Discover Canine Bowen

Pennie Clayton of Horse and Hound School - Canine Bowen on a very relaxed dog!

This week I am pleased to say we have a very informative blog from Pennie Clayton.  Pennie owns and runs Horse and Hound School. She works as a riding instructor, dog behaviourist and Bowen practitioner in Kent, Essex, Surrey, Sussex and South East London.  Pennie’s focus is to help develop great relationships between people and their animals through trust and communication.

For this post Pennie is going explain Bowen Therapy.  I have had personal experience of this therapy and I use it on my whippet, Layla, to keep her mobile and balanced.  For such a gentle therapy it can produce some very powerful results.  Anyway, I’ll let Pennie explain it to you.


The Bowen Technique is one of the lesser known alternative therapies; this is because it has not been around for as long as more familiar therapies like chiropractic work or osteopathy. Acupuncture dates back thousands of years, and both massage and chiropractic work have been practised for hundreds of years. Bowen has different roots altogether. It was born out of the work and research of Tom Bowen in Australia, and he founded a therapy that is quite remarkable.

It differs from other forms of body work because it lets the brain translate the messages that are being given to the body. The essence of Bowen is that it is gentle and non-manipulative. Bowen Therapists work only on soft tissue and muscle, using a rolling movement which is made with fingers and thumbs. The pressure used is minimal, never more than you could bear if you put your own finger onto your eyelid and pushed gently until it got a bit uncomfortable. Tom Bowen discovered that the body didn’t need a huge amount of pressure applied to it before the brain started to pick up on the messages. The other big difference between Bowen and any other therapy is the presence of timed breaks during treatment. The breaks are one of the most important features of Bowen.

Pain and stiffness are the most common reasons to seek out Bowen. However, it not only addresses aches and pains, but it may also have a highly beneficial effect on emotional and long-term health. With regard to animals this aspect is important, since we cannot know if what appears to be a physical problem may not in fact be linked to something far more complex, for instance in the case of stress.


Our dogs start out with healthy bodies and boundless energy, and we don’t always notice the years ticking by. The process of ageing may not always be the reason for our dogs showing signs of slowing down, so it is so very important that we are aware of any changes that appear in our dogs. Bowen can safely be used for dogs of any age and may help to improve range of movement by promoting suppleness and mobility.


4 Legs Photography: Discover Canine Bowen with Pennie Clayton- Bowen can help improve range of movement by promoting suppleness and mobility.


Bowen therapists are not trained to diagnose medical conditions but we do watch the body. We look at the way someone moves and whether they are struggling with walking, turning or lifting their shoulders, and even how they breathe. We do exactly the same when we work on animals. We also take notes and ask questions and try and get a picture of what the person is most concerned about. This goes for the owners of animals too. A dog’s owner may be concerned that their dog appears stiff and can’t run as far as he used to, but we also track information about the dog’s lifestyle and sleeping habits. This is incredibly important not only so we get a record of the problem but so we also get the owners perspective and thoughts regarding when they think the problems began.

For instance, stiffness could be linked to the dog not eating as well as he used to, and maybe this is because the dog has been worried about eating in a particular place. The more information we have the easier it is to work on the body. The above example is given as when we start to work we might not feel tightness in the dog’s back, but there might be more tension over the stomach area. This is where we would focus in this situation, rather than only concentrating on the area of supposed pain. While we work, we look at any reactions that may occur like changes in breathing or the repositioning of the body and we can make decisions according to how the dog and his body responds. This is one of the reasons for breaks in our Bowen work and they are integral to Bowen. Breaks may also allow the brain to start unravelling emotional problems too.

One of the many reasons Bowen is so suited to dogs is they are allowed to choose how much they receive. Dogs can be wary on the first treatment so work will sometimes be minimal until dogs feel confident in their ability to choose how much Bowen they receive. We encourage dogs to wander off, or sit in another room from where the Bowen is taking place if they wish to, this allows them to rest after any work, and to think about whether they need any more. They are then at liberty to return to the therapist when they feel they would like more or to check out exactly what we are doing.


Pennie Clayton of Horse and Hound School using Bowen therapy on a greyhound


Dogs with phobias and sound sensitivity may derive benefit from Bowen, as may dogs that are stressed in other ways, especially rescue dogs. Bowen may also be useful after surgery as part of rehabilitation. Bowen may help to promote circulation, therefore helping promote healing, and also may have the effect of releasing endorphins (the “feel good hormone”) which can leave the dog with a feeling of increased wellbeing.


