I know it sounds crazy, but it’s spooky how similar most people’s journeys with mobility are to the journey my rescue dog, Belle, and I have taken over the last two and a half years.
And since today she’s going for a small surgical procedure, it seems appropriate to share that journey – and those lessons – with you today, so that you can look beyond your symptoms and get great results…
Not many people know this, but in December 2016, I was really struggling with my mental health.
To the outside world I was smiling and happy, but inside just wanted to cry. All the time.
I’d wanted a dog ever since I could remember, even way back when I was a small child, and it’s safe to say that the significant people in my life didn’t share my desire!
But, after fourteen and a half years of me respecting his wishes to NOT have a dog, and seeing me so thoroughly miserable, Pete, my other half finally relented and we started looking for one to rescue.
I knew exactly the type of dog I was looking for (well who wouldn’t after 38 years of wishing!) – it needed to have a calm, gentle nature and be no taller than knee height. I didn’t mind what breed, or whether it was male or female.
For a few weeks I searched the online pages of the rescue centres, and while the dogs were all sweet, their photos didn’t tell me anything about their temperament.
So one Sunday, we set off to have a look round in person.
After visiting a few places and not finding anything suitable, I remembered that the RSPCA centre was close to where we were, so we called in.
I mentioned to the lady behind the desk the type of temperament of dog I was looking for, and they went to get Belle.
She seemed sweet enough.
She was playful, loved having cuddles and would do anything for a treat – Pete even commented “this dog will be so easy to train” – but I have to admit, I’d always thought of terriers as being yappy, strong-willed dogs, so I wasn’t over the moon about her.
We took her out for a walk and she came when I called her name, and she seemed pretty calm. She ticked all my boxes so I’d run out of reasons not to take her, so we did.
When we asked about her history, the lady just said “she’s not very good with other dogs” and hinted that she’d be ok if we didn’t have another dog – which we didn’t.
It wasn’t until I brought her home and took her out for a walk that I realised just how much of an understatement that was!
Now, you’re probably wondering what on earth this has to do with your mobility and injury issues.
Well, let’s imagine for a second that Belle is your body, and her not being good with other dogs is your pain.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to bring you home with me – that’d be weird – but keep this analogy in mind as we go through the rest of the story…
When I brought her home, I did everything I’d read that I should do to make her comfortable in her new surroundings and although she whined a bit that first night, she was basically as good as gold.
Over the next couple of months, I did everything that I’d read I should do – trying to keep her calm and “balanced”, as The Dog Whisperer calls it – but despite all my attempts, Belle was like Jekyll and Hyde.
Inside the house she was this loving, sweet dog who would do anything for a treat or a cuddle, but outside she was a vicious, crazed lunatic when she even SAW a dog, no matter how far away it was!
I remember one afternoon I had to rugby tackle her to the ground and pin her down while a guy in his electric wheelchair with his German Shepherd puppy came past us because we were right next to a busy road and I was worried she’d get out of her harness and into the road she was wriggling that much!
That day I was so frustrated that I seriously considered taking her back to the rescue centre, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do that, so I tried a different tack.
In those first two months, I’d been blind to the fact that she was simply panicking every time I took her outside.
She hated traffic, and every little noise – she even freaked out when a leaf blew across the road, so when a DOG entered the scene, her panic went off the charts and she became aggressive.
(Your body does the same when it’s hurting by the way – it panics with small movements, tenses up and then can’t handle it when you move in certain directions)
So rather than putting her in situations that caused her panic to hit such heights, I’d avoid them.
Is this starting to sound familiar yet?
When it hurts to move a certain way, we simply avoid doing it?
I’d get up at 5am every day to take her for a walk, because there’s very few other dogs around at that time.
I’d take her on walks to places where dogs weren’t likely to be during the day.
She couldn’t go off the lead because she’d chase anything and everything that moved, and she was so focused on what might hurt her that she wasn’t interested in food or toys in the slightest, which meant that if I’d have let her off the lead, she probably wouldn’t have come back.
She was super highly-strung! She didn’t even understand how to play.
It was so stressful and certainly not what I’d envisaged having a dog would be like!
I’d start my day with a stressful walk with the dog, which set me up for feeling stressed at work, and then after I finished work, I had to take her out for another walk when there was a much bigger chance of seeing other dogs.
I couldn’t even take her to the park that I live 2 minutes away from!
And this same situation is being played out with millions of people who are injured or struggling with painful/restricted movement, all across the world.
Pain makes people withdraw from movement, activities and even other people.
It makes us snappy and impatient. It’s stressful and makes us miserable.
But I knew how sweet Belle could be in the house, and all I wanted was for her to be like that outside too, so I started taking her to dog training classes in an attempt to help her deal with her anxieties.
We sat at the side of an advanced class for 8 whole months, every week just sitting at the side, so Belle could get used to the smells and sounds of other dogs.
