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.

Why Go to Animal Massage School?

Sitting down with coffee in hand at your computer, you realize that you really want to work with animals in some capacity. Actually, you decided this a while ago but now you are ready to Handmake the commitment to do some research on the topic. Working with animals…think harder…okay, you want to help them feel better. What different avenues are there to help them feel better? After exploring the possibilities you land on the one that really reels you in: massage. Having your hands on the animal, being part of the team that helps keep them happy and in good quality of life, sounds ideal. So…what now? What is involved with getting from here- sitting on my comfy couch with coffee, to running my animal massage business? Furrowing your brow at the computer, you realize being educated on the topic is probably a good idea.

Taking the plunge to begin a career in the animal massage industry can seem a bit overwhelming, whether this is your first time envisioning a career for yourself oKoar changing from one you are already pursuing. There are many different options to consider: what species do I want to work on? What schools specialize in those areas? What kind of time commitment am I willing to make? These are the questions the logical side of our brain starts firing off. On the other side of our brain we get questions like am I too old/young for this? My background was never in this subject area…what if I don’t understand it? What if I start out loving it and then decide it’s not for me?

Let’s think about the latter conversation with your brain. This industry is made up of people from all areas of the age spectrum; so long as you want to be passionate about your life and career and are excited to learn, age is just a number! The beauty of institutions that teach animal massage is that they are comprised of founders, instructors, staff, and workers that come from all backgrounds and walks of life. This means that there is going to be someone, at least one out of that whole matrix of people, that you resonate with and can easily learn from. Many people had zero background in this subject area before beginning their own journey, as is natural with anything in life. Should you decide to pursue a career in animal massage, you might realize while doing so that it isn’t the career for you. The incredible thing about an experience like that is that you know what you don’t want to do, which is just as important as the opposite! There may be something you covered in class that really resonates with you, and that’s the avenue you decide to explore instead; awesome!

Now back to what your brain was first thinking about, the more logic-based questions. In regard to what species you would like to work with, some people are very comfortable with dogs and somFritze with horses, and some prefer both. That’s a question you should be able to reason through pretty quickly, as both dogs and horses have their easy aspects and more difficult ones as far as massage is concerned.  Make a list of the pros and cons for working with a species if you are not sure about it, but remember that comfort level and skills will grow in time. This means that you may want to work with horses down the road, but while building your skillset you feel comfortable just working with dogs for the time being. Totally doable. The next question is also easy to answer, as a quick internet search will readily show you what schools are available that teach the program you are interested in. Some schools focus on one species or modality, and some have a wide range of offerings.

Deciding how much time you can commit to the education process is also key in making the decision for what school you’d like to attend. As the nature of massage is hands-on, many people opt for on-site programs where they have many opportunities during the duration of the class to have their hands on animals. The length of program varies by school, as well as when the courses are offered during the year. There are a variety of locations of schools around the country (and world), and many schools have satellite locations. Animal massage programs are designed to teach you a marketable skill, and are not typically set up like standard higher education institutions. One course may last a week, and you travel to the location of the school and stay in that area while you complete it. Many schools help students find affordable lodging nearby to make their stay easier. This can be a great option for those that are able to take a week or so off from current jobs or be away from home. It can be a way to see some areas of the country that you may have never been to before!

Newer on the horizon are schools that have seen great success in their onsite programs and are now also branching into long-distance or correspondence programs. Students might opt to do one level or class on-site, and then future classes or levels through correspondence after their confidence and skill set has begun to grow. Or there are those that are great at working on their own in a self-paced manner. Correspondence programs offer interaction with the instructors through email, webinars, videos, tutorials, video chats, and more to ensure that students studying from a distance feel as part of the school and learning process. Students are also typically able to travel to the school if they so desire for one-on-one time with an instructor.

Send an enquiry email with your questions to the schools you are interested in. They have awesome people with the answers to your questions, and answers to some you may not have thought of! They can make sure you have the most updated information on their courses so that you are able to make the best decision for you to find what is the best fit. Check out their websites and social media pages to see what other people thought of their experience at the schools.

With so much information out there, it can seem overwhelming when you are looking into attending an animal massage school. A final question that pops up is ‘do I really need to go to school for this? Can’t I just figure it out as I go?’ Great question: why attend school to become an animal massage therapist? Legality, scope of practice, and knowing what lies beneath the skin are the heavy-hitting answers

First let’s think about legality. What an animal massage therapist is legally allowed to do varies state by state. In some states only licensed veterinarians may perform massage therapy. CoriOthers allow massage therapists to work under the direct supervision of a veterinarian. Others allow for legal practicing so long as the massage therapist has obtained a certification from a recognized school. If you were practicing against the laws of your state, you could be assigned a cease-and-desist, meaning you are shut down. It is very important, therefore, to understand how the laws of your state work, and how being certified keeps you on the happy side of the law.

