Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Pet PT Pit Stop: All Hands On ... Dog!

by Susan E. Davis, PT “pull in for a helpful refuel!”  

It’s all about guiding and empowering you to help your pet avoid injury, provide practical solutions and achieve rapid restoration of health and function!   

The health of your dog’s nervous system is critical to their mental and phy sical well-being.

Touch and other mechanical means of providing sensory input, helps maintain and improve the condition of many neural connections throughout the body. 

Why is it so important?

A dog relies on nerves to interpret the world throughout their lifespan but the most critical times are during puppyhood and the senior years.

The nervous system matures during the first weeks and months of a puppy’s life.

At this stage it is primitive, uninhibited, and has the greatest raw potential.  Here is a time when simple hands-on techniques help prepare your pup for future grooming appointments, dental care and handling by a veterinarian.

They also provide the tools to focus and fine-tune nerve responses during hunting, field work, agility and other activities.

Here are my top recommendations for sensory stimulation of puppies, from 8 weeks to 1 year:
  1. Use the pad of your index finger or pinkie to lightly run along your pup’s gums, under the lip, including the upper and lower gums, 3-4 times around both gum lines, daily.

  2. Use a very soft careful touch with the tip of your thumb or index finger pad to touch the pup’s outer ear canal, in circles.  If they can tolerate it, lightly rub the inner and outer ear flaps too, daily.

  3. Handle each paw, rubbing the top and bottom in a circular manner and between each of their digits (toes) daily.

  4. Gently bend and straighten each paw at the carpus (wrist) and hock (ankle), 3-4 times each, daily.

  5. Lightly roll the puppy on its side, then onto the back, then onto the other side. Roll them back and forth this way several times. Three times per week

  6. Rotate the toys they play with, and vary the ways you play with them: if using circles chose clockwise, then counter clockwise, figure 8s, etc. Avoid boredom and over-repetition.

  7. Avoid massaging your dog at this young stage of life. Wait until growth plates in the bones are fully closed and the muscles have completed their development.

In contrast, the later years of your dog’s life present a challenge for the nervous system, as it tends to slow down and become depressed if not continually stimulated.  

This refers not only to cognitive functions but physical reflex reactions, sleep patterns, emotions, behaviors, etc.

Manual sensory stimulation serves as input signals or impulses, which evoke and trigger a neural response.

These signals maintain the firing mechanism between connections within nerve pathways.  

The flow of information occurs along tiny gaps between nerves, called synapses. Neurons (nerve cells) release chemical neurotransmitters to bridge these junctions and complete the connection.

Neurotransmitters are influenced by the hands on impulses received by the body. 

This is where the term “neuroplasticity” is derived.  It is the ability of the neural system to reorganize itself and form new pathway connections. It applies to nerves that are damaged, but remain physically intact, having potential to form alternate pathways. This doesn’t apply to nerves that have been physically severed, as they must regenerate and in some cases it is not possible.

Here are my recommendations for providing sensory input for senior dogs:
  1. Brushing: not brushing their coat for grooming purposes, but a technique using a soft bristle brush with handle.  Light, long brush strokes are used, starting high on the limb (at the shoulder or hip) and progressing down the length of the limb to the end (at the carpus or hock).  The strokes are in one direction only, in line with fur or hair growth, and not in reverse (not a back and forth brushing. Ten brush strokes along the front of the limb, followed by ten along the back of the limb, then along the outer and inner sides of the limb are recommended. The speed of stroking is about 10-12 inches per second, in long rhythmical sweeps of the brush.

  2. Petting and Massaging: flat-hand, circular movements are safest. Use light pressure and stay away from bony areas and directly over the vertebrae of the spine. Specific techniques are best taught by an animal-trained therapist before attempting to perform massage on your dog at home.

  3. Obstacle course: set up a mildly challenging course using chairs, stools, pillows, a step ladder placed on the floor, etc. Guide your dog through the course, over and around the obstacles. Use a leash to control their speed and for safety. Reverse direction and repeat 5-6 times.

