Dr. Rachel Heart on Animal Body Work….

RH2Many people are not familiar with the benefits that body work can have on an animal and rarely think their dog needs work if it is not in pain.  They are often surprised when after examination I find a slew of issues on a dog they consider ‘normal’.  In my practice and just wondering around in life I see very few dogs (or people ) that I consider to be normal or without some sort of structural limitation that is keeping them from being their best.  In general what we accept in an animal’s structure is rarely perfect and it is up to us body workers to be able to identify those more subtle indicators of musculoskeletal problems. The following discusses some other ways to identify problems in dogs and thereby assist you in recognizing when an animal needs work and how its treatment is progressing.

The last 10 years of my career has been doing integrated sports medicine on horses and dogs with a focus on structural alignment or animal chiropractic. I mostly work on working dogs that consist of show dogs, agility dogs, hunting dogs, hunt and field trial dogs and obedience dogs however the pet dogs have just as many, if not more issues. I have found chiropractic care to be an important component in keeping animals sound and happy and a great way to prevent injuries.  Our physical superiority is determined by how accurately aligned our bones are, how balanced our muscle development is and how readily our different parts can communicate. Breakdown of any of these areas can lead to injury or behavioral issues. Regardless of your modality every animal can be helped some.

As part of a team involving an animal athlete it is up to us to be their stewards and speak for them.  These animals will throw down their bodies and work through incredible amounts of pain. Most dogs will continue to work hard and show enthusiasm for their sport even when injured. This is why when behavioral or training issues do occur, it’s important to make sure pain is not a factor. A four legged animal has the ability to shift its body in ways that it can get the job done without physically limping. There is often a pair of limbs that are doing most of the work – you often see dogs (and race horses) pulling their hind ends along rather than pushing from the rear. I consider these to be compensatory gaits that modify the way the limbs and muscles are supposed to work. This is often a precursor to injury and may be more apparent in the pattern of muscle development than the actual gait of the animal. So how do we know if our animal is working through pain or perhaps refusing to work because of pain? Well the first step is to know what is normal.

Let’s start by saying there are not a lot of ‘normal’ animals out there so don’t be surprised if you find that most dogs do not exhibit all of these traits. Most of what I will be talking about is related to posture which refers to how you stand/sit. Any animal or person can have good posture which is different from conformation, a term more related to structure.

So how does a normal dog stand?  Free stacking or neutral posture is how a dog should stand when it is just standing there doing nothing.  I look for this posture when my dogs stop after running or playing: the front legs squarely under the dog with chest slightly raised and rear limbs out behind the dog with back flat (forelegs and hocks to the ground vertical).  A dog in a neutral posture will not require muscle to be in contraction and we should not see tight muscle development around shoulders and hips of working dogs when at rest. Many dogs that do not stand square will require muscle tension to stay upright or if a dog that is high strung and is constantly bracing against the earth it will also show tension. Most dogs do not stand neutrally and are more likely to stand with their rear limbs up under them a bit and may have front legs positioned asymmetrically. It is important that your dog has the ability to get into a neutral posture as this is the starting point for all of life’s activities.

A normal dog sit should also be square with hips tight to body and legs the same on both sides, butt should not be tucked under and the back should be flat and straight with smooth transition to base of tail. It is common to see dogs sitting to one side, sitting with hips splayed, sitting with their butts tucked under them or their chest sticking out. All of these postures are indicators of weakness or pain in the system.

Working dogs can carry a lot of tension in their jaw and neck from carrying things and also being on the left side of handler can create issues on the right side of the neck. If you look at these dogs from the front while sitting they will often have a tilt to their head (usually to the left) and the jaw (often the right) will appear higher on one side. A normal dog should be symmetrical. The jaw is an important component of the system that tells our body where it is in space and thus also has an influence on posture. Tension around the jaw, poll and upper part of neck can change a dogs way of moving and underlie an abnormal gait. Pain in this area can also create problems in training.

The posture of the dog when it stands or sits as well as head carriage are just three of many points of reference to let you know if your dog is balanced in their movement. A dog with a strong core that uses itself symmetrically will sit and stand square. Young dogs are often weak and should be encouraged to sit properly at all times to help build that strength. A dog that is sore after a competition may appear more compressed and hunched for a few days indicating body soreness. Some dogs stray far away from normal posture and sometimes have dramatic roaching or bending of their spines creating a lot of asymmetries. Most dogs fit somewhere between normal and this extreme. When you see dogs exhibiting these abnormal postures, make it your goal to figure out why rather than just accept if because it has always been that way.

