Author: Sam Axtell

Three things you never knew about Nordic Walking with Dogs

Nordic Walking with dogs?

Let’s face it. If you’re reading this blog it’s likely that you’re a little puzzled. You may or may not have heard about Nordic Walking. But with dogs? Why on earth would you want to do that?
There’s no reason you should know. Don’t feel bad about it. This thing’s so new we think we’re the first people to be delivering it. Ever.
Allow me to explain all …

1. Nordic Walking is brilliant for you

Nordic Walking is a specific technique walking with poles. It was developed by Nordic Skiers during the off-season to keep them fit and I’d imagine it does a brilliant job of that. Not only does it exercise 90% of the muscles in the body, it can also burn up to 63% more calories than walking alone, increase upper body endurance, decrease neck and shoulder tension and increase back strength. And it does all of this whilst feeling easier than walking alone.
Not only that but it has also been shown to have wide reaching psychological benefits. Recent studies have shown that ‘green exercise’ – being active whilst connecting with nature – is extremely effective at preserving our mental health.
The beauty of Nordic Walking is that it is great for everyone – whatever their level of fitness, age or ability

2. Dogs love it too

When I first started Nordic Walking with my dog, Harvey, I noticed that he seemed even more excited when he saw the walking poles, than he would be if I just got his lead out.
Maybe it’s that feeling of us moving and working together or the extra pace I am able to inject with the poles, or that he just loves that feeling that he is working whilst he’s trotting away in front of me.
There’s no doubt about it. Harvey just loves it and your dog probably would too.

Harvey reminisces about some great Nordic Walks we have had
Harvey reminisces about some great Nordic Walks we have had

Nordic Walking is great for dogs that:
• Are rehabilitating from injury
• You might be nervous to let off the lead
• Dogs that have that urge to work. (That’s actually most of them, by the way)
• Dogs that don’t socialise too well

3. It’s fabulous for you and your dog to do together

Nordic Walking with your dog is a brilliant way of increasing your rapport with your dog. It’s a fabulous activity for anyone that wants to invest that little bit more in their dog.
During our day training programme (or two half days if you prefer) we teach you everything you need to know to start your Nordic Walking doggie adventure.
We have a dog behaviourist on hand to show you how to get your dog to respond to your Nordic Walking commands and your body language. She can also answer any questions you might have about your dog’s general behaviour.
We’ll be delivering courses in the West Midlands and we are prepared to come to you anywhere in the country if there is sufficient interest.

So if you’d be interested in having a go why not email me, Sam Axtell, at or telephone 07842 153831

Rascal or reputable – 3 surefire ways to spot a genuine complimentary animal therapist


Back in the days of yore, quack doctors would ply their trade across the streets of the United Kingdom, claiming that their products cured “all known ills.”

Now, of course, we know better than that. Medical science has moved a long way since those times, and complimentary therapies, including canine massage therapy, have developed a sound evidence base that these treatments really do work. But I know that if I was taking one of my dogs to a complimentary therapist like a massage therapist, physio or chiropractor, I’d want to know that they were the real deal. So how do you separate the wheat from the chaff.

Here are some top tips from me:

1. Have they got veterinary consent?
Ever seen a a complementary therapist at a a dog show treating a dog? Well if they’re doing it without veterinary consent then they are almost certainly doing it illegally. That means they will not be insured and if anything goes wrong, you will have no redress. Why anyone would hand their dog over to a random stranger for treatment in the almost certain knowledge that they will never see them again is beyond me, but nonetheless I’ve seen it happen time and time again. The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 and the Exemption Order 1962 prohibits anyone from treating an animal unless they have veterinary consent. So at shows you might see me giving free muscular health checks (which is legal) and treating existing clients (for whom I have veterinary consent) but if anyone else asks me to treat their dog, I politely decline and any complimentary animal therapist worth their salt would do the same.

