Canine Gait Assessment

Gait assessment for the dog requires a working knowledge of the various gaiting patterns that are normal for the dog. Each breed of dog is meant to do some type of work. The lap dog will have a structure that is suited for sitting in a lap and hopping up and down off of the couch or someones lap, the Greyhound is built for speed, a Rottweiler is built for pulling power and strength, a field dog is built to chase fox or flush out game etc. etc.. Function and form work hand in hand and must be balanced to meet the working needs of the dog in question. There are seven basic types of dogs:

1. Sporting dogs (For a list of Sporting dogs click here)

A. Rangers

B. Springers

C. Retrievers

2. Sporting Hounds

A. Scent trailers

B. Gaze trailers

C. Dogs that go to ground

3. Gazehounds (Hounds that hunt mainly by sight and rather then by scent. Click here)

A. Greyhounds

B. Saluki

C. Whippet

D. Borzoi

E. Afghan

4. Terriers (Used to hunt vermin like rabbits, foxes, mice and weasels) For a list of terriers click here.

5. Working dogs (For a list of working dogs click here)

6. Herding dogs (For a list of herding dogs click here)

7. Toy dogs (For a list of toy dogs click here)

Once we have checked the dogs conformation by posing them and checking the angles of the forelimb, hindlimb, pelvis and neck, checked the top line, pads, toes, face and other static structural features of the dog; we will want to see how these structural parts operate in kinetic motion. We will need a few tools to work with:

1. Video camera with tripod (Your cell phone will work if that is all you have)

2. Leash

3. A surface for the dog to walk on that is not to hot in the summer like an empty parking lot or the track at the high school football field. A long grassy short cut field would work as long as you can see the dogs foot strike. A long flat sandy beach would help show you the footfall patterns if you are near and uncrowded beach. It is best to pick a quiet time when there is not a lot of distraction for the dog. Pick a time of day when the dog is not to energetic if they are young and if they are old mid-morning would be best so that they have some time for their joints to warm up and they won’t be to tired.

4. A Chuck It or something for the dog to chase if they are full of energy and need to be calmed down a little. If you can get the dog to run and play around before checking the gait you will start to see the weak areas better when they get tired. For dogs that are older or don’t like chasing balls and running around you can check the gait right away.

5. A checklist of gait and conformation irregularities. Click here for a sample form.

6. A friend to help you walk the dog while you film the dog or someone who can film the dog while you walk them.

7. Some treats for the dog to keep them interested in doing what you want them to do.

Once you have the dogs energy settled down whoever is filming the dog should set up so that they are not filming into the sun or shade and the person who is handling the dog should walk away from the camera person while they are filming. The handler should not talk to the dog but should just walk calmly forward at a pace that will not rush the dog. The handler should walk far enough that the camera person can get a nice long shot of the dog walking away. The handler should them turn around and walk back to the camera person. Do this at least three times. The camera person should then set up to take film footage of each side of the dog as they are coming and going. The dog handler will have to switch sides so that they will not be in the way of the camera. Next we want to film the dog while it is chasing a ball or running without the handler if possible. If the dog is not a ball chaser the handler can run with the dog on the leash and the film person should set up for coming and going shots of both sides and both ends of the dog. It would be very helpful for the person who will be analyzing the gait to watch the dog without filming as well. It is easier sometimes to pick irregularities in the gait out without the camera. For dogs who are working dogs we can film them in the actions that they are bred for and get a better idea of what is and is not working correctly. For an agility dog we should film them during training, for a herding dog we should film them while they are herding etc. etc. Filming the dog while they are not distracted and to controlled will give us a clearer picture of how they are moving.

Once we have all the film we need and have finished noting what we are seeing on our checklist we should load the film onto a computer and look at it in full speed while taking notes of what we see and noting at what time in the timeline we see the gaiting irregularities. We can then start to look at these noted places in the timeline in slow motion to get a better picture of what is going on under the skin. Once we have all of our notes documented we should do some research on the breed of dog we are working with to make sure that the gaiting irregularities that we are seeing are not bred into this specific breed of dog to serve a functional purpose. At this point we could do an online search on Youtube and see if we can find a few videos to compare the dog we are examining to. The breed registries will also have some good information on what the breed should look like in motion and for those of you who are really motivated I suggest you buy Dog Steps by Rachel Page Elliot and Dog Locomotion and Gait Analysis by Curtis Brown and study them more then once.

For mixed breed dogs we will have a harder time figuring out what is the correct conformation and gait of the dog but we should be able to see where things are not working correctly when we compare the different quadrants in motion and see what looks out of balance.

For a good look at the different gaits of the dog you should go to this website and study it as much as possible until you can see the gaiting patterns and can name them when you see the dog use them in the field. Kinesiology of the dog is a very large subject and obviously it can’t be covered in a single blog or class. Generally after we have gathered the information from static conformation and kinetic movement we should start to look at the bones, muscles, past pathological conditions, surgeries and repetitive use patterns that might be causing the gaiting irregularities. In the next blog we will look at the steps we should take to track down the causes of the problems and how to make a treatment plan to address these problems.