Posture is one of the many ways that our dogs talk to us and a good place to start paying attention. How comfortable they are in their bodies is clear by the way they stand at rest. Core strength is shown by how they sit and also rise from sitting/laying down. A good sense of normal will help us know when musculoskeletal issues need to be considered before there is an injury. If we sense that there is weakness in the dog’s posture then perhaps the training schedule is modified to allow more time for development and conditioning.  If we see behavioral changes that coincide with postural changes then maybe pain as a source may be considered. It is important that we become aware of these more subtle shifts so we can help more animals before they get injured. Educating ourselves and our owners about what is normal is one way to identify problems before they become limiting.

About Dr. Heart:

RHDr. Heart grew up in the western suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts in a rural town called Lincoln. Due to family allergies, animals with hair were not allowed in the house. After tiring of fish and reptiles as pets, she eventually convinced her non-horsey parents to put a horse in the backyard. Taking care of her first horse “Flame” on her own was just the beginning of a life spent learning about these amazing animals.

Rachel graduated from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec with a BSc. in Biology in 1985. She went on to Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine located in Grafton, Massachusetts, receiving her DVM in 1991. Her career since graduation has been dedicated to working with sport horses all over the United States. Ten of these years were spent working on the backside at racetracks in California, Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Illinois, Arkansas, Florida, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. This time was filled with opportunities to work with and learn from some of the top veterinarians and trainers in the country. In 2001 Dr Heart left the track to focus on other disciplines in the equine industry – a move motivated by the birth of her daughter Camille in 2000. She spent 6 years at a busy equine referral clinic in Illinois where she focused primarily on lameness. This move exposed her to the most advanced diagnostic and therapeutic techniques available in the sport horse industry. She was able to refine her skills in all imaging modalities and attend clinics devoted to lameness diagnosis and treatment.

Dr. Heart began her training in Acupuncture at the Chi Institute of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine in 2003 with Dr Huisheng Xie DVM, MS, PhD. She completed her certification in Veterinary Acupuncture in 2005. She is currently working on her Masters in Chinese Herbal Medicine at the Chi Institute. She obtained her certification in Veterinary Spinal Manipulation Therapy (Also known as Animal Chiropractic) from the Healing Oasis Wellness Center in 2007 where she was trained by Pedro Rivera DVM. Rachel became certified by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA) in 2008. She is currently completing a series of seminars on Postural Rehabilitation in Horses with Judith Shoemaker VMD and Karen Gellman DVM. She has also trained with Marvin Cain DVM (Acupuncture), Jean-Michel Boudard (Osteopathy), and Carl J. DeStephano (Applied Kinesiology/Functional Neurology).

It is the integration of this career path which has led Dr. Heart to the concepts of restorative healing. Success with cases have demonstrated the obvious synergy that occurred when problems could be treated in relationship to the rest of the animal. Each year brings more opportunities to further learn about and refine the techniques used to help the animals and their owners.

The Human-Animal Bond: FREE Webinar on 1/17/16

human-animal bond


human-animal bond

The special bond that humans share with both equines and canines originated thousands of years ago. Deepening our understanding of that bond can help us to become better animal guardians as well as better animal bodyworkers.

Both dogs and horses have undergone a process of domestication, although some will argue that horses have not been domesticated, but rather, simply tamed. Regardless of this distinction, the relationship that humans share with both horses and dogs is a relationship that is deeply complex, with roots extending thousands of years. In our upcoming Human-Animal Bond webinar, we will discuss this rich history, as well as the depth of the bond we share with them today.

Register here!

This webinar will be presented by RMSAAM webinar instructor and digital media & marketing specialist, Emily Tronetti. Emily also owns Heal to Howl, a canine massage, Reiki and photography business that focuses on the human-canine bond. Emily is currently a graduate student in the Anthrozoology program at Canisius College. Anthrozoology is the study of the interactions between humans and nonhuman animals. Emily is excited to combine her anthrozoology education with the knowledge she gained in RMSAAM’s canine massage program in this brand new webinar!

Thunderstorms Oh My!

By Deandra Walker

We have been having an unusual amount of rain in Colorado this summer. With rain comes thunder and lightning, and the reminder of how much anxiety it can cause our dogs (and ourselves as well). And everyone has his or her favorite thunderstorm story. In many instances, dogs that are fearful of thunderstorms also experience stress with other loud noises like fireworks, gunshots, garbage trucks, and airplanes. The good news, however, is that dogs can benefit from calming therapies in these instances. For example, soft music, flower essences, and acupressure and massage can all be helpful in alleviating your dog’s stress in these situations.

