Respect And Empathy


It breaks my heart when I hear from people about how badly their dogs have been handled during a therapy session.  I have received so many calls from owners of dogs who have had treatment and basically their dog has been subtlety but definitely ‘pinned down’ during their treatment.  This is outrageous practice but sadly often people believe that the ‘professional’ is correct and do not feel it is there place to comment!

For anyone working with dogs, especially with those dogs that are in pain, correct handling is absolutely critical for an effective treatment; however, what is meant by handling within therapy and what does that mean? And how does that provide an effective treatment?  This is a something that is so dear to my heart and one that I think is exploited by so many.

When we interact with dogs, it should be with the greatest respect and empathy and the same is most certainly true when handling pained dogs but with an even more heightened awareness.

I am not a behaviourist therefore I use the best teachers to give me my knowledge and that is the thousands of dogs I have treated.  They have taught me that they will ‘give me permission’ to treat some of their more painful areas if I allow them the chance and choice to move away from the treatment at any time.  This is something all Galen Myotherapists’ do and how we teach our students in the Galen Academy.  For a dog to be able to walk away from the treatment, we treat our dogs on the ground and not on a table, because we understand dogs and treat them from their perspective and comfort and not from ours; we are totally ‘dogcentric’.

So what do I mean by respect?  When a dog is brought in for treatment, he has not a say in the matter as the owner is trying to do their best for their dog but still without the dog’s consent.  Something we have to remember is that pain is subjective and it is ‘ours’, within our body.   Everyone feels it differently and reacts differently, the same as dogs; it is their pain, their body and we must respect that because it can also be their fear!

By giving dogs choice to move away from the treatment and allowing them to walk and sniff in their own house or in the treatment room, allows them ‘thinking time’ and they need that to assimilate what is happening and how their body feels with the treatment applied.  For the observer this is a fascinating process and one that a really high percentage of dogs do participate in, in fact they replicate the method to such an extent it is like they are all reading the same instructions!

They then return to the treatment site and more often than not will, in the fullness of time offer us their most painful area for us to treat; this is a massive ‘leap of faith’ for them and a demonstration of an extreme level of trust.

Let’s make no pretence about this, the treatment we perform has aspects of deep tissue manipulation, if appropriate and it can be incredibly painful.  This is where empathy is so important.   I have had a back condition for the whole of my life therefore I understand the extremes of muscle pain and everything that can go with it i.e. headaches, pins and needles, nerve pain.  I understand how being in pain for long periods of time can make the smallest ‘extra’ pain of perhaps therapy be just too much to bear.  I also understand the vulnerability of being in pain.  All of this and much more I know my dog clients feel as through my years of experience their reactions have been identical to how I would and have reacted. However, as a therapist if is not a pre-requisite to have suffered pain but empathy most certainly is.

So put the vulnerability of pain together with being restrained must be one of the most awful experience for a dog and could potentially, with a series of treatments, take them to the psychological state known a ‘learned helplessness’ which is a condition in which a person suffers from a sense of powerlessness, arising from a traumatic event or persistent failure to succeed.’ This is a traumatic condition that sadly we see in animals and people from losing control of themselves in situations; maybe you think this to be extreme; from hearing some of the stories of dogs that have been reported to me, no sadly not!

The fact is that when it is appropriate to work deeply Galen therapists do and how we do is with total consent of our dogs.  We work WITH dogs, accompanied by a great understanding of the condition of the tissue we are working on and through this we receive complete compliance with our dog patient.

For more information, please call Julia on 01444 881027 or email  If you are interested in having your dog assessed or treated go to our website

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