent problems caused by unhelpful postural habits. This is achieved by building body awareness and identifies how to improve poor posture and influence efficient movement.

Raising the awareness of movements is traceable over at least the last 1000 years. The importance of being fully attentive to the state of our muscles and posture, including the muscles involved in the act of breathing, is supported by the meditation and yoga found in the Yogasutra by Pathanjali dating back to 200 A.D.

My training included Feldenkrais Method, Alexander techniques, therapeutic Pilates and other manual, developmental and movement therapy techniques.

What is Canine Therapeutic Handling? 

It’s where the therapist uses specific and mindful touches to positively influence the neural circuitry which organises both canine natural balanced stance, motion and functional abilities. Therapeutic Handling is used in the clinic environment, with dogs you see professionally. They may have pain issues, or be new to the clinical environment, or have had social experiences leading to negative habitual responses. By using Therapeutic Handling integrated with Clinic Enrichment, you can enhance the communication between you and the dog and positively influence high quality movement sequences.

It’s all about working with the dog, not working on the dog. Building a  professional bond of trust, focus and confidence using Therapeutic Handling is a treatment strategy in itself. Developing your own body posturing to communicate effectively and fluidly with each dog, using their main communication system, leads to brilliant results.

In the aquatic image above is a Proprioceptive Paw Placement (PPP) technique on the right pelvic limb (right hind limb). This technique is fully explored in the Ofqual Level 4 Diploma in Canine Hydrotherapy course we offer. The Therapeutic Hold is at the dog’s sternum which is an establised Canine Therapeutic Key Point of Control, part of Canine Movemen Enrichment techniques. 

Key Points of Control are so much more than just a brake point to movement, as they are also “control motion points” of movement sequences. They significantly impact the dog’s natural balance, postures and motion.

As we now know, movement is not organised at a specific joint or muscle, it’s a global sequence that’s orchestrated by the proprioceptive system. When evaluating techniques to use in your therapeutic setting, consider if the dog is a new patient / client, has any pain issues or movement challenges. You will use touch not just to palpate, but to communicate and connect with the dog, plus positively influence the dog’s innate proprioceptive system.

You may already utilise feeding enrichment strategies which is a valuable way to help dogs express themselves, as historically dog’s in the wild had to scavenge, hunt and find food. Keeping dog’s physically stimulated and fit is an important part of canine health and wellness, plus is a great way to provide problem solving and mental stimulation.

Canine Enrichment techniques improve a dog’s mental state using a range of activities designed to challenge and exercise their brains. These activities encourage the dog to problem solve, become more confident and use their “dog brains.” They are ideal for all dogs and when used appropriately, they will optimise the dog’s experiences and can impact the quality of their behaviours and mobility. 

Feedback from a recent K9HS Practical Masterclass on Movement Enrichment included the following comments; “That’s so obvious,” “It’s so easily applied,” “It’s great to link scientific facts to these techniques.” It’s exciting to see therapists review and explore in detail the “why” of their selected techniques.

What is Clinic Enrichment?

Clinic Enrichment is how you use the clinic space and moment by moment decisions of your body posture choices within the space, responding in real time to each dog’s feedback signals. It’s so much more than the position of your walls, doors and how you organise the room and your equipment. These techniques are superb tools to have in your therapeutic toolbox.

Integrating Clinic Enrichment & Therapeutic Handling

Therapeutic Handling and Clinic Enrichment techniques empower clinical skills and communication with the dog in your clinic – such as when the dog enters the clinic, engages and moves around the clinic and during the application of other techniques. They are also stand alone treatment techniques supported by sound scientific facts.

It’s a rewarding way to practice because you’re guiding the dog’s choices and decisions to work actively with you. Using Therapeutic Handling achieves a meaningful transmission of information through your considered touch. How you apply Therapeutic Touch, the speed you apply it, where you apply it, and why you’re applying it, is very important. Utilising Therapeutic Touch in a considered response to each dog’s behaviours, guided by knowledge of the canine biomechanical design and physiology of canine movement ensures long lasting benefits for the dog’s movement quality and well being.

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We know dogs have personalities, and as with humans, personalities can impact on their physical status. Consider when you are cold, what happens to your muscle tone? Do you shiver, shrug or bring your shoulders together? This alters muscle tone and postures. What do you do when you are angry, upset or worried? Your muscle tone and posture change, being different to when you are relaxed.

Connecting with the dog in a balanced way using Therapeutic Handling leads to accurate interpretation of assessment techniques and a raised efficacy of treatment techniques. We know that canine behaviours are significantly influenced in the clinical setting by multi factors including their owners behaviour in the clinic, responses to travelling in the car, sensitivity to sounds, sudden movements and the clinician’s handling.

As well as this, we also need to consider the difference in breed variation and each dog’s “normal” motion, as it’s well documented that normal movement for one breed may be abnormal for another. With a recognised normal for the specific breed we can reliably establish what is the abnormal or a response due to the dog’s behavioural status in the clinic.

