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.
Mat just happened to be a firefighter with the West Midlands Fire Service and with Kai’s natural intelligence and boundless energy he was destined to become one of only 15 fire investigation dogs in the UK. Mat has trained Kai to detect flammable liquids at fire scenes where arson is suspected.
Kai’s job is arduous and physically demanding which means he has to be extremely fit and agile. Fire scenes are never tidy and there’s a lot of squeezing through narrow spaces and negotiating rough and potentially dangerous terrain.
Kai thrives in his job as an active fire team member and loves being with Mat. When off duty, Mat competes in marathons and because Kai is so full of enthusiasm and love for Mat, they would regularly go running together.
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!
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.
Mat says that he didn’t expect quite how much the unique Galen approach and techniques would improve his bond with Kai. He’s also noticed that the minor injuries and niggles which used to burden Kai have virtually disappeared largely because Mat is more aware of the clues Kai is giving him and he is able to detect potential problems much earlier.
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.
“Keeping his fire career going is important as he would never be happy as a pet,” says Mat. “He needs to be working.” At coming up to seven years of age, Mat thinks Kai now has at least another three years work in him and will be happier as a result, by which point he might be ready for retirement.
Mat found the difference between Galen and other massage therapies interesting. He explained that during Galen sessions, Kai can move off the mat at any time, but often returns for a little more massage. He sometimes finds the rush of circulation to an area requires a stop and a scratch and a shake before returning to the mat for some more work.
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.
For information on the courses run by Galen Myotherapy for dog owners, vets and potential therapists click here.