canine Movement enrichment

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Exploring Canine therapeutic touch

Canine Therapeutic Touch is a powerful clinical tool that you can incorporate into your canine therapy practice.

Canine Movement Enrichment techniques consists of Therapeutic Handling and Clinic Enrichment and these represent the foundation stone of K9HS clinical and training services.

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.

In 2003 I introduced canine Therapeutic Handling to the Royal Veterinary College’s Masters programme in Veterinary Physiotherapy. These techniques are used in advanced canine physiotherapy clinical practice and are continually evolving and advancing.

K9HS has been established for 12 years being continually oversubscribed every day of the year we are open. We are constantly juggling appointments and have a long waiting list. A number of years ago we decided to carry out a clinical audit of 457 clients over 2 years to understand why our clients were choosing to drive long distances to reach our rural location, with an average drive of an hour and a half.

This scoping exercise revealed the third most important factor of our service was their dog’s treatment programme and progress. This was astonishing news to me, as I was convinced this would be at the top of the list for every owner client.

So what were the top two highest-rated factors?

What our clients valued most was Therapeutic Handling, evidencing the importance of these proprioceptively enriched  techniques both clinically and from a business perspective. It’s very important for business longevity to listen carefully to the feedback of your target audience 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 our free Workshop Learning Tracks aim to provide support and advancement in canine therapy skills and knowledge.

One of my own pivotal career moments happened in 1980, when an eminent physiotherapist with amazing manual skills, shared this wisdom:

Therapeutic touch is a two-way process.

I mulled this over and made a note, but it was much later that I began to really appreciate 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 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 each session was incredible and the realisation that this professional bond was all about communication and connections.

This was one of the key moments in my career when I truly understood that manual therapeutic skills are so much more than just being able to palpate and assess tissue, muscle tone or apply a treatment technique like therapeutic massage.

My passion to help dogs be happy and healthy and enjoy 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 20 years with everyone I have had the privilege and joy to work with, has been a fantastic journey, as listening to their canine successes never ceases to amaze me. So many dogs have been helped by so many therapists using Movement Enrichment techniques, so lets explore some facts…….

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

Then consider about 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. So 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 signalling, 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 who introduced the 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.

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 makes every touch meaningful and specific, to positively influence the neural computer that organises both canine movement and function. 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 major treatment strategy. Developing your own body posturing to communicate effectively and fluidly with each dog, using their main communication system, leads to brilliant results.

In this aquatic picture, you can see a Proprioceptive Paw Placement (PPP) technique on the right pelvic limb (right hind limb). This technique is explored in depth in our accredited Level 5 Advanced Canine Hydrotherapy Treatment Techniques course. The Therapeutic hold at the dog’s sternum is a canine therapeutic key point of control and this specific hold is one of many you can use at this key point of control.

Key points of control are so much more than just a brake point to movement, as they are control points to motion and can significantly impact the natural balance of the dog.

Is this something you would like to know more about?

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 thinking about techniques to use in your therapeutic setting, consider if the dog is new to you, has any pain issues or movement challenges. You will use touch not just to palpate, but to communicate and connect with the dog and it’s 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.

Clinic Enrichment techniques integrate brilliantly with Therapeutic Handling providing a holistic approach in the therapeutic clinical setting. We now know this treatment approach achieves consistently successful outcomes by significantly improving canine movement.

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 re-examine and explore the “why” of their selected techniques.

What is Clinic Enrichment?

Clinic Enrichment is how you use the clinic space and moment by moment decisions on your body posture choices within the space, responding in real time to each dogs 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.

Movement Enrichment techniques optimise canine natural balanced stance and motion.

Integrating Clinic Enrichment & Therapeutic Handling

Therapeutic Handling and Clinic Enrichment techniques empower your skills to communicate directly 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. You will specifically use Therapeutic Touch in a considered response to each dog’s behaviours, guided by knowledge of the canine biomechanical design and physiology of canine movement.

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. What do you do when you are angry, upset or worried? Your muscle tone and postures change and are 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 effective 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 is 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. I believe you should always acknowledge and work with each dog and their owner. Therapists should avoid, touching the dog too soon, using a social touch rather than a therapeutic touch or ignoring the dog and not using touch to communicate. Therapists make a measured decision and choose a balanced moment to make a positive and effective Therapeutic Touch. This is complex, unique to each situation and a real art.

Being successful in canine therapy needs a combination of science based knowledge and understanding linked to the art of making decisions and clinical judgements. As you progress your integrated clinical skills, you will devise your personal signature of canine therapeutic practice.

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

Therapeutic Touch is the most 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 through a technique such as therapeutic lead stroking.

With Therapeutic Handling we can use therapeutic lead stroking symmetrically, asymmetrically, double-leaded or single-leaded. This connection through a piece of equipment that the dog is familiar with, is like an email directly accessing the canine proprioceptive system.

