Many of our pet parents come in for their complementary 2 week recheck/ rehabilitation evaluation and are filled with anxiety about their dog being afraid of water. They are apprehensive that their dog will not take to the underwater treadmill due to fear of water or negative past experiences with water. This is a real fear and we do our best ease both the human and animal minds before we do any therapy. Some dogs don't like baths and may have had a negative experience with swimming in a pool or body of water. If this is the case, please let our therapists know so that we can help cater their training and reduce overall stress during this visit. We want them to leave feeling good, not scared.
Are Underwater Treadmills the same as swimming in a pool?
The short answer is no. Underwater treadmills are very different than baths, pools, or bodies of water, and walking in water is very different than swimming. Understanding these differences help us train underwater treadmill exercise and not go down the the same path as their previous “bad” experiences. One of the main differences is that the water is pumped into the treadmill tank once the patient is walked into it verses the dog being put into a body of water. This is generally not very scary and since most patients don't have any other experience like it, they do very well and don't really know that they should be scared. Swimming is also scary to dogs because they can’t touch the ground. This creates a panic and they likely feel threatened, which creates a fight or flight reaction in self preservation mode. That is definitely not want we want our patients to feel, so their feet are always firmly planted on the ground during the entirety of the underwater treadmill experience.
What should I expect during my first rehabilitation visit?
At your first visit, one of our therapists will bring you and your dog into one of the therapy rooms and discuss how your dog has been doing at home since surgical discharge. This is generally done at 1 to 2 weeks post operatively. This visit gives you a chance to voice any concerns or problems you may have and it give us the opportunity to see how your dog is doing and take those concerns into consideration. If your dog is food motivated, then our therapist may try and play some basic games that allow us to evaluate them better from a functional standpoint. Some dogs that are generally food motivated may be nervous and may not eat during this session. That’s ok, they have a right to be nervous and forcing the issue doesn’t usually help, so we avoid any forced activities. In other words, you can’t force a dog to not be nervous, so we adapt and overcome. They need a good, positive experiences to learn that they are safe. If ongoing therapy is needed, most learn that rehab can be fun and rewarding over time.
Once concerns, questions, and the initial evaluation is done, we then have their sutures or staples removed and train them to walk in the underwater treadmill. This generally only takes 1 minute because all we really need our patients to do the first visit is to walk forward. If we keep that first session nice and short, patients tend to leave without feeling trapped in the treadmill and if ongoing therapy is needed, it is very easy to extend times and increase speeds to meet the patient’s needs. If we ask for too much of them too fast, then we can ruin the therapy training session and ongoing therapy will become increasingly more difficult. All of our therapists train our patients the same way with little changes to fit individual personalities. About 90-95% of our patients do very well at that first session and easily walk forward toward the door they where they were led in. If they do not quite get it at first, that’s alright, and most do understand by the second time. Our therapists have trained thousands of dogs to walk in underwater treadmills, on land treadmills and have also trained many other exercises over the years. This doesn’t mean they know everything, but it does give them a lot of insight and understanding on dog behaviors, especially in the clinical rehabilitation setting.
If you have any questions about your first visit, please let us know and we will always do our best to explain everything we can to ensure comfortability and confidence with rehabilitation moving forward.
By Robert Porter CCRP