In a previous article I introduced the Why’s and Benefits of dog massage. Here I’ll follow up with how to do dog massage, including three of the most basic and effective moves you can do for your dog.
Putting the Moves On Your Dog
You probably already do some version of these moves subconsciously. That’s because your dog guides you. You just have to pay attention. For instance, when your dog cuddles up on the couch next to you, where does your hand go automatically? When you find your hand nudged firmly upward by your dog’s nose, where does your hand land on your dog’s head? I know in my own practice, that the more adept you get at reading your dog’s signals, the easier it is to know what he or she is telling you she needs in terms of massage.
Any member of the family can massage their companion animals. I always include teaching the owner in my initial sessions with a dog. One Labrador Retriever’s family now take turns (dad, mom, teenage son) massaging their dog on a regular basis. That’s one pampered pooch! It helps that the dad is a physiotherapist too, though I didn’t know that until part way through the session when he asked if dogs have a clavicle (collarbone). They don’t by the way.
I’ve coached one mom with a mentally challenged daughter on how to massage their dog who was recuperating from knee surgery. The daughter now delights in doing ‘her special move’ whenever their dog sits beside her.
Why do I give my secrets away? The more you do your homework, the faster the dog will heal from surgery; keep mobile; or experience a more comfortable old age. I suggest doing at home daily, even twice daily, short massages to augment regular monthly visits to me for a full professional massage and ongoing assessment. Isn’t the point of holistic bodywork, to get the dog feeling better, faster?
Top three dog massage moves
1) Still Holds: that’s right, just holding your dog. The key is for you to relax, focus and breathe. Ground yourself first so there are no distractions (gentle relaxing music is fine). This time is for you and your dog. Then, using both hands, place one on your dog’s chest and one on the withers (the upper back near the dog’s collar). If your dog moves away, beckon again and let him or her come back to you. Never force a massage. You want them to have a positive association with this type of touch. Breathe in and out. Then go to other areas, like withers and rump (just before the tail), mid back and belly, over each shoulder, over each hip.
2) Broad Strokes: using a relaxed, open hand, stroke lightly down either side of the spine. Go slowly. Pressure should be as light as it feels for you to place your fingers over one of your closed eyes. Lighter is actually better.
3) The Wave: move your hands like you are doing a Hawaiian dance, waving your fingers in large, scooping motions. Now do this at the back of the neck on your dog so the tissues become loose and malleable beneath your fingers.
That’s it. Simple, right? My professional massage protocols can involve up to eight different strokes, depending on what the dog requires. With an additional three if I add acupressure techniques.
How to Do Dog Massage
Nothing beats learning massage through a ‘hands-on’ method. If you want to have a fuller understanding and learn more skills to round out how to give a basic, feel good massage for your dog, take my workshop, “Dog Massage 101” coming up this month in downtown Toronto at the industREAL arts room, held on two consecutive Thursday nights May 22 and 29 from 6:30 – 8pm.
In this in depth workshop you will learn how to read stress signals that indicate pain; dog anatomy, body mechanics, the kind of strokes and assessment tools to soothe typical areas of tension. Note that this is not a course to treat a lameness issue or injury. But you’ll know when you do need to see a specialist.
For other upcoming workshops around the Golden Horseshoe of Southern Ontario, go to www.fourpawswellness.com and visit the workshops page.
I also give short talks for interested groups, or will teach a workshop at your venue.