Dog Getting Stiff? The Importance of Relieving Your Dog's Back Tension #7

canine arthritis canine mobility debono moves dogs feldenkrais method grow young with your dog senior dogs Feb 12, 2024

Click here to get your free video training on how YOU can help relieve your dog's back tension.

Want to help your stiff, senior dog feel more flexible?

Join Mary Debono as she shares the heartwarming story of Princess, a dog with spinal arthritis, who improved her mobility and greatly enhanced her quality of life. 

Key Takeaways
- Even dogs with spinal arthritis may improve their mobility and quality of life

- Gentle, hands-on movements can be key to stopping the downward spiral of degeneration and additional arthritis and tension

- Focus is on supporting muscles and bringing awareness to different parts of the body

- Emphasis on creating a safe learning environment and using gentle techniques

- Benefits include increased bonding, prevention of wear and tear, and improved overall health

- Free video training offered on ONE of the techniques used with Princess 💥

- Next episode will discuss another dog with a severe back problem and the key to healing




Have you ever looked at your aging dog with her stiff back and arthritic joints and wished you could help her move more easily? Again, maybe you assume there's nothing else you can do. You've been taking her to the vet, you've been giving her a really high quality diet, all the right supplements, all the things, and you just think that the increasing stiffness and fatigue is part of the normal aging process.

Well, whether your dog is already a senior dog or a a younger pup, I'm here to tell you that there's actually a lot you can do to help your dog feel better, both in body and mind. So today I wanna share a story about a dog who was, you know, diagnosed with arthritis of the spine, you know, spinal arthritis and how her walking was very limited and she stopped really engaging with life for a while.

And how very simple, gentle hands-on movements helped restore her quality of life. And in case we haven't met before, my name is Mary Debono and this is the Easier Movement, happier Dog podcast. And I'm so glad you're here. So I wanna talk to you about a dog named Princess. So Princess looked like, hmm, I would say a cross between a Beagle and a German Shepherd.

And her person, Janet had noticed about, she had had princess almost her whole life. And about couple years ago she noticed that her dog's back, her lower back, had started to get kind of a rounder shape. And you, you often see this in older dogs that they, they often call it a roach back. You know, it's like a little bit rounder in different,

and it could be even higher up and doesn't have to be the lower back, but you often see it in the lower back area, like the lumbar area. So she noticed that about two years ago, but she thought, Hmm, that's just a harmless aspect of aging. Princess seemed fine. But then about a year later, so this is about a year ago,

Janet noticed that Princess stopped wanting to go on walks. So how cute is this? This is what Princess used to do. She would wake Janet up every morning by sitting next to her bed, holding her leash in her mouth. I mean, I just think that's so cute. And she's loved going on walks like many dogs do. And Janet would get up and,

you know, take her on a nice walk and then have a great time. But little by little princess stopped, you know, wanting to go on such long walks. So she started, you know, they started cutting their walk short because Princess would seem really fatigued. And then it got to the point, and this was going on for about a year,

princess stopped showing up at her bed at her bedside in the morning. She stopped bringing her the leash. And when Janet would offer to go on a walk, princess would usually look away. She hadn't, she wanted nothing to do with it. So of course Janet did the right thing. She took Princess to the vet and the vet said, yeah,

you know, at her age, she was 12 at that point she has spinal arthritis and you know, here's a, here's a prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory, and it should help her. And it did, it did help her. She walked a little bit better. But here's the thing, princess still did not want to go on walks. So like, her walking around the house was a little better,

but she again, was disengaging from life. She would only go outside to lie in the sun. She wasn't sniffing around the yard, no interest in walks. Just, just her quality of life had really diminished and it was really worrisome to, to Janet. So she looked, you know, she started doing some research about alternatives she could do as a adjunct to veterinary care.

And that's important. None of this work replaces veterinary care. So I'm super happy that Janet, you know, went to the vet right away and continued to, to do whatever vet recommended. But then she also made an appointment to see me. And so Princess came at the time, I, I used to see dogs one-on-one. So dog came to my office and cutest little thing.

And again, I noticed the rounded back appearance. And like Janet said, I didn't think that was a problem. I didn't think anything of it, you know, I just thought, oh, our posture changes as we get older and so does hers. So, but what I started to do with, with Princess was I had her lie down on the mat and,

you know, it was great because she was really comfortable in my office. She, she was a friendly little dog and she was comfortable in my office. And so I just started putting my hands on her very, very lightly with the idea of just like supporting the muscles in a very gentle way. And this is really important. None of the work that I do or that I teach is rough or you know,

or in any way aversive like, so, so it should never cause any discomfort to the dog. So that's really important. And it's important for many reasons. Of course, I never wanna hurt a dog. So that's one reason. But also my, the work I'm doing here, the work, you're, you, you can learn is a learning modality.

