How to Massage Your Dog
Disclaimer: The information contain in this article "How to Massage Your Dog" is meant only for pet parents who wish to give their family dog a gentle massage. Please check with your vet before starting any program of massage for your dog. Massage is not a replacement for veterinary care. When in doubt, do not massage. Ask your vet! This article is meant for information purposes only. It does not replace a formal education in Canine Massage, nor does it replace advice given by licensed medical practitioners. Bev Spotton and Mobile Canine Care specifically disclaim any liability for any injury whatsoever incurred by those that read this article, as unlikely is the possibility. The reader assumes all possible risks and liabilities for the use of these techniques.
Before you start:
Do not massage your dog if s/he has:
Fever (ie feels hotter than normal), open wounds, infections, or has just had surgery.
If your dog has an autoimmune disease and/or is on medication for a condition, then please give your vet a quick call before you begin a program of regular massage, to make sure massaging your dog is okay.
If your dog has a diagnosis of congestive heart failure, massage is contraindicated.
Pregnancy – double check first
When in doubt, check with your vet
NB – do not massage just after your dog has eaten, and ideally let dog have opportunity to relieve itself before starting massage.
Purposefully and intentionally put yourself into a calm state before starting to massage your dog.
You can work sitting on the floor with your dog laying on the floor beside you, or you can work with your dog laying on the couch.
Get comfortable, and please make sure your dog is laying down and comfortable. If your dog won’t settle, then leave off trying to massage at that time, and try again later, or the next day.
Laying on of hands: simply put your hands on your dog where you know your pet is comfortable being touched. Let your hands rest quietly. Relax and just let your hands relax. And breathe! Smile a little! When your dog stays and relaxes, you can take that as permission granted to massage!
Start by using the back of your hand to gently trace along your dog’s body. Start at the back of his/her head, and gently trace along the spine and off the rump. If your dog is comfortable with his/her tail being touched, continue along the tail. If your dog has a docked tail, continue along where the tail would have been (this may seem odd - it is a Ttouch thing, and if you would like to know more about it, email me).
The back to the head, stroke again along the side of the body, off the back. Continue this way until you have gently traced a few areas of your dog’s body. If your dog is comfortable with having their paws touched, you can trace down their legs all the way off their paws.
Keep your movements fluid and graceful. Breathe.
Then, using the palm of your hand, do the same tracing-type movement, but this time, one each pass along an area of your dog’s body, notice how it feels. Concentrating on one sensation at a time, notice the 1) temperature (even? some coolness? some warmer areas?), 2) texture (soft? coarse? all the same? different in different areas?). Just notice - you are developing a map of your dog’s ‘normal’. As you do this more regularly, you will become attuned to what is usual for your pup.
Then, using both hands, begin to feel around – moving hands around dog’s body to really feel it – do slower movements – like your hands are searching – smallish circles give a good picture of tissues and textures – some areas you can try light squeezes (on limbs, for example). Intention: to become more familiar with what your dog’s body feels like normally.
As you go, name what you are feeling – this helps focus attention. For example: tissues underneath: springy/hard; fur texture: rough/smooth; temp: warm/cool; you can feel the bones distinctly/don't feel any bones distinctly, etc – naming them individually to start will develop your ability to assess more comprehensively.
Watch for your dog’s responses/calming signals. Click here to go to page that explains more about Calming Signals video for more information. That page also has a link to a video that gives a good demonstration and explanation.
You will be able to tell when your dog really likes what you are doing. Their eyes may start to droop, they may give a big sigh, they may start taking deeper breaths.
After you have been massaging for a few minutes, take both your hands off and just sit a minute. If your dog stays beside you or leans into you, or maybe licks your hand while you take this little pause, then continue on with the massage.
But if your dog gets up and moves away, give them a minute, then gently call them back (as an ask, not as a command). If they come back to you, then continue on. If they do not come back over, then they are letting you know that they have had enough for that session. Please respect that, and call it a day.
Once you’ve given your dog a good feel over (on the parts where he/she is comfortable, or the parts you have decided to work on that day, perhaps with some ‘stealth’ work on less comfortable areas).
Perhaps you noticed an area where the muscles felt a little tight. Put your hands there and start warming the tissue up by gently moving it around a bit. As it warms up, you may notice it becomes a little easier to work. So lean in a little more with your hands – you can stroke in one direction, or you can do gentle little squeeze/releases, making a pumping motion. Don't do this for too long - just a couple of minutes, to get things loosened up. Then use long strokes with a gentle pressure moving towards the heart (as best you can) to help move any fluid that may have been released out of the area you worked.
Any areas where you notice heat, take the heat off by imagining the heat as sticky taffy that you pull off and throw away.
Try skin rolling: lightly grasp a small handful of skin - over the rib cage is often the easiest and the most enjoyed. Moving your hand along, smooth out the skin. Only do it if skin comes up fairly easily. Not to be done on the soft tissues of the abdomen. Some dogs find this technique unpleasant - if yours is one, please don’t continue with it! There are lots of other things you can do…
Things to remember:
Remember to breath.
Stay in a comfortable position.
Do not massage lumps or lesions! Take note if you find a little lump or lesion while working on your dog. Do not massage the lump or lesion. Work around them. If the lump or lesion is new, and haven’t been checked by your vet, be sure to give your vet a call for advice.
Another special mention: Take special note if your dog signals to you that they are very uncomfortable with an area you are working on (and move your hands away from that area right away). If it is not an emergency issue (like a gaping wound – in which case you will want to get your dog to the vet ASAP), then do make an actual note clearly indicating where you were working (you may think you will remember without written notes, but trust me, written notes help a lot!). If it continues to be uncomfortable (for example, every time you work on it, your dog signals discomfort), you will want to mention it to the vet at your next visit. Your dog may signal discomfort different ways: nudging your hand away (a gentle signal), right up to turning back quickly and snapping (if their signal is this extreme, you will want to not touch it again and check in with your vet sooner rather than later).
A side note: taking annual pictures of your dog help you keep track of any overall changes generally. Take pics of your dog while dog is standing 1) facing dog’s left side, 2) right side, 3) looking at them from the front, 4) looking at them from the back, 5) standing over them looking down. Ideally, do this before your dog’s annual visit to the vet, and review the series before your annual visit. Mention to the vet if there is anything notable.
Supplementary to Dog Massage: Tellington Ttouch
Click here for a link to a sample lesson from Janet Finlay, a Ttouch Instructor, who has an online course.
This sample contains information for both the ear slide and a helpful touch called the zigzag, as well as a mouth touch that can be useful for soothing your dog. This sample lesson also contains some useful reading material.
For another lovely calming touch called the abalone, click here for a link to another Janet Finlay video (with apologies about the Xmas music at the beginning)
It also contains the heart hug touch, which is useful for calming yourself! One precaution – try first with one hand only, especially if you have low blood pressure. Do not continue if doing it makes you feel light-headed.
Questions, or want to know more? Do get in touch! 416 574-7797