2. Can they show that they get results?
If you’re paying to take your dog to a complementary therapist, you want to be sure that they will get results. Sometimes a therapist will be able to do something amazing for your dog, which seems almost like a miracle (although, of course, it won’t be as all complementary therapy is evidence based). If a therapist is doing good work, this will be reflected in testimonials on their website. Read these to find out what their clients are saying about them.
Word of mouth is absolutely the best publicity and, in my experience, you can’t beat personal recommendations so ask other dog owners, vets, dog trainers or anyone else that works with dogs, who they would recommend.

3. Are they the real deal?
It’s always worth checking the credentials of any complimentary therapists. I know it’s not very British to do this but don’t be afraid to ask what qualifications they have, what their study involved, what professional association they are part of, if they are insured and what continuing professional development they undertake to make sure that they’re skills are up to date.
In my experience people get very confused about the difference between canine massage therapists, animal physios and chiropractors. Ask questions about the skills set of the person that you are considering using to find out if it will be the best treatment for your dog. There is no point seeing a chiropractor for a muscular issue as they deal with skeletal issues and the treatment would be ineffective, and truthfully a canine massage therapist will not be able to help with a misaligned spine as this is probably a skeletal issue.

If you follow the advice above, I’m confident that you will be able to avoid the modern day quacks and charlatans that unfortunately still prevail and if you do, I’m sure you’ll get a great treatment for your dog.

Finding muscular injuries in dogs – a palpation explanation

Griff having a free muscular health check
Griff having a free muscular health check

If you’ve ever seen me at a show you’ll have seen me running my hands over the dogs doing something called ‘palpation.’Palpation is something of a lost art and it involves feeling the dogs muscles for signs of injury.

But what exactly am I looking for?

Canine Massage Therapists refer to signs of a muscular injury as the four ‘Ts’ and we use this information alongside the gait analysis and the information you tell us about your dog to build a picture of the type of muscular injury the dog is suffering from.

The four ‘Ts’ are:


The heat of a dog’s muscles can give us some clues as to what is going on. A hot muscle is indicative of inflammation whilst a cold muscle could indicate a problem with circulation or even a neurological condition.


Experience has taught me what healthy muscles feel like and I am looking for any abnormalities in the density and elasticity of the skin and muscle fibre. Ridges, ripples or fibrous tissue, amongst other things, are all indicators of a muscular injury.


Tenderness of the muscles can be determined by a clear reaction from the dog, or something we call a ‘local twitch response’ where the muscle will twitch or visibly move as we press into it.


Tone refers to the amount of tension in a muscle. Sometimes muscle tension can occur due to the build up of scar tissue in the muscle, following a strain or tear to that muscle. It can also occur because the dog has been over-exercised. If the muscle is too tight, the blood can’t circulate properly meaning that less oxygen and nutrients can get into the muscle and toxins and lactic acid can’t get out.

Other things I look for are whether the muscles are either too flaccid or if they are wasted, or smaller than they should be

So the temperature, texture, tenderness and tone of the dog’s muscles all help me to build a picture of what’s going on before I then go on to treat the dog. What do then will have to wait for another day.

Don’t forget that you can get your dog checked over for free at any of the shows I’m at. Find out where I will be and when by visiting my Facebook page –

Look forward to catching up with you then.

Three of the Best at the World’s Biggest Dog Show

Three years ago I would have been very surprised to hear myself say this, but I really do love Crufts. There’s something special about the atmosphere, the people and …well … all those dogs. And this year was made all the sweeter for me by three dogs that I treat, doing exceptionally well.

Massage can play a prominent role in helping dogs prepare for competition, whatever their discipline, and all three of the dogs featured below had a treatment before their various competitions. Not only does massage warm the dog up, it can also be used to stimulate the dog, so by the time it goes into competition it’s fully prepared for action.

First up there was Kera, the working Cocker Spaniel. She’s an agility dog and she and her owner and trainer, Liz Finchett, are part of my local club, the Absolutely Barking Agility Addicts. Liz and Kera were competing with the Kidderminster Team and I was delighted when they won the medium dogs team agility.

It was all terribly exciting with all sorts of twists and turns. In the semi-finals the Kidderminster team were the last team to run. One of the team was eliminated and they took the fourth place of the four teams in the final.

In the finals Kidderminster were the first team to run. Once again they had one team member eliminated but nonetheless they won the event as all the other teams had at least one member eliminated and Kidderminster were quicker and has less penalty point awarded against them.

