Canine Massage: A Healthy Secret Weapon for Dogs

dog head resting on a human lap

 

When you spend quality time with dogs you get to know how they like to be touched. Some prefer scratches over pets, others like long strokes better than pats. These are the little details I asked pet owners during client interviews as a pet sitter, collecting intel to help pets feel at ease. Little did I know I was learning some of the basics for canine massage.

Canine massage is more than a modality for ill or arthritic dogs that are struggling – it’s a hands-on wellness tool that provides a variety of physical and mental health benefits for dogs of all ages, including:

  • Relaxation
  • Increased oxygenation
  • Pain relief
  • Improved joint flexibility and reduced stiffness
  • Healthy immune system
  • Increased circulation
  • Endorphin release
  • Increased toxin excretion
  • Injury recovery
  • Increased range of motion and enhanced muscle tone
  • Improved athletic performance and endurance
  • Posture maintenance and balance
  • Improved mental focus and attitude
  • Healthy skin and coat by distributing natural oils

Hmm, sounds pretty similar to humans, right? Well, except for the shiny healthy coat part – unless you are a particularly hairy person. But I digress…

A Little History Truthbomb on Canine Massage

Canine massage actually dates back to the early periods of dog domestication. According to Wikipedia:

“The first known documentation of massage was in 2700 BC in China. In fact, animal bodies were charted in India during the development of varmalogy, resulting in what we refer to as trigger points. Massage techniques continued to develop throughout history and are mentioned in the early writings of the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Turks, Persians, and Japanese. Early Egyptian hieroglyphics even depicted ‘animal healers’ using massage techniques.” 

My thought is that people noticed massaged worked for them, so why not try it on animals too?

Jill massaging some malamutes

Jill Reynolds, owner of Canine Massage of the Rockies working on her Alaskan Malamute clients.

 

The Massage Technique Must Match the Animal

While canine massage is a totally different animal (pun intended), the most important skill for any canine massage therapist is to be good at reading the signs a dog gives about how they like to be touched. To learn more about canine massage as a practice, I caught up with Jill Reynolds, owner of Canine Massage of the Rockies. She’s been working professionally with dogs for over 10 years and trained at the Boulder College of Massage Therapy, which offers a certification in canine massage.

“People doing canine massage need to be trained specifically in the physiology of dogs. It’s very important for any pet owner to check certifications and ensure their massage therapist has graduated from a school that has been approved by the Colorado Veterinary Board, unless they are under the direct supervision of a vet,” says Reynolds.

Signs your Dog Might Need a Massage Sooner Rather Than Later

Canine massage is fine for puppies as well as senior dogs. Here are a few indicators that a massage may be a good first step:

  • The dog is more tired than normal, seems sore or is favoring a leg
  • A pet is recovering from an injury, strain or sprain or torn ligament
  • A dog has hit senior status: big dogs older than 8, small dogs older than 12

senior dog blonde retriever

Working with a Canine Massage Therapist to Maximize your Pet’s Health

Before she starts working with a pet client, Reynolds always gets in touch with their vet. This way she can ask very specific questions about the dog’s health that a client may overlook, or learn a bit more about the dog’s big picture health history.

“I want to talk with the vet to find out if there’s a history of cancer, circulation issues, movement challenges, etc. for a pet. When you can collaborate with the vet and other health professionals like acupuncturists, you are making sure the dog gets the best care, and may even be able to reduce their required medications,” says Reynolds.

“When I get started with clients I always do a gait analysis. I have the owner trot the dog in circles, then in reverse and in a few other directions to reveal any restrictions in their gait. I look to see if they have problems flexing a muscle or leg. Even more important, I want to see if there is a problem where the pain is, or if it’s a referred pain and the animal is compensating.”

dog walking himself on a leash

Reynolds works with clients in their home to reduce the stress on the animal, especially if they are older or injured. “I try to work with dogs in their favorite spot in the home, like where they hang out and watch television with you. It’s also great to have a pet buddy sit by them while I work if that’s something the dog prefers,” adds Reynolds. If other pets are a distraction they must be removed, and that includes owners as well. Too much fidgeting and noise isn’t helpful for the dog.”

Reynolds also pointed out that while a canine massage therapist gets to know your dog well, they are not certified to talk with you about specific types of medical treatment. “They can encourage general healthy lifestyle things like creating a walking plan, overall diet suggestions or wellness plan for your particular pet, but no specific medical advice,” says Reynolds. “Massage should never be a substitute for veterinary care.”

two dogs asleep cheek to cheek

Things to Keep in Mind for your Dog After the Massage

  • More water
  • Get in a gentle walk
  • Make sure they get lots of rest
  • Do any massage homework the therapist suggests away from meal time
  • Implement any adaptations to make the home more accessible for your pet – carpet runners, a harnesses for help with the stairs, putting a bowl up higher

“I always give clients homework. It’s not just to improve the dog’s physical wellness, but to help create a stronger connection between the pet and owner. I find out how the dog likes to be touched, including the type of touch, length, speed and pressure, then teach the client how to do work on their pet. Animals have preferences just like people, and I can help with that guidance.”

Photo credit for dogs cheek to cheek: thedogssoup.io, Dog walking himself: Blake Facey, For old blonde retriever Chris Williamson

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  • Sue Carroll

    Love the cheek to cheek picture. Jill is top notch. She provided massage for a couple of my dogs when they were aging and had health problems. She did wonders and they absolutely loved her!