Both acupressure and massage are effective tools in soothing and relaxing muscles and they work well in conjunction with soft music in a quite, peaceful, and safe area of the home. A good place to begin is by gently stroking your pet from head to tail in long, slow, strokes to relax them until they feel comfortable enough to lie down. To massage, create small, circular movements from head to tail along the sides the spine making sure to massage either side of the body equally as well as the base of the skull for energy balance. Acupressure is also a great choice to help calm a distressed and frightened pet. After massaging, apply light pressure to the area in the center of the skull between the ears.

It is essential that you remain cautious when working with animals that are scared as even the sweetest pets can act on impulse in situations that cause them anxiety and stress. Approach your pet gently and slowly and always pay close attention to their body language.


Tumeric for Pets

By Deandra Walker

If you cook, you probably have heard about turmeric; a staple in Thai, Indian, and Persian dishes. Tumeric is an herb largely known for its deep orange/yellow color. However, you may not realize that turmeric has been such a remarkable natural remedy for people for thousands of years that it is certain pet owners will be compelled to try it for their pets as well. But is turmeric an effective treatment for pets? And most importantly, is it safe?

Curcumin, which has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, is the most active ingredient in turmeric. Researchers have speculated that the anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin show promise in the prevention and treatment of a variety of diseases and conditions. And yes, it is found to be safe for pets!

The recommended dosage is 1/8 to 1/4 tsp/day, for every 10 lbs weight.

Tumeric is a simple and easy, yet effective everyday home treatment to compliment regular massage sessions for animals. Regular consumption of turmeric in the diet can ease stiffness and reduce pain and joint swelling in pets!


Can your furry friend experience soreness after a massage?

When your pet experiences their first massage, soreness can occur. So how will you know if your pet is sore? (Image: Sandi Martinez)
When your pet experiences their first massage, soreness can occur. So how will you know if your pet is sore? (Image: Sandi Martinez)


by Sandi Martinez

[Contributors: Lisa Speaker and Jenny Rukavina-Marchese]

For humans, the benefits of massage outweigh the inevitable soreness that can sometimes occur post-massage. The advantage the massage therapist has over helping us humans to minimize the impact of soreness, is that they can recommend that we drink plenty of water, and do some gentle stretches. Hydration is key in order to assist our bodies to rid ourselves of the toxins that are naturally released during massage.

All Animal Massage practitioners provide a form in which the owner specifies all pertinent details about your furry friend. Questions about your dog’s health and wellness are included. If your dog falls within the eligibility parameters of massage, the practitioner then has the honor of building a relationship with your dog on a therapist/client basis.

When your pet experiences their first massage, soreness can occur. So how will you know if your pet is sore? You know your furry friend’s (this includes your horses!) habits well by now – the first thing you will notice is that your pet is less active, or when in a lying position, will rise more gingerly or slowly than usual. If you have stairs, your pet may climb them more slowly.  The therapist’s goal is to minimize this possibility of soreness; it is not unusual if your furry friend does experience this, due to the unaccustomed feeling of knotted muscles being relieved and newly positioned.

Asking in advance of the first massage what to expect post-massage is highly recommended, as all animals experience the benefits of massage differently. Sometimes the changes in movement are more subtle. In cases like these, touching base with the practitioner post-massage might be a good idea. After the initial massage, if soreness continues, the practitioner can ascertain with as much detail provided by the owner, how best to adjust and customize the massage to fit your animal companion’s special needs during future sessions.

Here are a few ways to help your dog with the soreness they may be feeling:

  • Take your dog for a slow, short walk, post-massage
  • Make another appointment within the same week for another session; this will maintain, and prep your dog’s muscles for continued muscle relaxation and dexterity
  • Make water easily and readily available for them to drink after their session
  • Cold laser therapy will help in the more tense and reactive areas, in which soreness can occur

The ultimate goal for the animal practitioner when massaging your pet for the first time is to use less pressure in combination with intuition, to guide their best and positive intentions that lead to an awesome experience – for their first time on the table!

Your Calling; are you stalling?

Congratulations! You did make a decision… or did you? (Image: Sandi Martinez)
Congratulations! You did make a decision… or did you? (Image: Sandi Martinez)


Contributed by Sandi Martinez

It begins with doubts, but mostly an immense feeling of freedom: Images of working with animals, and a ‘knowing’ that it’s just what you should be doing. But then, the boxed in reality of the job you go to everyday, the one that puts bread and butter on the table, come in and jumble your thoughts, throwing you into doubtful, cloudy, abyss.

Then comes the, ‘put it on the back burner’; it’s a lofty idea, completely unworkable.  For how on earth are you supposed to begin the process of getting the education you need in order to become a certified Animal Practitioner? The idea may seem far-fetched, and indeed a challenging one.

But who made up that saying, “Nothing worth doing comes easy” or something to that effect? So how do you begin the process? Is there a magical formula that you follow? An easy step-by-step guide on: ‘how to follow your dreams and make them a reality?’