It was hard work physically for me, having to hold onto her while she was going crazy, and really frustrating because it didn’t feel like we were getting anywhere. At first, all I could focus on was the fact that she STILL wasn’t calm around other dogs and it made me really cross, so every time she got stressed and started going crazy, I’d get mad – which didn’t help at all.
Belle was improving slowly but it was so frustrating, I just didn’t know what to do.
Then, I heard about a local dog cafe and while I wasn’t sure that Belle would behave herself, I phoned to find out if it would be suitable for her. The lady who owned the cafe suggested I come when it was quiet, so Belle could investigate on her own at first, so one morning I went with a friend to see what it was like.
That day changed my whole experience – and changed Belle’s life.
By chance, the cafe was empty, except for one guy – who didn’t even have a dog with him.
My friend and I sat and had a drink and got chatting to this man who turned out to be a Dog Behaviourist and had come to the cafe for a meeting with the owner.
After about half an hour, another dog came in, and went straight up to Belle all at the same time as I was leaving the room to use the loo!
Belle wasn’t wearing her muzzle because there’d been no other dogs up to that point and if Colin (the Dog Behaviourist) hadn’t intervened so quickly – there’d have been a serious fight.
The progress we’d had up to this point reminds me of the progress most people make with industry standard mobility methods. We do everything like we’re supposed to, and we can make SOME progress, but it’s slow and frustrating and when you’re in pain, all you want is for that pain to go away.
Colin told me to carry on to the loo and by the time I came back, he had Belle sitting politely next to three other dogs (who’d come in while I was out of the room), patiently waiting for a biscuit!
I couldn’t believe that it was the same dog!
Obviously, I employed Colin very quickly and he taught me what the subtle signs of Belle’s distress were so that I could intervene much earlier and avoid her panic reaching freaking out levels.
He taught me what tiny, yet simple things like the lines in her forehead, or her ear position meant.
This was revolutionary for me. It gave me a plan of what to do and redirected my focus away from the fact that she still wasn’t calm around other dogs.
I stopped focusing on what I COULDN’T do and instead started focusing on what I COULD do.
And that’s exactly how I’ve been advocating movement improvement for many years!
Once I started intervening in situations earlier, Belle started to trust me much more and that meant the progress was MUCH faster – and it’s EXACTLY the same with your body and your painful movement. When you move in ways that don’t irritate your pain, your brain starts to trust that you won’t hurt yourself more by moving, and it relaxes the protection reflex, which in turn, reduces your pain.
I worked with Colin every week for a couple of months and although we stopped seeing him, his advice has been a constant reminder in my head ever since.
I noticed that Belle was really comfortable around one particular dog in her dog training class – Fudge, so I invited Fudge and his owners to join us at a dog field I’d been renting so Belle could get off the lead to chase a ball and burn off some energy.
At first I was a bit nervous about how she would react, but rather than going crazy when she first saw him (like she had done with every other dog up until then), she completely ignored him and that day, they played ball together off the lead, with no muzzle and no problem.
That was New Year’s Day 2018.
After working with Colin, every day since has been a constant cycle of observing Belle’s behaviour and gently challenging her to stay calm in new situations.
And it’s exactly the same with your painful movement/injuries.
We focus on the non-painful movement, while observing your body’s behaviours and gently challenge it to move in different ways, without pain.
In spring 2018, I met a lady with two dogs, who suggested that Belle and I try going down to our local woods. She suggested that it would be quiet and away from the roads, so Belle could get off the lead.
We went with her the next day, and Belle was really calm around her two dogs, so I took the huge leap of letting her off the lead (muzzle on).
We’ve been down to those woods pretty much every day since. Belle has often come face to face with other dogs, and in the beginning, she ran at them like a steam train, jumping on them to warn them off.
Most of the owners were really understanding, grateful I’d taken the precaution of the muzzle and after a few months, Belle stopped launching herself at them (aka panicking) and started greeting them like other dogs do – calmly!
In fact, she’s so good now that on New Year’s Day 2019, I took her muzzle off and she hasn’t worn it once since.
Now, we go to the park round the corner and Belle is often seen in a huge gathering of dogs (even ones she doesn’t know), playing ball nicely.
No lead, no muzzle, no problem.
And you can get these same results with your injuries/painful movement.
Simply by switching your focus from what you CAN’T do, to what you CAN – and PRIORITISING your body’s struggles, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you start to make progress and see results you didn’t even think were possible.
Has Belle’s journey been easy? No. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions and consistent effort twice a day, every day.
Has it been worth it? Absolutely. She’s an amazing, gentle and now very happy dog and it’s awesome to see her running around, playing.
Will your injury/painful movement journey be easy? Probably not. It’ll be the same rollercoaster of emotions, but with consistent effort and a guiding hand, you too will break free of the restrictions that are impacting your life.
But doing nothing and avoiding your pain won’t make it go away
I understand that starting anything new can be daunting – taking on Belle certainly was – but it can also be amazing, so I’ve put together 3 steps to help you succeed with mobility – without feeling overwhelmed.