I have had the honor of being a best friend to my now deceased dog Rhyse. He was a Karelian bear dog which resembles a large Border collie cross Lab and lived to be 18 years old. For all the years we were together I always thought that Rhyse was a Border collie cross and trained him as such, he worked with sheep, did some agility and even tried flyball. It wasn’t until I attended my first practicum at North West School of Animal Massage that I met another Karelian bear dog and took it as a sign I had been directed to my true calling, my Rhyse was with me in spirit.
Rhyse was my shadow, my companion, my hiking buddy, my protector (we actually met up with a few bears on our travels which he protected me from), he was a faithful friend.
Unfortunately Rhyse was taken from me when he was around 6 years old and those years apart he experienced a broken heart because we were apart, loneliness with little exercise or proper care. Thankfully we were brought together again when he was 13 years old, overweight, poor health, no longer the energetic healthy pup he once was. He now had a calmer senior demeanor, and was a true senior dog with all the aches and pains that come with a neglected overweight older dog. I worked hard to recondition him to give him a better quality of life, he was given high quality food, vet check ups and treatment, conditioning for his sore muscles starting with walks and progressing till he was hiking over 5 kms per day and most of the time running he was so happy. Watching the transformation I knew I wanted to help other dogs have the best quality of life they could have by conditioning and helping them through injury rehabilitation.
I heard about swim therapy for dogs on a hike one day and instantly knew this was my purpose! Hydrotherapy was how I could help dogs who needed to get into shape, rehabilitation therapy for injuries and post-surgical care to recondition weak injured muscles and even float therapy for very senior dogs that just need to rest their muscles in the therapeutic warm water environment. As I researched everything I could on the subject I found that there were many different types of hydrotherapy education being offered from basic fitness conditioning to very qualified diploma programs including anatomy, kinesiology, orthopedic conditions with extensive theory and hands on practical sessions. My goal was to get the best education possible and add in elements that I knew would help such as the rehabilitative massage therapy certification. I volunteered at a local canine hydrotherapy pool and loved every minute. I met wonderful new friends and experienced swim sessions with different dogs with injuries or conditions that I saw hydrotherapy worked very well to improve and give the dogs a better quality of life. I even helped teach a puppy how to learn to swim which was absolutely necessary because the breed isn’t known for being a good swimmer and his family was moving to waterfront property. One of my favorite dogs to swim are the tripods, these dogs need special attention and I love giving them, confidence, a non-impact environment to help balance the muscles and treat the compensating limbs for a more conditioned, pain free exercise option.
The full education I wanted took two years to complete, which is more than your average hydrotherapist. Some individuals choose the holistic therapy education which is more of a passive conditioning swim therapy in my opinion. Some individuals choose to do the first level which is certification, a good base for canine hydrotherapy. I chose to educate myself with the best level possible, a diploma in canine hydrotherapy and certification in canine rehabilitation massage therapy. I want to help all dogs, the hard cases such as post-surgical and neurological conditions require special attention and a calm purposeful swim session and the fitness swims for overweight and senior dogs. Knowing orthopedic conditions, contraindictions for injuries and proper swim protocol is very important and it was important for me to gain the knowledge so that each dog I was swimming is safely protected as best as possible from further injury or stresses.
I saw the benefit of massage in the warm water environment where I could use the hydrostatic pressure of the water to help move inflammation out of an injury area, release tension from sore tight muscles and having a floating dog takes the pressure off the injury site allowing me to work a limb and gain a better range of motion. Implementing massage with hydrotherapy sessions has shown to help injuries improve much quicker and to a higher level of healing than just swimming or create rest alone.
I love working with dogs to help give them the best quality of life possible. Hydrotherapy and massage therapy can be incorporated with your veterinarian care to create a full treatment program and achieve optimal results for your dog.
Ms. A. McDonald Dip CH, SARMT
- Diploma in Canine Hydrotherapy from Greyfriars UK www.greyfriarsrehab.co.uk
- First Aid for Small Animals from Greyfriars UK.
- Certificate in Small Animal Foundation Massage Therapy (level 1) from North West School of Animal Massage www.nwsam.com
- Certificate in Small Animal Rehabilitation Massage Therapy (level 3) from North West School of Animal Massage www.nwsam.com
- Walked Paws Dog Walking 101 – Business and Equipment Module And Sabrina’s link is www.shakeapaw.dog
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