Seven years ago, a very special puppy was born in Hilbrae Rescue Kennels after his Mum was taken in by the centre in Shropshire. Kai the Belgian Shepherd Malinois was adopted by Mat Dixon and so began the start of a wonderful and very unusual relationship.
Although Kai is nimble and sure-footed, the nature of his work means his body gets a battering and he can suffer aches, pains and stiffness as a result. A chance meeting at Crufts a year ago resulted in Kai receiving Galen Myotherapy sessions with founder, Julia Robertson. Galen Myotherapy is a unique and highly specialised manual and exercise management therapy for dogs. It uses appropriate, effective and targeted massage techniques and exercise to manage chronic muscular pain, reduce inflammation and to maximise muscle function. Perfect therapy for a very active fire dog!
Mat and Kai at Crufts demonstrating Galen Therapy with Sue MacLennan
Galen also considers the needs of the whole dog, and the relationship they have with their owner.
Mat, who has always had a deep bond with Kai, admits he was sceptical at first, thinking he was keeping Kai nice and fit and allowing him to live life to the full. “I thought there was little need to consider anything else,” he says.
However, during his initial session with Julia, she advised him not to take Kai running with him to the degree he was currently. She explained that Kai was happy to run with Mat simply to be with him, but that this was not necessarily the same as it being good for him to run the distances they were covering especially on top of all the other physical work Kai did. Mat says that he hadn’t appreciated this view but could see it made sense.
Following this revelation, Mat realised that much of his leisure time with Kai was previously spent engaging in exciting play, tugging and jumping on and off things, and chasing and jumping up to catch balls. Mat could see that so much frantic activity on top of Kai’s busy working day was not helping his dog to relax and was actually over-stimulating for them both.
This prompted Mat to attend a Galen Myotherapy course for owners where he learned how to perform two simple hands-on techniques, along with an insight into canine functional anatomy that enabled him to find tender areas on Kai. Also, by spending quiet time on the special mat used for their at-home Galen treatments, Mat has found that he’s built a much calmer and empathetic relationship with his dog.
Julia feels that Galen Myotherapy is an investment in this special dog. “It costs a considerable amount of money to train working dogs, particularly specialists like Kai,” she says. “Routine care like this enables these dogs to stay well and enjoy their working lives for longer.” Mat agrees and believes that keeping Kai healthy - physically and mentally - will extend his working life as a firedog. When he’s operating in the most demanding and hazardous situations, holding an injury may place him in even greater danger and might even shorten his working life. The routine Galen Myotherapy is keeping Kai more mobile and flexible and he can now rely on his body more.
An unexpected bonus of receiving Galen Myotherapy is an increase in Kai’s ability to focus at work. Firedogs such as Kai are problem solving dogs. They can be used where no man, machine or technology can work. Traces of flammable materials are measured in parts per million. It is now known that dogs can smell in parts per quadrillion – that’s 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000!
“The problem here is that dogs are sensing material where even the lab equipment can’t. You have to learn to trust your dog,” says Mat. Now that his empathy and understanding of Kai has improved, this is even easier for Mat to do.
You can follow Firedog Kai on Facebook at “Fire Dog Kai” and on Twitter @WMFireDogs
For information on the courses run by Galen Myotherapy for dog owners, vets and potential therapists click here.