Learning Tracks


Canine Natural Balanced Motion 

An overview

Dogs have a specific quadrupedal biomechanical design and digitigrade stance and organise their movement very differently to humans. Dogs have natural balanced stance and motion in a variety of postures and gait patterns.

Think about the tasks you have done today such as dressing and doing up buttons, brushing your hair, drinking a cup of coffee or driving your car. Compare this to the tasks your dog has to complete over the course of a day.

Different species with very different movement sequences!

Canine therapists study how to assist dogs to achieve their normal movement patterns and move efficiently in natural canine balance. By understanding normal canine movement, therapists can reliably assess each dog’s movement challenges, fitness levels and functional issues.

Therapists aim to improve the quality of canine movement, whether it’s a canine athlete, a post-surgical rehabilitation case or the elderly dog struggling to use their back end. By helping the dog move in their natural balanced motion as they’re designed to do, therapists can achieve amazing results.

Breed differences

Different breeds have different conformation and morphology. Border Collies have low-angled hocks to turn quickly and can creep to help herd as part of their breed conformation and design. In contrast the Greyhound is the canine elite sprint athlete and has long parallel legs. Within this species, what is normal motion for one breed is abnormal motion in another.

The challenge for canine therapists is to select the best treatment techniques for each dog based on their signalment (breed, sex, age, coat colour), assessment findings and behaviours in the clinical setting. With different breeds and their respective normal movements, a range of treatment techniques are needed to get the best fit for each dog.

Therapists need an expansive toolbox of therapeutic assessment and treatment techniques and to reason their clinical choices.

What are the main types of movement?

Type 1: Reflexes are the simplest movement, such as a knee jerk or pupil dilation. These are involuntary responses to a sensory input and there is no threshold. Reflexes are a defence mechanism to protect the body from harm.

Type 2: Fixed action patterns like sneezing and coughing ae also an involuntary response, like reflexes. However, they have a threshold which has to be reached before triggering off a response. They are therefore a bit more complex than reflexes.

Type 3: Rhythmic motor patterns (RMP) are a really important movement type in canine rehabilitation and they include walking, trotting, galloping, swimming, running and scratching. These are repetitive, complex patterns and are subject to voluntary control, being used by the dog in their everyday activities and life.

Type 4: Directed movements are voluntary and complex and usually not repetitive. These are very important in human therapy whereas RMP are fundamental in canine rehabilitation and fitness work.

Directed movements in the dog are the learned patterns we teach, such as sit, down, or learned sequences like a sit up and beg. These represent a significantly small part of canine movement learned with association to a specific behaviour. Whereas, Rhythmic Motor Patterns (RMP) constitute the majority of canine activities, so it’s very important to focus on techniques that use RMP types of movement, to achieve the best results in canine rehabilitation.

It’s undesirable to opt for using either reflex based treatment or directed movements as a primary choice of technique, as dogs will make slow progress and need a huge amount of therapy compared to programmes using RMP.

“Canine locomotion is the product of proprioception + muscles.”
Professor Robert McNeill Alexander

Let’s dive deep into the scientific facts we already know;

What is the proprioceptive system?

It’s a neural feedback mechanism and its key in organizing balance, movement sequences and preventing injuries.

The proprioceptive system is complicated and consists of;

Receptors that act as satellites collecting sensory information. In order to influence these satellites, therapists need to know where they are and what information they collect.

This incoming information passes along the afferent fibres to the central nervous system (CNS). This is the main frame and within it is your main computer and associated mini computers dealing with the incoming sensory information.

The main frame has multi tasks to collect, store, analyse and integrate information. Most of the information is stored and a small amount is analysed and passes from the computer along the efferent fibres to the muscles or end organs, instructing them into action.

The efferent pathways have two main divisions and the priority of use of these is very different in dogs compared to humans. Relating treatment techniques to the specific neural set up of the canine efferent pathways is incredibly influential for effective canine rehabilitation.

Imagine the two main efferent pathways represent 2 motorways and these are called the pyramidal and extra pyramidal pathways.


