Article first published on 14 September 2015 in Bangalore Mirror Bureau. Reproduced with kind permission.
This week we had a special visitor at class – Julia Robertson from Galen Therapy Center, UK. This centre addresses muscle issues in dogs. Listening to Julia talk about identifying muscle problems in dogs and providing solutions that can eventually translate to behavioural modifications in dogs was eye-opening. The first tenet of behavioural modification in dogs is to address any underlying pain. It is quite surprising how many of our pet dogs suffer in silence. Our lifestyles put a lot of unnatural pressure on our dogs’ bodies, causing them to sustain injuries and chronic pain. However, dogs are stoic and don’t really show pain. Hence it takes a trained eye to be able to see it. Muscle pain is sustained by dogs due to many reasons. Over exercising, inappropriate exercising, inappropriate equipment and underlying skeletal problems can be some of the reasons. Ball throwing, excessive running, vastly varying exercise regimens fall under the category of over and inappropriate exercising. Collars, choke collars, gentle leaders and head halters are highly damaging equipment. Leash walking techniques that jerk on the leash and force the dog to walk with his head high up are inappropriate techniques that also cause problems. Dogs can also come with a plethora of genetic problems such as hip dysplasia and patellar subluxation. Our lifestyle can also put undue pressure on the dog’s muscles by putting a dog in a position to jump in and out of cars too often, climb up and down stairs too often, and jump up and down on furniture too often.
The pelvic area of the dog is the main force field of the dog from whence most of the force for forward motion comes. Any damage to the hips, hind legs or back can impact that region. A dog may compensate for this by putting more load on his front legs. This leads to stress in the neck region of the dog. At the same time, any damage to the front shoulders of a dog also has direct impact on the neck. The neck is then the most vulnerable part of a dog and most of our dogs that carry any kind of stress carry it in their necks.
What can we do to help our dogs? For starters, think simple. Provide a dog with a soft pillow. Some dogs might find immense comfort in being able to elevate their necks up a little and lay them at the correct angle. Second, examine your lifestyle carefully. Are you throwing balls for your dog? Are you imposing unnatural gaits on your dog during walks? Does your dog have the best walking equipment? If you invest in a good but expensive ergonomic chair would a pillow and a good harness not be a good ergonomic investment for your dog?
A pillow, apart from being a good ergonomic investment, is also very comforting to a dog from a behavioural perspective. Functional possessions can give dogs an immense sense of security. PDTE President Turid Rugaas speaks fondly of a dog she supported in a shelter and sent many gifts to, among which was a pillow. A year later the dog got adopted and he took his one valuable possession with him to his new home – his pillow. Inspired by her story, a few of us are planning on gifting pillows to dogs at a local shelter this Christmas. Gift your dog a few pillows of different densities and see how they like it and how they use it. Apart from loving their new possession, their neck might thank you for it. Sindhoor Pangal is a dog trainer and behaviourist, and runs Bangalore Hundeskole in India. www.bangalorehundeskole.com