Canine Conformation Assessment

Whether you are a canine massage therapist, animal physical therapist, dog trainer, canine agility trainer or a canine caretaker you will want to know more about how the dog moves when they are healthy and how to determine when their gait and posture are out of balance. Structure and function go hand in hand so knowing the desired conformation of the dog you are examining is very important. This can be challenging when the dog you are examining is a mix of two or more breeds. When looking at a mixed breed dog we will have understand what the different breeds were bred for. What the dog breed was bred for in terms of desired working functions and how their structure lends itself to the desired function is important for us to examine. We can find the desired conformation for each breed of animal by doing a thorough online search of the breed registries and contacting reputable breeders when we can’t seem to find the information we need online. An classic example of what we are looking for is the English Bull Dog. An online search for this dogs conformation will bring us to this website that clearly shows the desired conformation of the English Bull Dog.We might not be so lucky when we dog a search for breed standards and breed conformation on other dogs though. Dog breed standards refers to the description of the traits and movement of the ideal specimen of a breed, generally based on form and function. Breed conformation refers to the structure and physical characteristics of a dog. What we will generally find is a written list of the breed standards and breed conformation on the AKC website or we might end up looking at the Canadian Kennel Club site and end up trying to figure out which of the seven groups this dog belongs to and then looking at the written descriptions.  Neither of the written breed standards on either of these sites has pictures integrated into the text to help the lay person see clearly what the standard actually looks like. Personally as a professional massage therapist I want more then written guidelines, I would like to see more pictures and videos. A lay person might not even understand the terminology used and could use even more information. Doing a search of the various dog breed clubs will not help us much either since most of them lead back to on of the various country centered breed clubs that are nearly as precise and information as the English Bull Dog website. The various clubs could certainly learn from the English Bull Dog website. If we look look at the Wikipedia page for a breed at least we get a page which is more easily navigated and laid out clearly. The Standard Poodle Wikipedia page is a good example. Another place we might want to look is on Youtube. A search on conformation of the German Shepard lead me to a video that would be helpful to the lay person or therapist. Where else can we look for up to date comprehensive information on the conformation and structure of the dog? A search on in the anatomy and gait section of the website leads us to several very good books on the conformation and gait of the dog and a few great videos of the canine gaiting patterns.

I require my canine massage students to watch Dog Steps and I personally have watched the video over thirty times with my animal massage classes and I get something new out of this DVD every time I watch it. If there is one resource that I would recommend that every professional and layperson get to learn more about the dogs conformation and gait it would be this DVD. Several of he books that are listed above are ebook versions so you can get going right away if you want to learn more about this subject. In the next blog we will dig deeper into how conformation of the dog affects the gait and we will learn how to chart and keep records of what we see for future reference. For professionals we will learn how to share this information with other allied professional health care practitioners and with the dogs caretaker.

Trigger Point Massage for Dogs

Massage for dogs is a very large subject so let’s look at a few of the massage modalities that have been proven to work for humans first. Trigger point therapy will be our first subject. I have been practicing massage full time since 1985 and this treatment is one of the most effective treatments I have found to reduce and eliminate pain in humans and I have also seen the effectiveness of this treatment with dogs and cats.  A dog is not much different that a human when it comes to the causes and treatments for pain. While a dog can not communicate through words  about the amount of pain reduction after a treatment I have seen many a dog who has gained full range of motion to joints and full loading of structure after treatment with trigger point therapy which they could not do before the treatment.

What is a trigger point? As defined by the Taber’s Medical Dictionary a trigger point or trigger zone is “an area of tissue that is tender when compressed and may give rise to referred pain and tenderness”. An active trigger point is ” A trigger point that is painful when the involved muscle is at rest. Palpation will reproduce the patient’s symptoms”.  Latent trigger points are ” Trigger points that are not symptomatic when the involved muscle is at rest, but produce pain during palpation. Range of motion and strength may also be affected.”

What causes a trigger point? Trigger points are generally caused by over use of the muscle, trauma to the local muscle cells, and or increased muscle cell metabolism combined with reduced metabolic waste uptake by the vascular system or all of the above in combination. Trigger points have also been found to be active on bones and viscera. A more thorough review of myofascial trigger points can be found in the Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy, 2006 article; Myrofascial Trigger Points: An Evidence-Informed Review.

Myofascial trigger points are generally treated by dry needling, stretch and spray,  injection therapy, acupuncture, or manual therapy. While trigger points have been widely studied in humans their has been very little research done on trigger points in animals. One study by Luc Janssens, Trigger Points in 48 Dogs with Myofascial Pain Syndromes identified trigger points in the triceps brachii, infraspinatus, adductorpectineus, peroneus longus, gluteus medius, ileocostorum lumborum, and quadriceps femoris muscles in 38 lame dogs. The treatment consisted of weekly stimulation of the trigger points by needling or injection of a local anesthetic. The author states that excellent results and complete recovery were observed in 60% of the treated dogs.