It's not something we do to the dog, it's something we do with the dog. So bottom line is it's like you're working with the dog's nervous system to help bring about change, to invite this idea that new possibilities exist. So in other words, like with Princess, she had gotten into something that's super, super common. I see this all the time with,

with dogs and horses and humans. Yeah, us too is we get into these downward spirals. So for example, a part gets stiff and achy. And so what we do is then we kind of immobilize that area. So are the muscles around to get tight and then we stop using it to its full potential. So then other parts have to work harder.

'cause now the body is not moving harmoniously. So some parts are overworking and some parts are underworking. The, the muscles are tight as well. And then each little change, like, like now the muscles are tight. Now there's more compensation that has to happen because of that. So it's just like things get worse and worse and worse and worse and we don't see a way out.

So number one, my, my first order of business, if you will, was to help Princess see that she could feel differently, that she didn't have to feel so tight and stiff, that her body could just feel differently and she could have more awareness. 'cause the other thing that happens is that we lose awareness of these places that we're not using harmoniously.

We just kinda shut them down. Again, we do this too. It's not only dogs, not only horses. We do it too. So what my hands were doing was they were just bringing her a very gentle sense of, oh, that you have this, this part is here. This could come more into your neurological awareness, we'll call it so that your attention is on it,

but in a pleasant way. So this is important 'cause there's lots of ways you can bring attention to an area. And if it's something that is painful, well what's gonna happen is the nervous system, which is tasked with keeping the dog safe, is going to kind of like shut that down. It's gonna protect against that. And so you have to do it in a way that it feels safe to the dog,

that there isn't an anticipation of pain. So not only just is there pain, is there an anticipation? Does the dog think this might hurt? So the work is very gentle. I ne you know, I'm not, I didn't go right to touch an area that could have been painful for her. All I was doing was very gently supporting the soft tissue,

the muscles in her, around her back. So like using my whole hands. Now let me say this, it's very difficult to describe on a podcast. So what I'm going to give you is a little gift is actually a video training on this particular technique, if you will. So there's lots of things I did with Princess, I'm going to explain some of them.

But if you sign up at mary Debono dot com slash canine back lifts, it's all one word, it's all lowercase. You can get the free training. Don't worry. If you cannot write that down or can't even remember what I just said, don't worry about it. Wherever you're listening or watching this, there'll be a link in the description, okay?

So don't worry about it. And, and if for some reason you cannot find it, email support at mary Debono dot com. Okay? So back to princess. So my job, if you will, was to provide a safe learning environment for Princess. So her body, her nervous system could say, Hmm, I don't have to feel this way.

You know, I can feel safe, these parts can move, I can have more awareness of different things. And I did that by doing this very gentle technique of using my hands to hold and support the muscles in a particular way. And that also has another benefit. It also increases your ability to bond with your dog. So even if you don't think your dog needs it,

because you, you're like, oh, I have a young healthy dog and my dog doesn't need it, I'll tell you why. It's still a good idea to do it. One thing is because there's neuroscience behind why those kind of slow, gentle, supportive movements can increase the bonding between you and your dog, that connection can be strengthened. And I actually talked about the neuroscience in last week's episode,

which was episode six of easier movement, happier Dogs. And then another reason is, you know, things like this, like the development of, of arthritis or even big injuries often don't come out of the blue. They're generally, not always, but they're generally due to a slow deterioration, if you will. So a slow progression, that downward spiral I mentioned.

So even in the case of a young healthy dog, you want to make sure that you are doing all you can to keep the dog healthy. So I find that just having your hands on your dog this way where you're really listening, you're really listening, you're feeling with your hands, you'll notice right away when something is amiss and you can take your dog into the vet.

And also the work itself can help, potentially can help prevent some, some wear and tear, some degeneration to happen. So in other words, your kind of interrupting that downward spiral before it becomes really obvious that your dog has a problem. And again, all the work is really gentle and the dogs generally, if it's done correctly, really love it.

So it's like a win-win all around, right? So with Princess, I was making sure, you know, her breathing stayed regular. She was taking nice deep breaths, she was loving what I was doing. And that's really important is to notice when you're working with your dog, notice things like that. Like notice the breath, notice you know what the eyes are doing.