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 may influence 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 used to move the dog. Canine therapists opt for Therapeutic Holds that influence and control the dog’s core rather than the neck and head as this is much more useful for the dog to achieve a 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 to achieve balanced motion

Using  a well fitted  Y shaped harness with Therapeutic Handling will assist the dog to move efficiently in their natural balanced motion every time.

Our canine natural balanced motion course looks at what canine Central Pattern Generators (CPG) are all about.

These mini computers 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 using their pyramidal pathway system, whereas dogs have lots of CPGs in their thoracic and lumbar spine and predominantly use their extra pyramidal pathway.

The increased number of canine CPGs fits with the canine design of movement automation at spinal level.

These mini computers give out a rhythmic output and are the drivers of canine gait and canine swimming.

Canine movement driven by the CPGs = proprioceptive system x muscle power.

Imagine that muscle power is represented by your car engine, providing the power to move. The car engine represents the dog’s muscles, which are controlled by the engine management system = the proprioceptive system.

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

Canine therapists can positively influence the proprioceptive system using Therapeutic Handling and Clinical Enrichment as  these are proprioceptive-enriched treatment techniques. These techniques can influence the quality of the information sent to the CNS (central nervous system) to positively impact the information passed from the computer along the efferent pathways, to the muscles. This in turn improves the efficiency of natural balanced canine motion.

It’s incredibly exciting 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. We share a range of strategies and techniques with you to help assist the dog achieve this balanced entry and exit safely and appropriately.

Finding therapeutic solutions to help the dog cope with the difficult challenge of entering another environment is the art of canine therapy, with the underpinning knowledge being a sound scientific base of practice.

Working with the dog to guide their natural balanced motion in a proprioceptively enriched way achieves optimal results every time.

We know if a dog chooses to actively participate (makes a conscious mediated decision of active motion) with you, this is hugely proprioceptively enriching 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 that attends our clinic. This wonderful 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 and accurate way establishes a communication and  connection that is so rewarding and is what owners highly value.

Seeing positive changes of behaviour, posture, balance and motion within one session makes me smile inside every day I go to work and it’s truly an inspiring partnership working with dogs in this way.

“What is a Therapeutic Lift?”

Therapeutic Lifts are not a social cuddle or a restraint hold to administer a process or technique. Therapeutic Lift’s 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 accept and reaffirm the code of practice as directed by their preferred professional association. Part of this obligation is to work within their individual scope of practice and 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.

K9HS Courses aims to provide you with choices and opportunities to progress your skills and advance your canine practice, encouraging you to enjoy every moment of your canine career journey.

Therapeutic Handling and Clinic Enrichment are key elements of canine Movement Enrichment treatment techniques.

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

ABC Awards QLS ENdorsed Courses
in this learning track:

Therapeutic Handling Techniques for Canine Therapists Refresher

A therapeutic perspective of working with the canine client, building that all important professional bond of active engagement, focus and trust with each dog. Includes our clinical skills led instructional K9TVs.

Level 4: Course hours: 6 hours of study in 4 seminars;  Therapeutic Handling techniques, Canine behaviours in clinic, Therapeutic lead stroking techniques, Therapeutic harness choices.

Clinic Enrichment Techniques for Canine Therapists Refresher

Offers an integrated package of clinical skills and information . Review enrichment techniques in the canine therapeutic clinical setting and it’s positive impact on your treatment success. Includes our unique instructional K9TVs.

Level 4: Course hours: 6 hours of study in 4 seminars; Canine Clinic Enrichment, Canine proprioceptive system, Clinic Enrichment treatment techniques, Clinic Enrichment  + pain management.

Take it from one who was fortunate enough to find these wonderful people. If you’re passionate about helping dogs and you feel it’s your calling to be a Hydrotherapist, you’ll want/need to get the best training possible. The best you can get is with K9HS. It’s not just the coursework. You’ll be in the pool learning hands on from the most qualified, inspirational and passionate instructors to be found anywhere. K9HS is the gold standard in Hydrotherapy training. Trust me. I was a student and now I have my own centre. Prepare to be inspired!

Derek Richards
Hollywood Houndz Hydrotherapy Services

Take it from one who was fortunate enough to find these wonderful people. If you’re passionate about helping dogs and you feel it’s your calling to be a Hydrotherapist, you’ll want/need to get the best training possible. The best you can get is with K9HS. It’s not just the coursework. You’ll be in the pool learning hands on from the most qualified, inspirational and passionate instructors to be found anywhere. K9HS is the gold standard in Hydrotherapy training. Trust me. I was a student and now I have my own centre. Prepare to be inspired!

Derek Richards
Hollywood Houndz Hydrotherapy Services