When you think of dog massage, do you picture a cartoon of a dog relaxing in a bathrobe while he gets a good shoulder rub?
Sure, maybe that’s a funny visual, but really, canine massage is no different than what you would experience if you went to a massage therapist …
… with many of the same benefits.
And you can do it at home.
What Is Canine Massage?
Canine massage therapy is a therapeutic treatment. It uses hands-on manipulation of the voluntary muscle system, ligaments and tendons. It focuses on the manual manoeuvering of body tissues to assist in the natural processes of pain reduction, improved health and well-being, stress reduction and healing of trauma. The philosophy is based on a holistic model where all the parts of the organism are encouraged to work together in balance and harmony. This includes the physical, emotional and psychological aspects of the whole dog.
Certified Canine Massage Practitioners are animal health professionals who use their knowledge of behavior, anatomy, physiology, kinesiology and deep tissue massage techniques to improve a dog’s physical and emotional well-being. There are also many safe, beneficial strokes that you can perform on your own dog at home.
Canine massage can be offered for:
- Competition (agility, herding, flyball, sledding, etc)
- Occupations (search and rescue, military and police K9, guide dogs, etc)
- Rehabilitation (dogs with injuries, post-surgery, rescue dogs, etc)
Why Do Dogs Need Canine Massage?
Canine massage isn’t just for sore or injured muscles. In addition to the muscular system, it supports every system in the body, including the circulatory, digestive, integumentary (skin), skeletal (without force), respiratory, lymphatic and nervous systems. It helps the body heal itself from within. Here are just a few dog massage benefits:
Dog massage works to rehabilitate dogs who are recovering from injuries and surgery. It:
- reduces recovery time after surgery
- helps healthy scar tissue form
- provides natural healing by supplying nutrients and oxygen to the body
- strengthens the body by stimulating muscles
- increases the blood flow to help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation
- improves the immune system by helping flush
Senior dogs tend to suffer from arthritis, hip dysplasia, cancer and other issues more commonly seen in older dogs.
In these situations, dog massage:
- provides relief from muscle stiffness and joint discomfort
- decelerates joint degeneration
- provides emotional calming from stress, anxiety and depression
- enables increased relaxation and a sense of well-being
- improves muscle movement and range of motion
- provides relief from the chronic pain and discomfort through endorphin release
- reverses muscle atrophy from inactivity or disuse
- helps to improve digestion
- helps to transition dogs and their owners with end of life care
“Rescue” dogs have often suffered from abuse, neglect or emotional trauma, so they experience psychological stress. Dog massage:
- focuses on the nervous system to provide emotional calming from stress, anxiety, depression and boredom from shelter life
- accustoms sensitive or fearful animals to human touch
- enhances bonding with newly adopted dogs and their owners
- boosts trust and mood elevation
- increases relaxation and a sense of well-being
- reduces blood pressure
- increases blood flow to help alleviate physical and emotional pain
When an animal is less stressed and in good health, it’s more likely to be adopted. Massage is highly beneficial for providing relief to ensure a healthier, happier life for abused, neglected and emotionally traumatized pups.
It’s not only after trauma or an injury that dogs benefit from massage. Dog massage can also be an important preventative measure to keep an active dog healthy.
For example, a dog performing agility at its peak can be susceptible to repetitive stress injuries due to the speed and the quick, jerky movements.
In these cases, dog massage:
- warms the muscles and prepares the dog for intense activity, which increases performance
- improves muscle memory and joint flexibility
- strengthens the body by stimulating the muscles, which decreases risk from injury
- enhances blood flow and oxygenation, while improving body balance and movement
- reduces recovery time between events and can present early detection of performance issues
- reduces inflammation and increases relaxation for sore, fatigued muscles
These are just some examples of the extraordinary benefits provided to dogs through canine massage, but there are countless ways in which massage can help our four-legged friends.
Keep in mind that rehabilitation and professional sports massages should be performed by a Canine Massage Practitioner who is certified in Performance Massage and Rehabilitation Massage. However, owners/handlers can be taught safe, non-invasive strokes to help keep their dog(s) warmed up and limber between sessions.
3 Basic Dog Massage Strokes
Use these dog massage techniques at home to help your dog heal.
All massages should start out with “passive touch”, which is simply placing your hands on the dog’s body and holding them there for several seconds up to a few minutes, to help warm up the tissues and get the blood circulating.
In cases where the dog is unfamiliar with the practitioner (ie a new handler, in the case of a canine athlete), it allows the dog to get accustomed to their touch. If the dog becomes restless or uncomfortable with this approach, simply start providing gentle strokes, like effleurage, to help calm him.
Effleurage is a slow gliding movement using the entire palm and closed fingers with a continuous motion along the dog’s body. It helps the circulation of blood and lymph fluids to warm the tissues and to help calm the dog, and should be used at the beginning and at the end of a massage session.
Petrissage is a kneading motion, using the thumb and first two or three fingers, forming small, overlapping half circles. Using a slow, rhythmic pace, it compresses and squeezes the tissues up and away from bone and muscle. Touch is constant and helps to boost circulation and oxygenation by separating the muscle fibres and draining the toxins.
It is important that you perform effleurage and petrissage very slowly with even pressure to avoid causing nerve irritation, which can make the dog feel uneasy. A rule of thumb that I tend to follow is, “If you think you’re going slowly … go slower!”
Massage has been relieving people of chronic pain, stress and muscle tension for over 5,000 years, while canine massage has developed in North America over the past thirty to forty years.
Humans experience the benefits of massage from registered massage therapists for soft tissue strains, anxiety, digestive disorders, myofascial pain and sports injuries, just to name a few, and now dogs can experience similar benefits from certified canine massage practitioners. Whether you have a show dog, an elderly dog, an athlete or simply a beloved canine companion, massage can offer relief or relaxation for man’s (and woman’s!) best friend. And as more people understand the benefits that massage can provide for their dogs, the more dogs will experience longer, happier, healthier lives!
Canine massage isn’t a substitute for veterinary care. As a complementary therapy, it can help to maintain your dog’s health and can help shorten recovery time from illness, injury or surgery.