You know, the, what the mouth is doing is the dog licking compulsively, like maybe that the dog is nervous, you know, you have to look for all the signs and you want to keep the dog feeling really comfortable. Okay? Super important. So it was really important for me as I was working with Princess, was to help her feel that all her,

you know, the different parts of her body could feel good. So that walking was something that was pleasurable and not a chore. So we, that's really, really important. I always say you want to associate ease and pleasure with movement for the dog. So, and even though she's lying on her side, right? She wasn't walking at that moment,

but what I was doing was helping her feel how the different parts could work together harmoniously. So that when she did stand up and walk, her nervous system would know what that felt like and could repeat that, could actually replicate that. And that walking could be something that could be pleasurable again. 'cause it was for some, for what, 11 years she found walking to be joyful.

So if possible, we want to give the dog that experience again. Okay? And again, to help interrupt this downward spiral that we often see. So the other thing is the way Princess was moving, and again, she, this was typical of a lot of older dogs, she was moving in a very fragmented way. And by that I mean there were certain parts of her back were,

you know, moving well and other parts were not. You know, she was guarding, holding them. And again, that's part of that whole downward spiral. So what my hands were doing was supporting all the areas so that she could let go of some of that muscular armoring or restriction she was creating. And so she could move more harmoniously. 'cause it's super tiring to move in a fragmented way.

You know, we do it all the time too. We, we run into these, you know, we create these downward spirals in our own lives and we don't know it. And we find like, I don't have the energy I had when I was younger. A lot of it has to do is because you're moving in a fragmented way, not in a harmonious way.

So this is really important to think about. So, so let's go back to, let's talk about how the spine works, okay? Because there's a lot more involved in walking obviously, than just the spine. Some people don't even think about the spine when they think of a dog walking 'cause they're thinking just about the legs. But the spine plays a crucial role.

I mean, the whole body does. But let's think of picture if you will, a greyhound running, okay? So a greyhound is racing across a field. Now when you see that greyhound, right? At a certain point of the stride, the dog is very like rounded or flexed. Like they, they almost go into like a ball, right?

The back gets really rounded. We call that longitudinal spinal flexion, right? So it's like they shorten if you will, and the back is super round. Then at another point of the stride, the dog's legs are stretched out and the back is lengthened or extended. So that's spinal longitudinal spinal extension. You don't have to remember the, the terms, but the idea is most people,

when they see those movements of the back, they just think about the back. They just think about the spine. Maybe they think about the muscles around the spine, but they don't think about the rest of the body and how it contributes to whether that dog can round that back fully and extend that back fully. So in princess's case, she was losing that ability to extend the back and,

and, and do this for a moment, if you're somewhere when you're, you're listening or watching to this, that you're not driving a car or a tractor or anything like that, do this for a moment round your back. So look down, look down and actually round your back and put your hands lightly on your sternum, which is, you know,

the breast bone, the bone down the middle of your chest and on the, on the ribs there. And just have your fingertips on them lightly. And ideally you should feel that your sternum and your ribs actually move downward and they kind of move down and in they kind your chest kind of folds as you round your back, okay? And this isn't a matter of forcing it,

your fingers are just there to to sense it for you to give you some feedback. So the idea is as you look down and round your back, the chest folds, okay? So the, the sternum and the ribs actually move in and down. Okay? Now do the opposite movement again. If, if you can do this safely, look up to the ceiling,

but not just with your neck, not just with your neck. Actually use your whole back so you feel your pelvis move forward, right? And now the sternum and the ribs should move upward out and upward actually. So the sternum comes like forward a little bit and upward. So that kinda movement, again, if you have your fingers on your chest,

it, it can be helpful. So do that a couple of times. Go back and forth, round your back, look down, use your fingers to maybe just suggest that the, the, the chest folds a little bit and the sternum and ribs go in a little bit. It's very subtle. And feel how your pelvis rolls backwards, okay? Then let your pelvis roll forward and look up and feel how your sternum and ribs can move up and out.

Okay? So the same similar type of thing happens with dogs. Okay? By the way, we have clavicles or collarbone. Dogs don't, but the, so much of the other parts of us are really very similar. You know, amounts of ribs, amounts of vertebrae, all that can be are different. But so much of our movement is actually very similar across the,

you know, all mammals in a way. So this is really important that the rib cage, for example, support the movements of the back. This is important for you as well as for your dog. So in princess's case, that wasn't happening, okay? She had gotten like a lot of dogs very stiff in her thoracic spine, which is the part of the spine that's attached to the ribs.

And then of course the ribs and her sternum weren't moving well. So it was creating, again, this is all part of that downward spiral or vicious cycle you could call it. So one part isn't working, it's creating more strain, then it's creating more strain, and then this part is restricted and more painful and down and down we go. So instead I'm like,

let's see how we can bring some more awareness to these areas. So now this is very difficult to explain in a podcast, okay? So I would say do not try that at home. This is why I wrote a book about this. It's called Grow Young with your Dog, where I go deep into detail about how to work with your dog and it has online videos to help you as well.