  4. Use repetition in your interactions with a senior dog: encourage them to stand and sit, roll and fetching a ball, walk in one direction, then turn toward another direction, offering “paw”, turning the head or body, etc. Repetition is important for older dogs to stimulate their neurological system, in contrast to a puppy that becomes easily bored and needs more variety with less repetition.

  5. Challenge mental capacity by hiding favorite toys and using toys which hold treats inside.

  6. Play music, sing and talk to your dogs, engaging them in as many aspects of your daily life as feasible.

  7. For dogs with sight and hearing deficits, approach them slowly and consistently. Keep some lights on night. Consider using essential oils or special scents to help your dog recognize their surroundings.

  8. Tail pulls: a specific technique your vet or therapist can demonstrate which helps stimulate the neural system. Contact is made at the base of tail near the spine (not on the tip). A firm (but never tight) grasp is used with a slow steady pull, distracting the tail. Don’t attempt this without prior instruction.    

If you love your dog so much you can barely keep your hands off, it’s a very good thing because they benefit from your touch through their entire life!


Susan E. Davis (Sue) is a licensed Physical Therapist with over 30 years of practice in the human field, who transitioned into the animal world after taking courses at the UT Canine Rehabilitation program.  She is located in Red Bank, New Jersey.

She has been providing PT services to dogs and other animals through her entity Joycare Onsite, LLC in pet’s homes and in vet clinics since 2008.

She also provides pro bono services at the Monmouth County SPCA in Eatontown, NJ.  Sue is the proud “dog mommy” to Penelope, a miniature Dachshund with “attitude”.  For more information see her website , or follow on Twitter @animalPTsue.

Sue is also the author of a fantastic book on physical therapy, Physical Therapy And Rehabilitation For Animals: A Guide For The Consumer.  

Physical therapy can do so many great things for your dog. Understanding all the possibilities physical therapy can offer will change your dog's life. This book definitely belongs on the shelf of every dog lover.

Articles by Susan E. Davis:
Functional Strengthening Exercises: the What, Why and How
One Thing Leads To Another: Why The Second ACL Often Goes Too
Compensation: An Attempt To Restore Harmony
Paring Down to the Canine Core
Canine Massage: Every Dog ‘Kneads’ It”
Photon Power: Can Laser Therapy Help Your Dog?  
Physical Therapy in the Veterinary World  
Reiki: Is it real? 
Dog Lessons: Cooper  
The Essentials Of Canine Injury Prevention: 7 Tips For Keeping Your Dog Safer 
It's Not Just Walking, It's Therapy! 
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part I)
Treatment And Prevention Of Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease (Part II Physical Therapy)
Range Of Motion: It’s A Matter Of Degree…
The Weight Of Water And How It Helps Dogs 
By Land or By Sea? A Comparison of Canine Treadmills 
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part I)
Unraveling The Mystery Of Fascia And Myofascial Trigger Points (Part II) 
Scar Tissue: Is it Too Much of a Good Thing? 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Ramps! 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Indoor Duo Dog Exercises!
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Best Practices After Your Dog’s Surgery 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Ideas to Chew on - Can Physical Therapy Help with my Dog’s Digestive Problems?
Wrap It Up: Using Soft Supports For Your Dog
When Do I Use Heat versus Cold? : A Tale (or Tail) Of Two Temps! (Part I) 
When Do I Use Heat versus Cold? : A Tale (or Tail) Of Two Temps! (Part II) 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Safe Summer Boating Tips for your Dog 
Physical Therapy Tip Of The Month: Hip Dysplasia - What’s a Dawg Mama to Do?
PT Pit Stop: Wheeled Carts Keep Them Doggies Rollin' (Part I)
PT Pit Stop: Wheeled Carts Keep Them Doggies Rollin' (Part II)
Staying in the Loop with Targeted Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy
Addressing Frailty Syndrome in Geriatric Dogs 
The Pet PT Pit Stop: "Where's The Evidence?"


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