In humans the main motorway is the pyramidal pathway and relates directly to the human biomechanical biped design and the huge amount of finely tuned movement sequences we require for our daily lives. Human patterns of movement are complicated and graded muscle contraction is required to achieve our movement sequences, such as putting on our glasses, writing, playing instruments or learning to swim. These are all type 4 directed movements.

The minor motorway in humans is the extrapyramidal pathway, providing a small amount of automated background organisation of balance and coordination, without the need to process this consciously.


With dogs it’s the complete opposite and their movement patterns are for the most part automated at spinal level. The main motorway for their daily life is commanded predominantly by the extra pyramidal pathways. Dogs also have a large number of central processing generators (CPGs are also known as central patterning generators) found in their thoracic and lumbar spine, compared to the small number found in humans.

CPGs are spinal mini computers that provide a rhythmical output and are the main drivers of canine gait and swimming. They are your type 3 RMP movement and a major part of the canine design for efficient motion.

The minor motorway in dogs is the pyramidal system and is where dogs learn tricks and associated behaviours linked to directed movement. This is not a natural balanced activity as it is a commanded and taught sequence by humans.

By focusing on the natural balanced motion of the dog and RMP movements, therapists will achieve the best results and make a significant improvement to the quality of each dog’s life.

What do muscles do?

Muscle contractions generate the power for canine movement and work in different ways; always orchestrated and commanded by the proprioceptive system.

What are the different types of muscle contraction?

Isotonic exercise is dynamic and isometric exercise is static. Successful rehabilitation requires both of these types of exercise within the treatment programme to mimic the needs of daily life and movement.

With isotonic exercise there are two kinds of muscle contraction to consider; concentric contraction, which is where your muscle shortens, and eccentric contraction where your muscles lengthens.


Eccentric contraction has a higher power output compared to concentric contractions and we know canine movement consists of a significant amount of eccentric muscle contraction work. Therefore, it’s essential to incorporate this into the treatment plan.

It’s important to include isometric exercise in all treatment programmes as well as closed-chain and open-chain kinetic exercise depending on the assessment of each dog’s individual needs.

More on the canine design

The dog is designed to go forwards in the sagittal plane. Backward movement is not a natural motion pattern and puts the canine biomechanical system under duress. A car is similarly designed to primarily drive forwards and reversing is a limited supplementary manoeuvre. Research shows the importance of always working within the biomechanical design to limit additional unwanted forces through structures leading to design failure.

Therapists choose techniques that are relevant to the dog to achieve positive outcomes and work within the biomechanical design of the species.

A dog moving in natural balance on land or in water will move efficiently and with engaged power. Injury and dysfunction causes the dog to move out of balance leading to an inefficient movement secondary pattern.

Dogs can easily be taken out of balance by inappropriate handling, poor choice of harnesses and buoyancy aids. In the right hand picture below you can see that a poorly fitted harness impedes the dog’s forelimb protraction, always use a well fitted Y shaped harness to maximise the dogs natural balanced motion, both on land and in water.

Therapists use a range of movement techniques in water and on land to assist dogs to work in natural canine balance and motion. This aims to re-instate efficient movement sequences and powering in the dog and address their specific movement dysfunction so they can enjoy their life fully.

By using this species knowledge in the aquatic or land based environment, therapists can make informed, appropriate and effective treatment choices to achieve long term benefits and improvement for the dogs in their professional care.

The K9HS ethos of working with the dog, linked to sound scientific understanding, is pivotal to our success and we choose not to apply inappropriate or painful techniques.

If you would like to learn more about canine natural balanced stance + motion, please check out the webinar above and the course in the learning track below.

ABC Awards QLS ENdorsed Course 
in this learning track:

Natural Balanced Motion

This short course offers you the perfect balance of essential skills and information to ensure you can offer the best care to the dogs in your canine clinic.

We explore Canine Natural Balanced Motion and integrate scientific facts, therapeutic canine skills and the concept of working with the dog. 

By empowering clinical skills for the routine to the more complex case, leads to an up to date service achieving great results.

QLS Level 6: Course hours: 10 hours of study in 7 seminars.                   

Breeds + biomechanics, canine biomechanical design, canine proprioception, canine muscle power, canine functional anatomy, canine gait + locomotion, canine gait patterns.

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