Scope of practice is a huge area of concern for massage therapists. This is also an area where cease-and-desists can be issued by the state veterinarian board. The term “scope of practice” means that we stay within our area of knowledge, legally and morally. Massage therapists do not treat, diagnose, prescribe, or cure illnesses. They do not replace the care of a veterinarian. This may seem very simple in concept, but the more you become immersed into the language and actions, lines may begin to blur. How you write up a report can be a breech in scope of practice. How you interact with a client, or the client’s veterinarian, can be a scope of practice issue. Going through the education process with a recognized school means that you will learn the “do’s and do not’s” for being a massage practitioner, and help you to be confident that you are staying well within your scope of practice.

Finally, knowing what lies beneath the skin may appear obvious, but the body is a very complex thing. Reputable schools offer in-depth anatomy and pathology portions of their courses so that anatomy pros and newbies alike can benefit from the modules. It is imperative to know and understand the systems beneath your hands, for it is possible to cause damage if you are unaware of the situation. Knowing when it is and is not okay to massage, based on anatomy and pathology, is something clearly learned through the education process. Also important to learn is how to interact with the client’s veterinarian when the client has certain conditions. When should I consult with their veterinarian? Is it okay to just go ahead and massage? This is an impJimmyerative part of animal massage.

So as you finish up the last bit of coffee in your mug, you look at the pad of paper or Word document where you’ve been taking notes and feel much more confident in your decision to pursue animal massage. You have locations, numbers, prices, contact information, and a much better feel about the whole process.  What’s left? Taking the reins of your life firmly in your hands and making the decision that is the absolute best for you.

Written by Callie Rulli of Skylark Animal Bodywork, LLC

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!


The foot feels the foot when it feels the ground. ~Buddha
The foot feels the foot when it feels the ground. ~Buddha (Image: Office.com)

Let’s take a closer look at ‘grounding’. We can view this as an opportunity to plant our feet firmly on the ground; or… to simply feel the solidity of the earth under our feet. Is there a difference? Truth be told, no.

Think back to your last vacation. Perhaps, when you were on a beach; the sand drifted its many grains of miniscule pebbles through your toes, and the heat wormed its way through your feet, your calves, knees, thighs, hips, and so on…

As an Animal Practitioner, how is this different than grounding your energy prior to working with an animal? You are in a serene, quiet, and relaxed environment; soft and soothing music plays in the background, (or a horse arena, stable, or field with beautiful views) for your animal client. Your senses are heightened, as you connect with the senses of your client. But… and there always is one… what shall you do with the background ‘interference’ of daily life?

Is it normal for the mental spider webs to hang around precariously? Yes. (You’re only human.) Yet, what do you do with that interference? How do you keep your feet planted on the ground whilst you perform the act of giving your gifts away as an Animal Practitioner? The only way is to bathe the ‘social static’ away from your cells that then permeate through your entire body, bathed in beautiful white, bright, light.

Light and blissful drops of rain filled with light and pure unconditional love, deposited throughout your entire body. A brief, simple, and concentrated meditation is all that is needed to achieve this blissful and beautiful state of being prior to the moments of working on your animal client. For humans, life is filled with debris, but for animals, life is filled with innocence, and promise – nature continually gifts us; let’s mirror their experience, and recreate this during your sessions!

RMSAAM Welcomes New Staff Members!

"There is definitely something to be said about living and working away from the hustle and bustle, of city life!"
“There is definitely something to be said about living and working away from the hustle and bustle, of city life!”

Contributed by Hayley Pierce, and Theresa Gagnon.

City Girl, to Country Girl… Greetings!  My name is Hayley Pierce, and I have recently joined the team at RMSAAM as Receptionist and Administrative Assistant, which without a doubt, is a wonderful opportunity I have encountered! My professional background includes a Bachelor’s Degree in Business, which gives me the skills to be a great asset to the team.  I am looking forward to contributing to the RMSAAM blog!

A Student recently commented to me earlier this week, how lucky I am to have a job working out in the countryside!  Originally from a busy town in Hampshire, England, I moved to the states nearly eight years ago, and settled in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  My husband had another great opportunity with his profession that prompted a move to Colorado, so here we are!

My friends and family back in England would not believe the transition, but there is definitely something to be said about living and working away from the hustle, and bustle, of city life!  My husband and four children, Hanna; 20, Jamie; 19, Tamara; 11, and last but not least, Yazmin; 9, moved to Colorado a year ago.  In that time, we have acquired a horse, a cat, and most recently rescued two lovely Belgian Malinois: Logan, and Levi.  Needless to say, I am in the right place if the instructors need extra, not to mention very willing, volunteers for massages during the hands-on portion of the class!


Theresa decided it was time to do what she loved best; go back out into the field and work directly with animals.
Theresa decided it was time to do what she loved best; go back out into the field and work directly with animals.

Theresa Gagnon has been involved with animals her whole life. Dogs, cats, and horses, have always been part of her life. After holding a “real job” in computer management and programming for many years, she was drawn back to working with animals. She started working as a veterinary assistant, and then went on to obtain her Certification in Veterinary Technology and began teaching at the college level in the Becker College Veterinary Technology program in Massachusetts. When one of her horses had an odd front end lameness that veterinarians and farriers were unable to fix, she turned to massage. One short massage session to the shoulder, completely took care of the problem.