Surely there is one? For if the magic swirls around you and inside of you, then a materialization of this concept must exist somewhere? So then the next thing is you go to the book store, and head over to the ‘Self-help’ section.

Oh my, tons of great books. Now, which one is the one? Suddenly, there appear to be too many. It’s almost as if by being confronted by too many choices, you now can’t make a simple decision as to which book(s) is the right one!

Instead perhaps the final decision is to go back home, and look up each book you wrote down as a possible good choice on Google Books. So, great! This is the decision for now. Congratulations! You did make a decision… or did you?

Days go by. Weeks go by. Years go by. The list still sits on your computer bookmarked somewhere. Perhaps you even bought a new computer in all this time, and oops, you didn’t save the link to the books list that you coveted and hid for later review so possessively, somewhere…

Early mornings and dog-tired evenings are when the thoughts come again. Especially when you are walking your dog, or playing with your cats, or feeding your rabbit – oh, how you would love to work with animals…

Do you think that you just randomly happened by this article? Do you think perhaps that you have just taken the first step to making your dream come true as an animal practitioner?

Click here, read on to discover how easy it is, to make an informed decision… Congratulations, you’ve now taken the first, real, and palpable steps to do doing what you love, instead of dreading where you’re going everyday… Congratulations!

Volunteering at Longmont Humane Society, RMSAAM Scholarship Student Emily Tronetti Tells Us About Her Experience

Big Mac I had two sessions with Big Mac before he was transferred to a rescue organization to be fostered. While Big Mac is extremely dog aggressive, he absolutely LOVES people. He enjoyed his massage more than any dog I’ve ever worked on! He would roll over into my lap and soak it all in. I was also told by staff members that he was very sleepy and mellow after our sessions!
Big Mac
I had two sessions with Big Mac before he was transferred to a rescue organization to be fostered. While Big Mac is extremely dog aggressive, he absolutely LOVES people. He enjoyed his massage more than any dog I’ve ever worked on! He would roll over into my lap and soak it all in. I was also told by staff members that he was very sleepy and mellow after our sessions!
Calle was transferred to LHS by the ASPCA after being rescued from a large dog-fighting bust in the south. She was a bait dog, and she has some significant anxiety at the shelter. Calle and I have had seven massage sessions together, and I have loved getting to know her. She hates being in the shelter, so I try to always take her to the park nearby for her massages. She has been challenging at times, but during our last two sessions, I’ve tried Merlin’s Magic by Frogworks, and I truly think it helps! While massaging her has taught me how to remain grounded and calm, I’ve found it difficult not to let her break my heart. She has been as the shelter since last summer and deserves a loving home so much. Please spread the word about this girl, so she can find her forever home!

 Written by Emily Tronetti

As a part of my scholarship to RMSAAM, I have been massaging dogs at the Longmont Humane Society since April 11th.  While working with the dogs at LHS, I have learned so much—not only about massage but about myself.


Here is a bit about the dogs I’ve been blessed to get to know and learn from.

If you ever have the opportunity to work with shelter dogs, go for it! It may be emotionally difficult for some people, but I promise you, it will be worth it.



Calle cuddles
Calle cuddles!
Cedric gives me kisses!
Cedric gives me kisses!
Cedric is a big man with a big heart, and I’ve loved working on and learning from him the past three weeks! He has severe skin allergies and judging by his scars, I think was never treated for them. I hope massage can help relax this guy and ease some of his discomfort!
Kitty I massaged Kitty for the first time last weekend. While I don’t know much about her history yet, I can tell that Kitty the little pittie has been through a lot in her mere year of living. She has had at least one litter of puppies, and she is very timid. She was a challenge to massage, because she has a difficult time with feeling like she is being restrained in any way. I could even sense her anxiety increase if I had two hands on her instead of one. Massaging Kitty will be a work in progress, but I feel in the hour I spent with her she grew to trust me if even just a little bit more. I was able to perform some effleurage, and she happily took treats from me. I even got a kiss on the cheek at the end of our session. I can’t wait to continue to work with her!
Marilyn has been another dog to test my ability to breathe deep and remain a calming force. She is a very smart, sweet girl but she can also be very stubborn! However, the more sessions we’ve had together, the more she settles right into her massage!
Sadie was very anxious and restless in her kennel. I remember during our first session, I was so sure it wasn’t going to work. She kept trying to jump at me (playfully) whenever I would try to sit down next to her. I tried very hard to keep myself calm and grounded. Eventually, I was able to sit down next to her, and perform some effleurage. Within just a few minutes, she was literally sitting in my lap, letting me work on her! It was amazing. We only had one more session together after that before she was adopted!