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Hands Healing Hounds: The Power of Canine Massage

Pet Health and Safety  •   Jasey Day  •   Jul 12, 2019

People get massages after a hard work-out at the gym or post-competition - why shouldn’t dogs get them, too?

Benefits of Dog Massage

Canine massage has many benefits. Through direct work on the dog’s soft tissues, canine massage can improve blood flow, alleviate stress, reduce pain, relax tight and sore muscles, and help heal sprains and strains! In addition, many believe it also strengthens the immune system, improves digestion, and lowers blood pressure. Many owners use massage in conjunction with canine conditioning and chiropractic adjustments.

Learn more from two providers in the Q&A below. Dee Close is a Certified Small Animal Massage Therapist (CSAMT) through Doggone U and owns K9 Massage Matters in Rhode Island. Richard Seltzer is a Small Animal Massage Practitioners (SAMP) through the Northwest School of Animal Massage (NSWAM) and owns Hands Helping Paws Canine Massage in Oregon. These providers are also avid canine sports competitors and Certified Canine Fitness Trainers (CCFTs).

1. In addition to the benefits mentioned above, what other benefits does canine massage provide?

Dee: I feel that massage also strengthens the bond between humans and their animals. It also enhances mental alertness and improves the overall well-being of the animal both physically and emotionally.

Richard: Massage also helps move fluids through the lymph system to remove “bad stuff” (technical term haha). Massage is used post-surgery to help the healing process as well and can be used in conjunction with rehab under veterinary guidance.  

2. Which massage techniques do you perform? How do you determine what type of massage technique to do on the dog?

Dee: I utilize numerous techniques from Swedish, Deep Tissue, and Shiatsu methods. The Swedish techniques, such as effleurage and petrissage, warm up the muscle and surrounding fascial tissues. I use skin rolling to release myofascial restrictions of the skin and superficial muscles. Deep tissue techniques, such as cross fiber friction and trigger point treatment, are used to release and lessen deeper muscular adhesions and myofascial restrictions. I use some methods such as pin and stretch to encourage elongation of shortened, tight muscles. The methods and techniques I use are based on my evaluation of the dog’s gait, weight-bearing stance, passive range of motion of the joints, and what I feel with my hands.

Richard:  I use myofascial release and several different massage strokes. I don’t use one specific technique. I work with trigger and stress points often with my performance canine clients, and slow, gentle, full body massage for the seniors.

3. What are the most common reasons or conditions that owners decide to get massage for their dogs?

Dee: The two main reasons I see clients are for competition events and for arthritis and old injuries that keep plaguing the dogs. During competitions, such as agility, I help them warm up with a pre-competition massage and to cool down in post-competition. The most common conditions I come across in dog athletes are shoulder injuries and psoas injuries. For the older or retired dogs that have some medical conditions, it is important for the dogs to maintain what range of motion they have and to prevent any further loss of mobility.

Richard: Their dog is not performing the way they think they should at a performance event, their dog is a senior citizen and they simply want to help them feel better, and veterinary referral. I often work with a vet that comes to many of the same agility trials as I do. She does chiropractic adjustments and then often sends them to me to be massaged to help the muscles leave the bones where she put them. I am also working with a local vet who does chiropractic and acupuncture; she wants to watch me do conditioning and massage with a common canine client that is doing IPO performance work – the owner is also a veterinarian.

4. Who are the majority of your canine clients? Dog athletes? Senior dogs? Dogs recovering from certain ailments?

Dee: My clients are a mixture of dog athletes, seniors, and some with a history of past injuries that have been released from rehab. 

Richard: Canine athletes and senior dogs.

5. That are some of the less common reasons or conditions for which you perform massage therapy?

Dee: A less common reason I come across is for the dog just to see how they deal with it and for the owner to see the dog’s reaction and results from the massage. More or less to just try it out and see how the dog is afterwards. Most people are impressed on how calm their dog is afterwards, especially the dog that will not settle and is always on edge.

Richard: Vet referral after laser and/or rehab treatments.

6. How do you handle a client dog who is restless or overly excited?

Dee: I will apply acupressure to the points that are for calming and balancing emotions. They are along the energy meridians that flow through the body and can be “blocked” or stuck and need to be released through stimulating the points manually - like acupuncture without the needles. I also set the intention to calm and connect to the animal energetically through Reiki.

Richard: I have the owner rub their ears and muzzle or, if the owner isn’t there, I allow the dog to be restless and follow them around the area, room or pop up. etc. I tend to not use a table with dogs that I don’t know and are restless. I won’t “force” them to be massaged.

7. What drives the frequency of massages? What frequency do you recommend for most clients?

Dee: Massage frequency is based on the dog’s condition, the owner’s financial state, and what the veterinarian recommends if the veterinarian is involved due to an injury. I recommend, as a minimum, a monthly maintenance massage to maintain overall well-being. If in competition, my recommendation is more frequent massages to help prevent injuries at the frequency the owner can afford. I recommend at least a pre- and post-competition massage for each event day. 

Richard: Frequency that I recommend depends on the reason they are being massaged and also the owners’ situation.   With senior dogs, I like to massage twice a month if they are otherwise in good shape. For dogs that have been injured, I work with their vet to determine a frequency. Most massages I do are at agility trials and there, if the dog is not injured, frequency is simply based on convenience.

8. Massage is a specialized skill that requires training. What are some of the most popular and credible massage certifications and/or education providers?

Dee: Here are two certification programs that I recommend - Doggone U at Bancroft School of Massage Therapy  and

Tallgrass Animal Acupressure Institute.

Richard: When I was researching where I wanted to train, I looked at one in Ohio and one on the East Coast that specialized in horses but also offered canine massage. Several of the programs I looked at required only online work and sending in videos of massaging canines. I chose NWSAM because, in addition to online bookwork, they required a 5-day in-person practical with dogs and owners I have never met. They required me to massage new clients with the instructor watching and asking questions.

9. How should dog owners find a quality practitioner and what should they consider when selecting a masseur?

Dee: Other CSAMPT graduates are listed here and I also recommend looking at the National Board Certification for Animal Acupressure and Massage website for board certified practitioners who are required to take 20 CEU’s every two years to maintain this type of certification.

Richard: SAMP graduates are also listed on a site. If there is not one near you, search Facebook or do a web search for canine massage. Ask your veterinarian, local daycare, boarding or other canine professionals.  

10. What else would you like to tell owners about canine massage?

Dee:  Massage is a wonderful modality to improve and maintain health and well-being for their dog and themselves.  I wholeheartedly recommend a massage regiment for their dog’s health.

Richard: Canine massage is an underutilized, but very powerful modality for healing that can be used in conjunction with veterinarian care, and rehab - just like with people! Massage is not only helpful for our canine athletes, but also the weekend warriors, and especially our seniors.

11. What are your favorite things about being a canine massage therapist?

Dee: I love the connection I make with each dog I put my hands on.  I learn something from each of them. Knowing I give them joy and help them to feel better is the gift they give me.

Richard: Helping my canine friends feel better, perform better and the response I get when I perform a massage after the first one.  Often times during the first massage, the dog can be apprehensive, as they do not know me - but to see them pull their owner to the massage bed the next time is priceless!

Moving Forward with Canine Massage

Now that you’re equipped with knowledge about canine massage, ensure that it is legal in your state – the International Association of Animal Massage & Bodywork provides a summary here. If it is, check your pet insurance policy – AKC Pet Insurance offers policies that can cover massage if it is prescribed by a veterinarian to treat a specific condition! 



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