Fitness for Fido
-January 16th, 2014
A large fitness gym in a portion of the Animal Wellness Center, in North Spokane, caters to canines, even though it rivals some workout centers designed for human exercise.
The 1,100-square-foot gym is filled with therapy balls, ladder-like floor obstacles, and other fitness equipment, including a treadmill designed and manufactured for dogs by GoPet LLC, of Pennsylvania.
On the gym’s cushioned rubber-mat flooring, dogs can practice quick turns or a range of motions to mimic moves used at outdoor dog agility courses. Lorna Boydston, owner of Animal Wellness Center, says that in fitness classes, dogs are trained to do stretches and exercises side-by-side with their owners.
The gym is one part of the 3,000-square-foot Animal Wellness Center at 1620 E. Houston that Boydston designed to resemble a spa-like setting geared to pets for services that include therapeutic animal massages. Rooms are filled with aromatherapy, calming music, and soothing décor.
“We have calming music playing throughout, usually harp or piano music, so the dogs can most benefit from the holistic treatments,” Boydston says. “We try to create a very relaxing atmosphere for the dogs.”
Such animal wellness services are gaining popularity in Seattle and other parts of the U.S., Boydston says, especially for customers who have dogs that are athletic, used in service or rescue work, or entered in breed show competitions.
Boydston opened the center last fall to provide services geared to holistic wellness for pets, primarily for dogs, but it doesn’t offer veterinary services. In recent years, Boydston has worked as an artist and raised beagles.
Boydston and one part-time pet services assistant currently are the center’s only employees, although two independent contractors provide specialized services by appointment.
A Deer Park resident, Boydston grew up on a farm in Colbert, where her parents had a kennel and raised different working dog breeds that were shown or trained for work, including as police service dogs. As a member of the Spokane Kennel Club, Boydston also shows beagles.
She became interested in animal therapeutic remedies in 2007, and sought training at the Northwest School of Animal Massage, in Vashon, Wash. She now is licensed by the state as a small animal massage practitioner.
The state Department of Health has licensed animal massage practitioners since 2011, she says. The license she received required training a minimum of 300 hours, passing a certification test by the National Board of Certification for Animal Acupressure and Massage, and paying a state fee.
In addition to the fitness gym and massages, the center provides hydrotherapy for exercise and rehabilitation of dogs in a heated indoor pool. In a separate room near the pool, the center also offers dog grooming services. A groomer, who works as an independent contractor, is at the center part time, Boydston says.
Overall, she says the business is beginning to build clients, and is providing about three or four animal massages a week. The fitness classes have had up to 10 people attending with their dogs.
“We’re building up clients using the gym, and we have some people who come regularly, but in this town, dog sports are big so we expect that to grow,” Boydston says. “There is a big need out there for this. Fitness is still a new concept for dogs, but it’s growing nationally by leaps and bounds.”
Near the center’s entrance, one small room is designed for canine massages and includes a grooming table of about 40 inches by 24 inches in size that’s adapted with special cushioning to position a dog so that Boydston can do the massages.
She provides geriatric massages for older dogs, sports massages, rehabilitation massages, and general massages for relaxation. A massage session typically lasts for about an hour and costs $45.
The center has a second small massage room set aside for people to receive massages given by a licensed massage therapist, Kerri Miller, who works at the center part time as an independent contractor, Boydston says. Miller also is certified as a small animal massage practitioner to perform massages for dogs in the adjacent animal massage room.
Boydston asserts that canine massages especially benefit athletic dogs that perform at sporting events, breed shows, or as service and rescue canines.
“It gives athletic dogs an edge to stay in shape and be less prone to injuries,” she says. “We do offer massage therapy for some cats, but it’s 50-50 with the cats. They either really love it and get a lot of value or really hate it.”
The center includes a lobby waiting area that has a small drinking fountain for its dog visitors, and the walls are painted a soft green, which Boydston says is more for the owners’ benefit because scientists believe dogs only can see blue and yellow colors.
Brighter colors are part of decorations in the center’s gym, where a fitness class typically lasts about an hour or slightly longer. A class usually is held once a week for four to six weeks, at a cost that ranges from $40 to $75 for a series, which is based on the course subject such as if it’s for more advanced canines. Some of the classes include “K9 Team Fitness Beginner Class,” “Core Strength & Fitness for the Performance Dog,” and “Senior Fitness Class.”
Owners also can pay for individual fitness coaching for dogs, which is $35 an hour.
Some of the sessions also train dogs to stand or balance their forelegs on therapy balls, she adds, which teaches balance to help with core and muscle strength. For dogs that need rehabilitation after an injury or medical treatment, such training also helps them regain muscle use, she says.
Overall, Boydston says the fitness can help dogs improve range of motion and build muscle to become more active, enter agility competitions, lose weight, or improve mobility for older canines.
“It’s the same principle you use for human athletes,” she adds. “Performance dogs are more prone to injuries if they haven’t improved their range of movement, built up muscles and flexibility. Unlike people, though, dogs will just keep going. We try to slow that down and protect them.”
For sessions on the gym’s dog treadmill, a dog is trained and wears a safety harness held onto by the center’s handlers, Boydston says. The GoPet treadmill, which has side railings, is stationed next to a traditional treadmill for people, so pet owners can use it while their dogs are next to them.
“We have to train the dogs to walk on the treadmill at first,” she says. “We usually have a dog running on it by the first visit. This time of year, it’s hard to run outside with your dog because of the ice. For dogs that are big competitors, they can stay in shape.”
With the center’s hydrotherapy service, Boydston says, canines can gently exercise muscles in the pool that measures about 13 feet by almost 8 feet wide, and has depth of 4 and 1/2 feet. The water is kept at a 91- to 93-degree temperature, she says.
Dog owners and pets walk up a short flight of stairs to a platform to enter the pool.
For arthritic dogs or canines recovering from surgeries, they can be lifted to the platform on a hydraulic table.
She says the business asks that the owner be near the pool as dogs enter, and at least one therapist is in the pool. The dogs wear life preservers with a handle for the first few times they enter the pool, she says, until they get comfortable with the water therapy.
A hydrotherapy session lasts about an hour and costs $75, but the price includes massages in the water and then afterward on land, Boydston says, and the dog isn’t in the pool the entire time.
The pool also has an endless current feature, which can help athletic dogs strengthen muscles by swimming against the current, Boydston says. For the hydrotherapy service, Boydston says she received training at La Paw Spa in Sequim, Wash.
“A five-minute swim is like a five-mile jog,” she says. “The beauty is the water supports them, so it’s non-weight bearing on their joints. There is resistance, so it works their muscles. It’s great for dogs recovering from surgeries to get back into using their limbs, or it’s good for older dogs with mobility problems, arthritis, or hip dysplasia.”