How is Physical Therapy Like Dog Behavior?

Anyone who has sat in one of my classes, seminars or behavior consultations knows that I often will make comparisons of human and dog behavior in an effort to help a client understand how their dog might view a situation. I often compare a puppy learning basic cues to a child learning their ABC’s for the first time. I compare some dogfights or conflict in our homes to our own human relationships with family, friends and co-workers – sometimes we have conflict even with family members. Since I have been in physical therapy (PT) to help with my recovery from a car accident, it occurred to me how much physical therapy is much like working with dog behavior.

When I first met my new (and awesome) Physical Therapist/MAT specialist, her words to me were almost exactly what I tell my dog behavior clients every week. She said, “my goal is for you not to need to see me”.  Although she went on to say that it’s an odd business model but it works. She didn’t have to convince me. I tell my clients this same thing all the time so her words made so much sense to me. I knew there and then that we would be a great fit!

So how have my PT experiences been similar to my work with dog behavior? Well for one, I sought out the right professional. Dog training is an unregulated business so there are many “trainers” and “behavior consultants” that are not certified or that do not follow the science of training and many actually use outdated methods that seem to initially work to suppress the issue but after your payment is made the behavior not only returns but often is worse so finding the right professional is important. I met with my physical therapist, talked to her at length, asked questions and reviewed recommendations by her past clients, much like I recommend my dog training or behavior clients should do.

My PT rehab, much like dog behavior work, required commitment, compliance and effort on my part. I have been on this journey for many months. Did I see results immediately? No, but I trusted in the process and trusted in my physical therapist’s experience and expertise.

I did EVERY exercise my professional told me to do. I followed the exercise instructions to a “T”, reviewing visuals and asking questions as needed. The exercises I did were done when and as often as she recommended. No, I did not skip a day! In addition to being a compliant client and partner in my healing journey, I also scheduled all follow-ups to see her regularly rather than waiting until I had a setback! I followed the plan she recommended 100%.

In addition, I had realistic expectations. I also didn’t see her one time and expect results. As a matter of fact, I have seen her now for about 8 months! After our initial consultation, I bought a package as she recommended based on my issue and her experience. I didn’t expect to be healed after 1 appointment or even several nor did she promise me I would be. I understood that healing, like behavior modification, takes time and there are no shortcuts. With the progress, I also sometimes took 2 steps forward and 1 step back but I still stayed the course.

It’s really no different when we work with dog behavior issues. So often clients expect the issue to be resolved with one session. Although I have many successful cases that are greatly helped with one visit, most severe behavior issues take multiple visits, work at home and dedication and commitment on the part of the owner. While I would love to fix a well-ingrained problem that may have gone on for years in 1 or 2 short sessions, that isn’t any more realistic than my expecting my PT to heal me without months of work and dedication on my part.

If you want to modify behavior, human or dog, it takes time. How many people set a goal to go to the gym or give up chocolate on Jan 1 each year only to have fallen off the wagon by the end of January? That’s because behavior modification takes time, patience and commitment.

I did and continue to do my PT exercises faithfully. It takes management for success.  I bought the bands and tools to succeed and didn’t go paddle boarding and do many other things I enjoy during my rehabilitation.

It takes training. I learned my exercises well and continue to keep my exercise book handy and in a location, I see daily as a reminder to do my exercises. It takes patience, commitment and realistic expectations. Sure they were times I wanted to quit but I kept working.

It takes trust in your professional, communication and working together to achieve the desired goal. I didn’t heal overnight and I am still on this journey but thanks to my professional’s expertise and my work and commitment in the partnership, I have seen great results and continue to improve. It’s really no different than my work with clients who have worked successfully with their dogs to help them heal from trauma, build confidence or deal with anxiety and fear issues. It’s like running a marathon not a sprint so it’s not about speed but the results are worth the effort! Remember that next time you are trying to modify behavior – yours or your companion’s!

How to find a good dog trainer:

My awesome Physical Therapist/Muscle Activation Technique Certified Specialist:

Emily Yenor –


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