You can see every twist and turn in this amazing competition below

Later on, on the same day I was delighted when Jacqui Woodhall and Anya won the Newfoundland Bitch Challenge. I was particularly thrilled for Jacqui as she’s had a very difficult time lately but Anya came up trumps for her. It had been a long day for Anya, who didn’t go into the ring until after 4:00 p.m., so her pre-event massage really helped to pep her up.

Jacqui and Bearhugs Anya in the ring
Jacqui and Bearhugs Anya in the ring


I love it when clients come and say hello to me at Crufts so it was an unexpected but lovely surprise when Linsey Toon called past with the lovely Mistral, a Merle. Mistral and Linsey were part of the Kennel Club Good Citizen Gold Display Team and Linsey asked if I could put a bit of verve into Mistral. I was, of course, only too pleased to oblige.

You can see the amazing display that the team put on below.

All sorts of dogs can benefit from massage, not just dogs with obvious mobility problems. If you think I might be able to help you and your dog please ring me for a free telephone consultation on 01902 256408 or come and see me at next year’s Crufts!

Mundane or Marvellous?

Have you ever had a pain so bad that it takes over your life? You can’t sleep, and every step or movement is tortuous. I did about twelve months ago. I strained a muscle in my thigh. I couldn’t get comfortable in bed and, every time I rolled over in my sleep, I woke up because the pain was so extreme. Getting up and downstairs was difficult and doing any sort of physical exercise was nigh on impossible.

Fortunately I knew what to do. Muscles are my life now so I knew I had to endure the pain for the first 72 hours (whilst the injury was still acute), helped by some non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), before a visit to the sports masseur to get myself sorted out.

Of course, it’s all very different if you’re a dog. Firstly you can’t tell your owner what you are going through. You can’t pop to the pharmacy and buy some NSAIDs, so your best hope is that your doting owner notices that you’re feeling a bit under the weather, perhaps that you’re limping, your back is roached, that you can’t get up and down the stairs like you used to or that you sometimes yelp out in pain. If not you’re stuck with it, in the kind of agony that I was but with no respite.

Fortunately for two of my clients this wasn’t to be the case. I love it when owners get back to me to tell me the difference that the treatments have made. I can’t describe to you what an amazing feeling it is.

Pip is a nine year old Sheltie with arthritis and hip dysplasia. He competes in obedience competitions but had been unwilling to do a ‘sit stay’ for any length of time. Chrissy, his owner, suspected that this was because of the pain he was in.

He’s very shy lad. Only his owners could touch him, so his first couple of sessions were just about getting him used to the sensation of massage. On the third session I was able to work much deeper on him and Chrissy really noticed the difference. He was walking much more freely.

A few days after his treatment, I met Chrissy with her husband, Christopher and their other dog, Dusky at a local dog show. I’m delighted to say that he was able to sustain his sit stay (pictured) and was placed in the obedience competition.

Pip doing a great sit stay in the obedience competition
Pip doing a great sit stay in the obedience competition

Now let me tell you about Jack, a nine year old ex-racing Greyhound. Jack had number of issues that his owner, Sarah had noticed and she was concerned that these might be beginning to affect his quality of life.

I see a lot of ex-racing greyhounds. Due to their racing histories, these types of dogs tend to harbour a lot of muscular injuries so massage can be very beneficial. And so it proved to be the case with Jack. Whilst it would be true to say that Jack left us in no doubt that he hadn’t enjoyed his massage, the results speak for themselves. Sarah contacted me the day after his massage to let me know that Jack hadn’t slept in this position (pictured below) for years.

Jack the night after his massage
Jack the night after his massage

Now the kinds of results I’ve outlined above don’t sound so incredible, do they? A dog that can sit for a while and a greyhound that can sleep on their back. But when I think back to that painful time I went through twelve months ago, I know that being able to sleep in the position you want to or being able to walk up stairs properly again means that your life has been transformed from being focused on excruciating pain, to just being able to live life again. So it might sound mundane, but I think it’s pretty bloomin’ marvellous too.