Canine massage?! That’s the response most people have when they hear you talk about massaging your dog. However, just like with people, massaging your dog can relieve pain and stress, calm nerves, and strengthen the bond you have with your dog.
Rubi Sullivan, CSAMP (certified small animal massage practitioner) explains that “massage is a gentle and non-invasive therapy that is a great way to maintain your dog’s health and well-being, as well as regular veterinary visits.”
What are the Benefits?
Massage is a benefit to any age of dog, regardless of whether they are a family pet, star athlete, or somewhere in between. Sullivan lists several ways that massage can help any dog:
- Reduces anxiety
- Shortens healing time of strained muscles and sprained ligaments
- Aids in digestion
- Fosters a feeling of well-being
- Reduces pain and swelling (including intervertebral, joint and muscle)
- Decreases blood pressure
- Strengthens the immune system
- Reduces formation of excessive scar tissue (less scar tissue build up means better mobility)
- Reduces muscle spasms
- Helps relieve muscle tension and stiffness
- Provides greater joint flexibility and increases range of motion
- Improves proprioception (the outside information feedback mechanism in the animal’s body that helps with movement and balance)
- Stimulates liver and kidney functions
- Improves circulation of blood and movement of lymphatic fluids
- Promotes deeper and easier breathing
- Enhances the health and nourishment of the skin and coat
Should my Dog Get a Massage?
Based on the above benefits, it’s clear any dog will be happy to have a massage. However, there are a few cases where massage can be particularly helpful.
Reducing stiffness and fatigue after exercise by increasing circulation and flushing waste products form the muscle tissue.
Massage can be great for both before and after exercise. Invigorating massage (quick strokes) can be great for dogs that are about to compete in agility competitions or for older dogs that are stiff and about to go out for a walk in the neighborhood.
“If the massage strokes are too invigorating for older dogs,” Sullivan explains, “you can always slow down your stroke. It’s important to always watch for feedback from your dog, they can tell you so much when you watch and listen for changes. Slow, gentle strokes can be a very nice way to compliment an end to exercise.”
Help for the Nervous Dogs.
Massage is wonderful tool for nervous or anxious dogs. If you go slow, relax your touch and watch for feedback you can help a stressed dog relax.
“Using the areas noted below to affect the parasympathetic nervous system are always a great place to start massage with nervous dogs,” Sullivan explains, “Just remember to always go slow, watch for feedback and keep your strokes slow. It is human nature to speed our strokes up the more stressful the situation becomes, so being contentious of this will be important.”
In the same way, you can calm down a hyper puppy or a reactive adult dog. Where I work we end each puppy class with calming massage, so the owners know who to calm their puppy down when playtime is over. It works great and both dog and owner full the increased bond it give them.
How to Get Started
Best places to massage for relaxation and getting dogs used to the idea of massage are:
The chest, over the sacrum and where the head and neck connect (just behind the poll). The parasympathetic nervous system is directly correlated to the cranial and sacral areas, so that is why massage or just resting your hand on these areas will have a calming effect. The chest is a non-invasive part of a dogs body so massage can be easily accepted here as well.
These tips from Rubi Sullivan will help you get started in canine massage. If you have any questions or need help knowing which strokes to use, feel free to contact Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-380-4487.
About the Author
Based in Tustin, Calif., animal lover Kristina N. Lotz is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and works as a full time trainer. She also owns her own custom pet products company, A Fairytail House, where she makes personalized collars, leashes, beds, keepsake pillows and blankets, and anything else your imagine can think up. In her spare time, she trains and competes in herding, agility, obedience, rally, and conformation with her Shetland Sheepdogs.