Theresa then turned to Jack Meagher and took his workshops. Drawing on her passion for anatomy, and Jack’s books, and workshops, she continued to work on her own horses. In 2003, she was asked to collaborate with the Bancroft School of Massage Therapy to create a curriculum for a Canine Massage Program. Once this was established, the Equine Massage Program was then created.

Theresa also enrolled in Bancroft’s human massage program and became a licensed human massage therapist. She continued to take classes in many modalities to hone her bodywork skills, and used her animal anatomy knowledge to bring those new skills to the animal world.

While at Bancroft, Theresa met Amy Snow, and Nancy Zidonis, of Tallgrass Animal Acupressure Institute, and was asked to be part of a group that eventually became The National Board of Certification Animal Acupressure and Massage (NBCAAM). After several years of working Bancroft and being on the board, Theresa decided it was time to do what she loved best; go back out into the field and work directly with animals. She partnered with a former student, Jodi Clark, and they formed Mending Fences Animal Wellness, LLC.  Theresa’s move to Colorado last year, worked out well for both RMSAAM, and Theresa! RMSAAM is proud to have her teaching their programs!

RMSAAM welcomes you Theresa, and Hayley, as part of the team! We’re happy to have you both on board!


Should horses be paired?

A lovely horse is always an experience.... It is an emotional experience of the kind that is spoiled by words.  ~Beryl Markham
A lovely horse is always an experience…. It is an emotional experience of the kind that is spoiled by words. ~Beryl Markham

Some of us, while driving down a country road have witnessed a lone horse in its round pen, or in a field. While this is not unusual, the question remains: Should horses have partners?

Because horses are herd animals, loneliness can cause separation anxiety, and emotional distress. Herbal remedies, and essential oils can help to calm stress and anxiety. In addition, Bach flowers can also help with varying emotional states; Bach Flower Remedies for Animals by Helen Graham, is a helpful book to reference. You can also visit our store, for more options in caring for your horse under emotional duress.

If a horse has a preference to pace in a specific area or pattern, the other concern is the wear and tear on their legs and feet. Finally, another malady that the horse may experience due to chronic stress and loneliness is ulcers. Common symptoms can be loss of appetite, poor hair coat, grumpy attitude, and poor weight. Some horses with ulcers have few symptoms except a lousy attitude and a refusal to work!

Many factors come into play when a decision is to be made about pairing up a horse with another horse, a donkey, goat, sheep, etc. Consider the environment of the horse, and until a decision can be made whether to bring a partner into your horse’s life, massage, acupressure, acupuncture, and other types of naturopathic treatments, may also be viable, and helpful solutions, in aiding your horse to cope with loneliness.

RMSAAM would be interested in hearing any of your experiences in dealing with a lonely horse, and any creative solutions that were used to help your horse through lonely times!


Denver Dog

And ever has it been known that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.-Khalil Gibran
And ever has it been known that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.
-Khalil Gibran

by Sandi Martinez

Let’s face it; life can be full of stuff.  Our lives are packed with things that we’ve done, must be done, and waiting to be done.  We have full and busy lives, but every once in a while, life comes to a stop.  Jobs end, things we’re familiar with are changed forever, sometimes at the drop of a dime.  Mercury Retrograde started yesterday, February, 23rd.  It goes on until March 17th.

This isn’t a lesson in Astrology.  It simply seems to coincide with my story about my dog Samson.  My life changed quickly (late last year), and the rug seemed to be pulled underneath my feet.  At the risk of not sounding cliché, I’ll add that life grabbed a piece of my pant leg, and dragged me along with it.  This being said, my dog Samson, (many RMSAAM students met Samson at some point, and even worked on him during the hands-on portion of the class) has experienced some of that shaky, unsure, and stressful ‘what are we going to do now’, drama.  But through all of the unexpected, comes clarity, and the order that seems to naturally unfold after the storm, so-to-speak.

We get jobs, our lives go on, but along the way, with Samson specifically, he went into shock.  We spent day in and day out together, and now, I’m gone over 11-hours a day, 5 days a week.  On top of it all, with ailing parents, and the need for quiet, Samson is now whining; calling for his mother who happens to be an hour’s drive away – as it turns out, he wasn’t whining for me, he was swimming in the energy that surrounds anxiety, and stress.  However, this new information called for extreme measures.  He now had to become a (temporary) Denver dog.

He lives with my sibling, has a furry friend he plays with, and lays contentedly at the feet of my sister Debbie, when she’s home.  No more whining.  This is an interesting lesson for me and Samson: A happy home truly creates happy hearts.  And how about me?  My separation anxiety from Samson is less than a two-week ordeal, and I continue to hear snoring during the night, and realize, he’s not here.  I hear his pitter-patter paws hit the ground, and look around with delight, but it’s not Samson, but a family member’s dog instead, I pat my bed and invite him to watch a movie with me, but he’s not there.

I’ll be going to pick up my little old man as I call him (he’s about 14-years-old), next weekend!

We here at RMSAAM would love to hear about any similar stories about separation anxiety you’ve encountered with your furry loved one, and how you handled it!