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Canine rehabilitation - Why dogs deserve to be treated as dogs and not as a humans

A dog is a dog and a human is a human.

When approaching canine rehabilitation we want our dogs to achieve good functional movement, in other words natural movement. These are the movement patterns a dog would perform if given a natural environment to develop within such as running across uneven ground or moving and reaching around obstacles whilst looking for food. However, dogs are generally being restricted through artificial exercise and activity intervention by people.

There are many good rehabilitation programmes for dogs, but my concern is that many are based on human rehabilitation methods, using human equipment, and these methods are not appropriate for the canine.

Human and canine biomechanics, meaning how we move, are very different. As an example, let’s look at the triceps muscle group (AKA named ‘bingo wings’ in people ) and the trapezius muscle.


In canines, they are really overused and overloaded, especially if a dog is weight shifting/compensating from the pelvic or lower back region.

In humans, they are underused, because we do little resistance work (pushing our arms backwards with resistance), we use our biceps for lifting, meaning the triceps become untoned/hypotonic and basically wobbly.


In canines, this is a comparatively thin muscle and is used for forelimb movement but primarily when the limb is not planting or on the ground. It is not a postural muscle.

In humans this is a bulky muscle and commonly overloaded, due to bad posture, from desk sitting, causing headaches, neck problems, back problems and shoulder impingements.

Even if we put these anatomical and biomechanical differences aside, the biggest challenge in respect to some rehabilitation methods is quite basic: a human can be verbally instructed on the correct application of an exercise. Human rehabilitation utilises compound exercises which work multiple muscle groups at a time as well as isolation exercises which stimulate only one muscle group in an effort to provide muscle growth.

As humans can be instructed how to perform a movement and guided on how it should feel, they can adapt their body position in order to activate or isolate a specific muscle action.

Not being able to communicate the ‘feeling’ of correct movement is a challenge within canine rehabilitation therefore we should be looking to promote whole body muscle connections and not just isolated muscle action and strength.

Enhanced functional movement - the importance of working the correct muscles

For good mobility, a dog's body requires synchronised physical, as well as neurological connections. Gait patterns or a dog’s movement, is not performed by just one muscle, they are performed by muscles working in a functional chain, forming what we call at Galen, ‘Canine Muscle Synergies™’ through the recruitment of myofascial connections.

Myofascial connections are a complex network of soft tissue attachments that connect the muscles across the body to facilitate specific actions. Therefore, rehabilitation should involve connecting these global myofascial connections to establish, improve or rehabilitate whole body balance, enabling enhanced functional movement.

Rehabilitation techniques should be about re-establishing balance and symmetry within the body, but generally exercises are only directed towards developing individual hypotonic (weak or under toned) muscles. However, some of these exercises can inadvertently overwork the wrong muscle groups. The wrong muscle groups can be mistaken as being healthy or well toned, but in fact they are hypertonic muscles (over toned) and these often dominate movement patterns, and are complicit in creating bad posture as well as mobility and gait issues. Therefore, potentially some of the exercises can in fact exacerbate and build these overly strong, dominant muscles.

A good example of such an exercise is ‘sit to stand’. This is an exercise often recommended to aid the strengthening of weak hind limbs. In our experience many of the dogs who are recommended for this activity for rehab, have compromised pelvic regions, and are presenting with specific muscle atrophy or hypotonia, often due to painful or weakened muscle action. In these situations, muscle domination (or overworked muscle) will be through the forelimbs, shoulders, neck, jaw and head, and also often through the hip flexors (m. psoas/iliopsoas and mm. quadriceps). By asking the dog to sit and stand, it is likely they will use these already overworked muscles to perform the exercise, because the dog (like us), unless otherwise clearly directed, will use their strongest physical pathway to perform an action.

If sit to stand was being used as rehabilitation for a human (rising from a chair), the correct instructions would be along the lines:

'Maintain your shoulders and neck in a neutral position, breathe, then on an out breath, engage your gluteals (buttocks) and your deep abdominals, and drive through your pelvic region, maintaining your abdominal connection, if you are engaging your neck, then you are doing the exercise incorrectly’.

These instructions from expert human practitioners are vital so that we activate the correct movement chains. We need to ensure we don’t drive the load through what could be our individual dominant muscles such as the mm. quadriceps, as these also impact the knees.

This level of instruction and coordination would be almost impossible to translate to the dog.

Exercises involving unbalanced surfaces such as inflated equipment, if not used correctly, can in a similar way bypass the muscles of the dog that they are intended to work, and inadvertently overwork already overloaded muscles. These activities should only be carried out and closely monitored by trained professionals, who clearly understand muscle activation, and the importance of muscle isolation.

Galen Functional Biomechanics

Natural movement patterns develop through the recruitment of a dog’s functional anatomy; in other words, what their body’s anatomy is designed to perform, this is something that should have been established from puppyhood*. Functional movement is a term for real life situational movement patterns, these are natural movement patterns a dog would need and use for their everyday active life.

When a dog is encouraged to use these natural functional biomechanics, it aids activation of the correct myofascial connections, by placing the body in correct postural positions to encourage the recruitment of correct muscle synergy, as well as muscle synchronisation. This encourages activation of muscles that provide joint stability and power.

Every condition presents differently on every dog

In summary rehabilitation should be canine specific, considering the canine’s unique functional movement requirements and potential. The rehabilitation programme must also be individual dog specific, even if they have a common condition or surgical intervention. Every dog’s myofascial chain would have been interrupted or damaged differently, depending on how and what has happened to them, as well as the timescale from the original issue.

Galen Functional Biomechanics™ works with each dog's natural movement patterns, assessing which part of the functional movement is compromised. Gentle techniques are utilised to encourage the body to maximise their function through natural, and often fun activities, encouraging their whole body involvement; psychologically, sensory as well as physically.

Galen Myotherapy is an organisation which has been working with dogs for 20 years, we are canine centric professionals and subject matter experts in our field of practice. Our knowledge and education has been built on our progressive understanding of canine anatomy and physiology and biomechanics, encompassing hours of documented observations.


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