The Twelve Days of Wellness Day Three: Movement

by Dr. Isla Fishburn (reprinted with author's permission)

Canine wellness.

Canine wellness is about physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual health of your dog. In order to maintain balance in your dog as a WHOLE organism, we have to observe and analyse several aspects of your dog’s life from before birth to present day. Over the next 12 days of wellness I will introduce you to some of the concepts of wellness, what these include and what we need to consider on a daily basis to optimise the health and longevity in our dogs.

Today, we are going to look at MOVEMENT.

Movement isn’t just about how your dog moves structurally (although this is important in itself) but about movement and freedom at all levels; physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

Yesterday I talked about the importance of diet to optimise your dog’s wellness and how living bodies (which is what your dog is) requires living food in order to function effectively and to both prevent and heal disease.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine there is a central underlying principle that all living things have a life force. This life force is referred to as Qi (pronounced Chi). Understanding the principle of Qi will help you to understand why this is important for your dog’s wellness.

Qi energy should flow freely throughout the body of your dog, with it being released down and out through the feet, keeping your dog grounded and balanced. However, if imbalances arise due to emotional or physical reasons (including an inappropriate diet) then this Qi can become blocked, stagnated or restricted. Blocked Qi means your dog’s biological processes do not flow correctly, causing emotional, physical and/or anatomical problems. All of which impact your dog’s spirit.

For instance, blocked Qi can be seen in the form of tension in your dog. Tension is one aspect of movement, where we can physically see and feel tightness in the dog’s skin and superficial muscles. Tension can arise for several issues (e.g. fear, stress, being pulled around on a lead, physical pain) and, in time, this tension builds up and can affect your dog’s wellness on multiple levels. The area(s) where tension occurs sends information to the nervous system that the body is not relaxed and this can make the dog show signs of reactivity, hyper vigilance or frustration. It is important to view your dog as a biological organism who is live and active inside the body just as much as s/he is live and active outside the body. We must visualise and understand that energy is flowing around the inside of the dog’s body and that this is released on the outside. We must conserve our dog’s natural flow of energy to optimise their wellness, prevent stagnation and illness.

On a physical level, movement is about the freedom your dog has to move freely in space and environment. Being contained, restrained or restricted can create frustration, sadness and tension in your dog’s body. A sense of freedom is important for any animal’s wellness and your dog is no different. This may mean you dog has full freedom of being off lead when on a walk. Yet, if your environment is not safe to allow your dog this freedom, or if you are unable to let your dog off lead because of how your dog responds to its environment (e.g. it may react towards other dogs, people, etc.) then this does not mean you are restricting all of your dog’s movements. For example, a compromise would be to allow your dog freedom in the garden and its home. For instance, as a result of acute trauma, one of my dogs is very rarely able to have off lead exercise. Yet, her freedom is not fully restricted because, practically, she is walked on a long line, and has lots of exercise. In addition, she is not restricted in her home; she does not have a single bed that she must sleep on or a single room that she has to stay in. In my eyes, when it comes to my dogs, mi casa es su casa. Any animal needs to have a sense of freedom to promote wellness. Applying touch (through placing on of hands, massage, stretching, etc.) can allow Qi to move freely again.

Structurally (i.e. anatomically and skeletally), freedom is about how your dog moves. Does your dog have a physical condition that impairs or limits movement or have you ever observed how your dog walks or runs and if this is normal? A few weeks ago I noticed that one of my dogs was kicking out their back leg when running, which is not normal for both my dog as well as how a canine should move. When we got home, I looked at the leg and could feel that it was stiff and tense. This indicated that Qi was blocked and it needed to flow so I did some simple canine shiatsu techniques around the area and the tension disappeared. Of course, if our dog has a debilitating disease or severe physical problem we have to work on allowing the Qi to move as freely as possible but recognise it may never return to full flow. If our dog has restricted movement structurally then it is likely that these areas will have tension. It is important to support your dog’s body and allow these areas to move freely as much as possible. Again, this can be achieved by applying touch either directly to or around the area that is problematic.

On an emotional level movement is about freedom of choice. Many dogs are denied this right almost all day every day and this leads to stagnation of mind, body and spirit. Many dogs are told what to do and when to do it. They are told what to eat and where to go and even how to respond to an experience. Many dogs are very forgiving of these restrictions and pressures, but in time, so much control, dictation and restriction eventually wreaks havoc on the natural flow of energy in your dog. Like all of us, dogs are spiritual beings that need to feel elated, happy and free. Of course, this does not mean we should or are able to allow our dogs to do what ever they want to do, but it is about having the respect and recognition of your dog and their need to feel free. It is about compromising throughout any given day to provide opportunities where your dog can choose what s/he would like; this may be what they would like to eat, where they would like to walk, what they would like to play, where they would like to sleep etc. In so doing you are already raising your dog’s flow of energy and, therefore, spiritual health.

To optimise your dog’s wellness we want the natural Qi that is inside all of us to move freely throughout all the dog’s body in all dimensions – physically, structurally, emotionally and spiritually.

On the fourth day of wellness, which is tomorrow, we will be looking further in to how you can support your dog’s wellness through movement but this time, by not moving at all!