And I am, I'm starting an online course as well, a group coaching program so I can coach you through this Anyway, in the meantime, oh, let me explain what I was doing. So I was helping bring her awareness to those other parts of her body that she was not using anymore. So her sternum and her ribs and it, it was just became so much more pleasurable.

'cause again, when movement is harmonious, when the parts are working together in like a cooperative way, movement just feels really good and you have more energy. You're not wasting energy fighting yourself, which is what happens when you move in a fragmented way. Okay? So what was really cool about that was by the end of the session with Princess, her back was straighter.

I never tried to make it straight. I didn't do actually anything to the spine itself. I'm not any kind of chiropractor or anything like that. This work is not structural in nature in any way. So it was really kind of cool, like Janet was very pleasantly surprised at like how much straighter her dog looked just from doing that. And, and the other cool thing was during the,

the session, I actually gave Janet A. Little mini session because surprise, surprise Janet, who was like in her forties, she was having back problems and similar kind of thing to what her dog was experiencing. Her rib cage was really pretty stuck. And so, so she was in a, you know, she had certain amount of back pain as well. And when I helped her and I helped her feel how her rib cage could participate,

her back also felt so much better. So it was pretty cool and so important to have you understand in your own body, you know, why this works. So it's not just some kind of hocus pocus or something like that. There's actually, you know, biomechanics if you will involved in this. It's, it's helping the body work harmoniously getting the nervous system on board to coordinate the parts in a healthier way.

Okay, so, so getting back to Princess. So what was really cool was, so by the end of the session, like I said, you know, she stood up, her back was straighter, her walk was freer, even like that side to side motion was better, like everything about her. And she just had this like happy little smile,

if you will. And, but the best part was what came the next day because the next day Janet called me to say that Princess woke her up with her leash in her mouth. So she sat by her bed and said, let's go for a walk. So I just thought that was like, it was, I have to say it was so incredibly rewarding for me to,

to get that phone call because to think that that dog's quality of life. So the, so Princess was 12 at that point, and how her, her world was getting really small, her quality of life seemed to be really diminished and so was Janet's because Janet couldn't enjoy her dog the same way anymore either. And Janet felt so bad, like, you know,

we love our dog so much and I know you love your dog so much and you know, you want to do something. So what was really important was I actually saw, I saw them for a few sessions to support Princess's progress and to help teach Janet some things she could do to help her dog. 'cause that's really, really important. The bottom line is,

that's why I went full-time into teaching this because it's so important that you can help your own dog. So for so many reasons, it's, it's like you, they can be happy, healthy, and more active for longer potentially the bonding is, is increased with this work, you know, and you just able to give back to your dog. You know,

your dog loves you so much and you love your dog so much and it's like so cool to be able to, to spend this special time with them and to help relieve if they have any tension, if they have any discomfort somewhere. It's so awesome to be able to use your hands in this way. I mean, I consider myself so, you know,

I know I'm so grateful for being able to do this work and that's why I wanna share it with you as well. So, okay, so I wanna tell you what's coming next. Before I finish up here with Princess, I wanna tell you what's coming next week. So next week I want to dive into a story about a dog who, man,

she had talk about a back problem. And she was, she was much younger than Princess, but she had a back problem that was pretty severe. And of course her person took her immediately to the vet. They tried all kinds of things. She went to actually several, quite a number of different therapists before she found me. But I found the secret ingredient,

if you will, the magic key that unlocked healing, total healing for that dog. Really, really crazy story, but totally makes sense when you get it from a movement perspective. And after all, we're all about easier movement, happier dogs here, right? So please tune in next week for that one. So this is episode seven. Next week will be episode eight and super excited about that.

But just like I shared that story of Princess, I want you to be able to start, I mean, I, I can't give you all the techniques I did with Princess that, like I said, that would take a whole book or a course. But I do wanna give you one to get started that's really super effective. So if you go to mary Debono dot com slash canine back lifts and it's all one word,

it's all lowercase, but don't worry about writing it down or remembering it. There will be links in wherever you're listening or watching to this, watching this, you'll see a link for that. And it's a free video I would like to share with you. And again, let me know if you have any questions. Let me know if you have something you wanna,

you would like me to talk about in an episode or make a video on, I'd be happy to do that. And you could reach me at Mary at mary Debono dot com. So thank you so much for joining me here. Thank you for loving your dog, and I can't wait to talk to you again. Bye for now.