The very most important part of a canine Bowen session is the introduction to the dog. The process of taking the dog’s medical history and listening to what the owner has to say is integral. While this is going on the dog can get used to a new person in their house and the owner is often really happy to share their fears and the kind of information that vets sometimes may not think is relevant.

The dogs’ medical information is important, as although we never work on a dog without vets permission, there is usually very little information given by the vet about the dogs’ condition; and what is given can sometimes be difficult to understand.  What the owner tells us about the way the problem is affecting their dog’s life is really important.

After this information exchange and facts are written and recorded, the next step is to watch the dog moving. Observing the dog in motion helps to give us many facts. The way the dog moves, lies down, if he favours a certain leg as he walks, or if his coat smells, are all very important details and can be used to monitor how the dogs is doing between Bowen sessions. Not everything we see is relevant, but it helps to develop a picture of what the dogs’ day to day life is like.

When the dog settles and is relaxed, we then begin to work; relaxation is important but many dogs start off being suspicious or wary particularly if they are in pain, so the dog may initially find it hard to relax during the first session. When they get used to the feel of Bowen work and start to understand that what happens is not painful or causing concern then relaxation is the result.


Pennie Clayton of Horse and Hound School - Canine Bowen on a very relaxed dog!


Bowen therapists are not medically trained, so we can’t diagnose conditions, that is the vet’s job. However, what we pick up through our hands, or observe as we work is invaluable.

Bowen work is by nature very gentle, but any contact with a painful area is going to be uncomfortable. During a human Bowen treatment people are at liberty to tell us about where the painful areas are, or they shift their body, or just pull away, and dogs do exactly the same things. It is very important that owners do not tell their dogs off, or feel embarrassed if this occurs, it is only natural. If an area is uncomfortable then a dog may well growl or turn around and push our hands away. This is just to be expected in some cases.

It is our job to think about areas of any pain in a dogs’ body, but these areas are not our target areas to work on. This is because we do not want to inflict more pain or put the body under more pressure, instead Bowen is all about helping to realign the body, rather than causing more stress and pinpointing areas where pain seems to be originating from.

This is crucial as areas of pain “travel”. If any of us experience pain we begin to move differently and start compensating, the body now has areas of pain and stiffness which were not directly involved in any original injury or problem.

Dogs do not always wander away from us as we work, in which case we will put breaks into the treatment just as we would with people. If the dog is very relaxed, even sleepy we may not do very much at all. Sleep can often be the body’s response during Bowen, and this usually means we will cease treatment at that point, and either put a longer break in (breaks are normally around 2 minutes) or often we will cease treatment at that point. With Bowen “less is more”.


Pennie Clayton of Horse and Hound School doing Bowen on a Mastiff outside


Continuing work after such a point is contraindicated, and will not necessarily be beneficial. We are working to facilitate change, and we are most definitely not there to disturb the body into an excessive pain response. Before I discovered Bowen, I remember having a series of manipulative treatments on my neck, and when I left after treatment I was in more pain than when I went in! This is actually anti-Bowen, and is not in my experience the right approach when working with animals.

As an introduction a course of 3 sessions of Bowen is recommended so we can measure, through assessment and discussion with the owner, what kind of changes are taking place. We are always actively seeking change, even if, for instance, the location of pain changes. Change is always good as far as Bowen is concerned. It means the body is rebalancing and realigning, and the Bowen work is starting to affect the body. Some dog owners find this difficult to monitor, but it can often be visible to therapists as sessions usually take place at an interval of 7-10 days, giving just enough time to detect any differences in behaviour or movement. 

So by the third session there should be visible changes. These changes may not be radical but they may well be life changers to a dog.

If your dog has a chronic long-term problem, it may be that he needs more sessions before any changes are detected. In the case of illnesses such as cancer Bowen may make a difference to the quality of a dog’s life. The one thing we will not be trying to “treat” is the cancer, but Bowen may provide relief in other ways by reducing levels of stress, and encouraging sleep.

There are factors that can affect a positive response to Bowen treatment. One common one is re-injury due to over exercise between sessions. So many dogs feel invigorated after Bowen, it is vital that exercise is reduced between treatments so problems do not re occur.


If you are considering Bowen for your dog, please check that the therapist you approach is both qualified and insured to work on dogs. If you would like more information about Bowen for yourself or your dog have a look at

If you are interested in training in Canine Bowen please take a look at –w