In a presentation to the World Small Animal Veterinary Association Congress-Vancover 2001, Alan Schoen a well respected veterinary acupuncturist stated that “trigger points may also be related to clinical and subclinical degenerative joint disease, intervertebral disc disease, spondylosis, as well as vertebral misalignments.” Trigger points have also been found to correspond to many acupuncture points.

Identifying trigger points in the dog is done through palpation of the tissues. The tissue that contains the trigger point will be indurated and there will be a taut band of fiber present. The novice might identify this as a knot but muscles can not be tied in knots so a more accurate description would be an area of hardened or swollen tissue that may be hotter then the surrounding tissue. The spot might also seem to pulsate and when touched if it is active it will cause pain in the dog which can be identified by the dog pulling away from the pressure, an increase in alertness as we approach the area and the dog will look back at us intensely, whimpering, growling, and the dog might move away from us at this point or start to lick the area insistently. We should always approach a painful area on the dog with gentleness and caution so we don’t hurt the dog or get bitten. If we start the palpation process by doing long gentle petting strokes from head to tail and off of each limb the dog will let us know the areas that are sensitive by pulling away from the stroke in the areas that are sensitive. Once we have found the areas of sensitivity we can slowly move back to the area and lightly rest our palms over the area without moving for a minute or two so that the dog will understand that we will be sensitive and not hurt them. If the area is hypersensitive we might have to just hover our hand over the area for a while and them very gently lower our palms onto the spot. Linda Tellington-Jones the originator of TTouch sometimes uses a feather to lightly stroke a hypersensitive area. Another way to approach a hypersensitive trigger point is to use cryotherapy to help numb the nerves in the area. We can crush some ice and put it in a sturdy zip lock back and gently rest it on the area after letting the dog sniff the bag. We can use a hot water bottle and put some crushed ice in it with water so that the bag will mold around the area. It is better not to apply the ice directly on the body because the dogs coat will get wet and this will alter the effectiveness of the treatment and in small dogs will cause them to shiver to much even after the treatment has stopped. Leave the ice pack on for 15-20 minutes and check the area a few times during the treatment to see how cold the tissue is. A smaller dog will need less time and a larger thicker coated dog will probably need more time. We should check the area part of the way through the treatment to make sure that the dog is not getting frostbite. We do not want the dog to get a frostbite so if the tissue seems really cold to you, stop the treatment. If the dog is uncooperative in lying still we can wrap the ice bag on with some Ace bandages. After the area has been numbed we can then treat the trigger points. For dogs who are in constant pain from a degenerative joint disease, muscle sprain or strains, or nerve compressions you might consider getting a custom made ice holding pack from

Once we have identified the active trigger points we should warm up the surrounding area with moderate pressure compression so that we can get some local blood circulating. The actual treatment of the trigger point will be done with ischemic compression. We can use our thumb pad, a digital pad, or a massage tool that is made for this work or even a rounded crystal. The technique is similar to shiatsu thumb pressure. We should place our thumb over the trigger point, trap the muscle against the bone and gently sink in to a depth that will not make the dog pull away or wince in pain, wait for three to four seconds and then sink in a little deeper for another few seconds and finally sink in even deeper if the dog is receptive. Sinking in is the operative term here, we don’t push in and push past the pain tolerance level. Pushing is aggressive and insisting on change, sinking in is asking and waiting for change. The tissue under your thumb should slowly open up and allow you to sink in deeper if this technique is done right. If you find yourself pushing or if you come to an end feel and keep pushing you will hurt the dog and this will be counter productive because the dog will start to tighten the muscle to guard against the pain. In working with human trigger points the human will identify the feeling that is produced as good pain, or will describe the pain as radiating to a distant area and will describe a feeling of warmth as we slowly release the pressure and the blood flows back into the tissue. We should release our pressure slowly so we don’t jar the nervous system and then move a half thumbs width to an adjacent area of tissue and repeat the thumb pressure until we have covered all of the area surrounding the trigger point. Don’t over treat the point, this will irritate the muscle tissues to much and cause the dog to be sore for the next few days. If we have used cryotherapy over the trigger point or the dog is on pain medication we will have to be extra cautious because the dog can not feel the area very well and can not give us a signal that we are going to deep.

How often should we do this treatment? We should leave at least two-three days between treatments, we might bruise the tissue to much if we over treat if and the local circulation should be given time to remove any metabolic waste or previously damaged cell material from the interstitial fluid. Also in many instances we have put pressure on the local nerve supply and this will need a little time to recover from the pressure that we have applied.

It is a good idea to stretch the muscles that we have worked on so that the connective tissue can become more elastic and pliable and any cross linkages in the fibrotic tissue can be broken down. They are many other positive benefits of stretching after treating trigger points and I will discuss this in another post on the benefits of stretching for animals. How many sessions does it take until we see progress? This depends on the age, vitality, degree of injury, length of time that the trigger point has been active, and how much the dog is using the muscles involved. Some trigger points can be deactivated with one session and some trigger points may take 4-6 treatments. We would also need to have the DVM examine the dog to see if there are boney misalignments that are contributing to the trigger point formation or an underlying physiological problem. Tracing the causes of the trigger point development is best done by a DVM that is trained in canine orthopedic medicine or a canine physical therapist.