No matter how devoted you are to your dog, you may feel that giving your furry friend a dog massage is taking it a bit too far. However, there are many benefits of giving your dog a relaxing massage.
From spotting potential health risks to calming a nervous dog, massage not only provides a powerful bonding experience but can significantly improve the overall wellbeing of your dog.
The benefits of dog massage
The benefits of massage are well established, and many people keep regular appointments as part of their ongoing health regime.
Our dogs are no different when it comes to reaping the benefits of this ancient healing tool. Massage can help relieve stress, increase circulation, relax sore and stiff muscles, and aid in the recovery of illness.
Not only that but touching and stroking your dog releases a powerful hormone called Oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the love drug, as it creates deep feelings of affection and attachment.
The good news is that not only is your dog getting a blast of Oxytocin while being massaged, but you are too, thereby increasing your bond.
So massage is an excellent way to maintain or improve the health of your dog. Not only that, you are more likely to notice any problems or changes to your dog’s skin, coat or body, enabling you to tackle any potential issues promptly.
Why massage is good for your dog
- Reduces stress. We aren’t the only ones to suffer from stress and anxiety. Our dogs can become anxious over any number of things. How many dogs could benefit from feeling a bit more relaxed on bonfire night, for example?
- Relaxes muscles. Massage can help relax and soften overused or injured muscles. Dogs are just as prone to muscle stiffness as we are. Repetitive movements like jumping in and out of a car or pulling on a lead can result in sore or damaged muscles and tendons.
- Promotes flexibility. Older dogs or dogs with conditions like arthritis can benefit from gentle massage as it helps relieve pain and increase flexibility and motion in the joints.
- Increases circulation. Massaging your dog enhances blood flow to the organs and skin, aiding digestion, boosting immunity and decreasing blood pressure.
- Helps with healing. Pain, swelling and sprains all reduce and heal quicker with a massage. Atrophied muscles also become stronger with regular sessions.
- Wellbeing. If you’ve ever had a massage and enjoyed it, you will know that you feel good for some time afterwards. Our dogs experience a similar feeling and benefit from that sense of wellbeing for a while after their treatment.
- Bonding. Massage is a great way to bond with your dog (if your dog enjoys it) and strengthen your relationship.
When to seek professional help
With so many advantages of having a good massage, you may be tempted to go and grab your dog now for a quick rub down. But there are times when you should not try to massage your dog at home massage but seek professional help.
If you notice your dog displaying any of the following symptoms, then it may be worth talking to your vet or a massage therapist;
- Slowing down or unwillingness to walk
- Trouble getting in or out of the car
- Nibbling or biting a particular area
- Change in posture or limping
- Twitches in the skin when touched
- Difficulty in going up or downstairs
- Appearing old before their time
- Disinterest in play
- Not wanting to be touched in certain areas
Also, if your dog is injured, is recovering from surgery, or is in pain, it is better to take them to a certified therapist for a dog massage.
Research any practitioner thoroughly and ask for qualifications, experience and testimonials. Because you are putting your dog in the care of someone you don’t know so make sure that both you and your dog are comfortable with them and their expertise.
Home dog massage
For most dogs and most occasions, a relaxing home massage is good enough. If this is your first time massaging your dog, remember that it should be an enjoyable experience for both of you.
Although massage providing a way of reducing tension and stress, not every dog enjoys being touched. So it’s essential that you listen to and watch your dog for any signs of distress or discomfort and stop the session if you notice any of the following signals.
- Hard stare
- Flattened ears
- Attempts to move away
- Nipping or snarling
- Whale eye ( when a dog shows the whites of its eyes)
Always respect what your dog is trying to tell you. Not only will it make your dog’s life a lot more comfortable, but it can also potentially prevent any issues further down the line.
Dog massage techniques
As long as your dog is happy to be touched, the techniques used for both human and canine massage are the same. There are several different types of stroke that you can use. Once you’ve mastered them, you may notice that your dog has a preference for one over the others.
Since there is no rule to say that you have to use them all so stick with the ones that your dog enjoys.
- Long, gliding strokes
- Kneading and rolling
- Tapping or slapping gently
- Gentle pressure or squeezing
Always start gently. If your dog enjoys the massage, you can always experiment with the pressure once your dog has got used to it.
How to give your dog a massage
Like us, our dog’s need to be in a good frame of mind before we start. If they are in a middle of a game or have just finished their breakfast, it may not be the best time to offer them a canine massage.
Ideally, you want your dog to lie flat on a firm but soft surface. You can work the whole of your dog’s body. Alternatively, you can focus on particular areas where you know your dog already likes to be stroked, like the chest or shoulders.
Your aim isn’t to give your dog a deep tissue massage but rather to use gentle pressure to help your dog relax and feel comfortable.
- Begin with long, gentle strokes (Effleurage) using the palm of your hand. Run your hands over your dog’s head and body. Pay attention to any areas that feel different, like lumps, bumps or hot spots.
- Using gentle kneading and rolling motions. Work your way slowly over areas that may have built up tension. Shoulders, chest and spine are all common areas of muscle tightness.
- Use a compression technique to relax your forearms by holding your dog’s legs between your palms and pressing gently.
- Gentle tapping or slapping on your dog’s larger muscle groups, such as the back legs and shoulders, effectively releases tension as long as your dog doesn’t object.
- If your dog is comfortable, include their paws in the massage using gentle pressure or rolling strokes. Beware your dog’s natural kick reflex, though.
- Be extra careful working along your dog’s back as the spine can be a tender area.
Below is a great video showing the basic techniques and tips of how to massage your dog, but notice the dog look up both times as the massage moves towards the base of the tail.
This movement may indicate that it is an area that the dog does not like touched, or it could just be an area of tension. For the most part, though, the dog looks relaxed and seems to be enjoying the experience.
When to stop a dog massage
Remember that a dog massage aims to relax your dog. If your dog is showing signs of discomfort, then discontinue the massage.
Never try to force your dog into a massage session. Just like us, some days they may fancy a bit of downtime and other days they won’t. It’s always better to leave your dog wanting more than outstay your welcome. Shorter, more frequent sessions are better than fewer but longer sessions.
Always use gentle pressure, especially around the face, neck and stomach. Your massage stroke should not be any firmer than your usual petting touch, and in some cases, it should be a lot lighter. Although it should go without saying, never try to massage a dog you don’t know very well. Imagine how you would feel if a near-stranger walked up to you and started putting their hands all over you!
Even with a dog, you know well, be on the lookout for signs that your dog is not enjoying the experience or wants you to stop. You can’t force your dog to relax, and you don’t want to put them in a position where they feel they have to tell you to back off.
Dog massage roundup
Around forty-five per cent of your dog’s body weight is a muscle, with over seven hundred of them working to produce basic movement. It’s no wonder that our dogs may benefit from the occasional massage.
Massages provide much-needed relaxation to sore or tight muscles. As well as providing a relaxing and immune-boosting bonding experience for both you and your dog, it can also help calm anxious and nervous dogs, making them feel more comfortable. So if you have time and your dog is a willing partner, why not massage your dog and both gain the benefits of this ancient relaxation technique.