Therapeutic Handling is incredibly useful for introducing the initial first touch, which is a balanced moment between the therapist and dog. We believe you should always acknowledge and work with each dog and their owner. Therapists make a measured decision and choose a balanced moment to make a positive and effective Therapeutic Touch. This is complex and unique to each situation.

Being successful in canine therapy needs a combination of science based knowledge and understanding linked to the art of making decisions and clinical judgements. 

“How do you introduce that first touch with the dog in your clinic?”

Therapeutic Touch is an invaluable tool to make your initial touch successful. Look in your therapeutic toolbox and you should have a range of skills and techniques to choose from. Initial touch can be direct or could be indirect, utilising a technique such as therapeutic lead stroking.

With Therapeutic Handling we can use therapeutic lead stroking symmetrically, asymmetrically, double-leaded or single-leaded. This therapeutic connection through a piece of equipment which the dog is familiar with, converts this approach into a high proprioceptive rated activity by raising the dog’s body awareness.

Use a facilitatory upward sweep touch on the underside of the lead in a rhythmical and connected way linked to your own controlled rhythmical body postural transfers (rocking rhythmically as you apply the facilitatory stroke) to achieve your goal. This influences the dog’s behaviours and can be calming. It also can influence muscle tone, natural balanced stance and directional motion choices of the dog.

Our unique instructional K9TVs (Canine Technical Videos) in our short course on Therapeutic Handling demonstrates this to you step by step.

“Is a collar and lead the best restraint?”

Humans often use a lead connected to the collar on a dog. The canine neck is another powerful key point of control that can easily take the dog out of balance when misused. Canine therapists opt for Therapeutic Holds that influence and control the dog’s core rather than the neck and head, creating a neutral and comfortable natural balanced posture or movement sequence.

The canine manubrium, at the top of the sternum (chest bone) is an important canine key point of control. It acts as a sternal handbrake to the dog’s movement and is also a fantastic dynamic motion point as it’s a sensitive control mechanism of canine function

Using  a well fitted Y – shaped harness with Therapeutic Handling will assist the dog to move efficiently in their natural balanced motion by transforming an every day activity into a high rated proprioceptive enriched experience.

CPG’s are found both in humans and dogs, however, humans have much fewer CPG’s compared to the dog.

Humans mainly learn and organise their movement sequences predominantly using their pyramidal pathway system.

Whereas dogs have large numbers of CPG’s in their thoracic and lumbar spine and mainly use their extra pyramidal pathway.

The increased number of canine CPG’s and neural organisation supports the canine design of motion automation at spinal level.

CPG’s give out a rhythmic output and are the drivers of canine gait and canine swimming.

Canine motion is driven by the CPGs = proprioceptive system x muscle.

Motion is initiated, controlled and orchestrated by the proprioceptive system.

Canine therapists can positively influence the dog’s proprioceptive system using Therapeutic Handling and Clinical Enrichment techniques. These techniques have a high proprioceptive rating, are species specific and relevant to canine function. 

It’s an incredibly rewarding way to practice as you can use these techniques as a stand alone treatment or as the “glue” to integrate the other techniques you select from your therapeutic toolbox.

“How can we use Therapeutic Handling to help a nervous dog enter the hydro pool for the first time?”

We can use our body posturing, as well as understanding how to use clinical motivators to assist the dog to move in balance. Building a professional bond of trust and confidence with each dog leads to an active decision and engagement by the dog to follow the therapist’s guidance.

Finding therapeutic solutions to help the dog cope with the difficult challenge of entering another environment is the art of canine therapy.

We know if a dog chooses to actively participate (makes a conscious mediated decision of active motion) with the therapist, this has a very high proprioceptive rating value and will improve the dog’s movement quality. A dog that achieves a focused and positive response to the therapist’s guidance using Therapeutic Handling, will engage in an active and connected way.

This connection can be emotional for therapists and it continues to overwhelm me when I reflect about the special connection made with each dog at our clinic. This therapeutic bond of professional trust between the therapist and dog is truly amazing and why I love my job so much.

Responding to canine feedback in real time using canine language, creates this two-way connection, with the feedback signals indicating to the therapist where to make the next Therapeutic Touch, Hold or Lift. Observing the dog’s facial expressions and body posturing and answering in their language in a responsive way establishes a communication and  connection that owners highly value.

Seeing positive changes of behaviour, posture, balance and motion within one session is truly inspiring.

“What is a Therapeutic Lift?”

Therapeutic Lifts are not a social cuddle or a restraint hold to administer a process or technique. Therapeutic Lifts are interactive with the dog to achieve active balance with their core in a neutral and engaged position. This clinical tool helps the dog positively engage in different environments like water.

Your canine career journey

As professionals, canine therapists are committed to work within their scope of practice and annually reaffirm the code of practice as directed by their preferred professional association. Part of this professional obligation is to embrace the idea that there is always something new to learn.

Therapists plan their career journey to advance their skills, to provide the best service to each dog in their professional care.

These proven clinical techniques achieve great results and significantly improve dogs and owners lives. Advancing knowledge and skills in Canine Movement Enrichment will progress the quality and success of your service and business.

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