CAM blogs

CAM Meets Rachel Rodgers

Rachel RodgersRachel Rodgers is an experienced, Clinical Animal Behaviourist based on the Shropshire, Cheshire border. Having worked with a range of species, from dolphins to dogs, Rachel went on to be a manager for the RSPCA and Dogs Trust Dog School. Rachel has a master’s degree in Applied Animal Behaviour and Training. She is a full member of the APBC – Association of Pet Behaviour Councillors and PACT – Professional Association of Canine Trainers.

She has a PGCE (Professional Graduate Certificate in Education) and has spent time as a lecturer in Animal Behaviour and Welfare and Canine Behaviour and Training.

Nose to Trail is a pet behaviour service run by Rachel. She uses pet trailing and man trailing techniques to help dogs to overcome behavioural issues.

She lives on the outskirts of Whitchurch, Shropshire with her two small dogs, Rico – a rescue from Portugal, and Maisy a Jack Russell cross Pug. Both of which have arthritis.

Rachel Kindly agreed to answer the following questions:

What are your feelings on how we currently manage this common debilitating condition in dogs?
Over the last few years I feel like there has been an improvement in being able to get pain relief, and ongoing support from a multidisciplinary team (behaviourists, trainers, physiotherapists and vets!) after a formal diagnosis of arthritis and other chronic pain conditions, or at least within my local area of the rural Shropshire/Cheshire border in the UK there has been! This has in part been down to a good awareness of CAM within our local vet practices and with many of our local canine professionals taking CPD through CAM and using their fabulous resources. However, due to the limited number of Clinical Animal Behaviourists in the country I take referrals for behaviour cases from further than just my local towns and the hardest part of my job is when the behavioural signs a dog is showing ALL point to pain but I struggle to get either owner, or vet on board with the fact the dog is potentially experiencing pain on a daily basis. There are sadly still many times when I face a battle with people who come back to me saying things are “just behaviour” and are not acknowledging the well scientifically documented evidence that pain and behaviour are strongly linked. I feel that our awareness of what pain looks like in dogs still needs to greatly improve. This is why I try to post regularly on social media and spread the word that your dogs way of telling you they are in pain, is not only “to bite”. They are showing us so many more signs that they are struggling but we just do not interpret it that way. We need to! The sooner we can identify that our dogs are in pain, the sooner we can get them treatment and start working to keep them as fit and healthy for as long as possible. The CAM moto #YourDogMoreYears could not ring more true.

As a Clinical Animal Behaviourist what do you feel is essential for managing canine arthritis effectively?
A greater understanding of the daily stressors dogs experience in terms of how we live is vital for owners to be able to manage canine arthritis effectively. Just diagnosing a dog and starting them on a course of treatment at the vets simply isn’t enough. We just do not have a dog centric way of living. Often when I am working with clients who have dogs they have a good treatment plan in place in terms of daily/monthly medication but they aren’t taking steps to alter their way of living to benefit the dog further. They live in a multi-storey town house, with vinyl slippy floors that the dog goes up and down the steep flights of stairs numerous times a day, skids around on the floor when they get excited for their meal time and they are still being over fed for example! These are all things we can adapt with training and management techniques. Baby gates or doggy stoppers to reduce access to stairs. Rugs to make floors less slippy or training a new calm response to the doorbell ringing so they don’t hurtle 100 miles an hour to the front door. I appreciate that vet appointments are short and staff are over stretched (an understatement!) which is why it is so important that as canine professionals we come together to help owners to understand about the adaptations they can make to help their dogs further. If these things aren’t communicated then many owners just will not know and the wear and tear on the joints is unnecessarily higher than it could be. There is so much more to managing arthritis than purely giving medicine and right now I think that is what we are missing – and it is where CAM comes into its own with the resources they provide!

How do you see treatment options for arthritis progressing over the next ten years?
I hope that we can start to build a network of canine professionals who support the dog in a more holistic way. When we have a greater awareness among canine professionals we can start to filter messages about identifying and managing pain in dogs down through to owners and hopefully to future generations of dog owners. We know that if just 1 person tells us something, we don’t always believe it! However if your vet, the physio, the groomer and your dog trainer are all telling you the same messages then hopefully we will start to see change.

I do a lot of work on training co-operative care handling techniques for dogs who struggle with vet visits or going to the groomers. Often when dogs are in pain, or demonstrate anticipatory pain then routine handling procedures can be quite difficult. I still see too many dogs being forced into situations rather than being trained and given the opportunity to consent to the actions being taken. Nail clipping for example – this could decline and become a challenge in a dog who has arthritis in their paws. It could be that the way the paw is being held to ensure the nail clipping is safe, is actually uncomfortable for the dog. So rather than using brute force and holding dogs and forcing them to have their nails clipped this way it would be better if we could train the dog to consent or be involved in their care. Perhaps using a scratch board to file their nails down, or teaching them to place their paw onto a yoga block with the nails over hanging so we can trim them without applying pressure and holding the sore area tightly.

If you could have the opportunity to give one tip/piece of advice to an owner with a dog suffering from arthritis what would it be?
Sometimes when our dogs are suffering with arthritis we can be reluctant to change how we are with them early on. We still try to do the things we love to do with them. Long hikes, dog sports etc. We may be thinking “they are still ok now” or “they’re fine” but then when we actually do these things, they are stiff afterwards, or they sit down and we have to carry them. Actually in these situations we could be putting them through too much and very sadly be progressing their condition at a faster rate rather than protecting them.

If you are struggling to adapt and make changes, or you are struggling to get family on board with the changes like going on your hikes without your dogs, or using a stroller and going on longer but flatter walks where they can accompany you in their stroller then consider your pain points.

What would be more painful for you?

Missing out on hikes?

Or your dog passing away?

I know for me that the day I lose either of my dogs will absolutely break me. Nothing can prepare me for it. That pain point will be higher than ANY sacrifice I have to make in order to help them.

So those decisions we make as we support our dogs with arthritis, I suggest keeping those pain points in mind.

What is more painful for me? Missing out on buying new shoes so I can use the money to buy a pram for the dogs? Or missing out on taking them with me because I don’t have a pram? The latter.

Your pain points are personal and you don’t have to share them but even considering them with the smallest of changes in mind can help you to stick to supporting your dog better.

Keep it in mind next time you’re tempted to give them another chew or treat… we know having a slimmer dog will help with their arthritic pain… so what is a higher pain point for you? Missing out on their contended grunts while they chomp away? Or having to explain why they haven’t lost any weight next time you visit the vet!?