It might surprise you to learn that humans aren’t the only ones who can benefit from the relaxation and relief offered by massage. Yes, it’s true; even dogs enjoy a good rubdown, and the emotional and physiological benefits are many.
So just what are the benefits of dog massage, how is it different from everyday petting, and how can you give your dog a massage at home? We’ll explore those questions and more here.
The Benefits of Dog Massage
According to Maryjean Ballner, a licensed massage therapist and author who specializes in cat and dog massage, all pets can benefit from massage.
“And all owners, pet parents, and pet guardians can benefit as well,” she says.
Massage not only offers an opportunity for you to bond with your dog and offer affection, attention, and interaction, it also has many physiological benefits, including:
- Increased blood flow, which is beneficial because blood delivers nutrients and removes waste
- Promotes lymph drainage, which can give a dog’s immune system a boost
- Relief of sore or stiff muscles
- Improved muscle tone and flexibility
In addition to these benefits, massage can also work wonders on dogs suffering from particular issues, such as fear-based aggression, anxiety, stress, or medical conditions such as hip dysplasia, arthritis, or an injury. However, you should always seek out a licensed practitioner if you are looking to treat a specific medical condition with massage.
“Find a therapist whose techniques are geared for your animal's specific medical condition,” says Ms. Ballner. You can search the International Association of Animal Massage Bodywork.
How Is Pet Massage Different Than Petting?
You may be thinking, “I pet my dog every day, isn’t that good enough?”
While petting your dog is a wonderful thing, it doesn’t serve the same purpose as massage.
“Petting tends to be random rubbing, while massage is conscious touch,” Ms. Ballner says. “Petting usually follows no pattern or guidelines, starts too quickly, and ends too abruptly for true comfort and bonding.”
Massage, on the other hand, is focused and deliberate.
How to Give Your Dog a Massage at Home
Ready to try giving your pup a soothing massage? Ms. Ballner recommends starting with “Four Magical Minutes.”
“We can all certainly find four minutes of focused attention for our beloved animals,” she says. “And, if possible, offer a massage session at the same time each day, so it creates a welcomed ritual that your [pet] will anticipate and you will enjoy.”
To give a dog massage:
1. Find a spot that your dog likes -- perhaps an area of the backyard, or their bed in the corner of the den. You can also let your dog pick the location. Perhaps Fido is already curled up on the couch? You can do the massage there.
2. Get your dog comfortable with a touch that you know they enjoy. Maybe your dog loves
scratches behind the ear or belly rubs. Ease your dog into the process with a touch they recognize.
3. From there, you can incorporate different massage techniques.“Massage pays attention to certain massage components,” says Ms. Ballner. “Hand parts, motions, pressures, and speeds.”
There are a number of different motions that you can incorporate into your massage, and over time you may find that your dog responds better to some than others. Pay attention to your dog’s body language and you can tailor-make the perfect massage for your pal. Some of Ms. Ballner’s tried-and-true techniques include:
- Shoulder Strumming: This is a good introductory stroke. Wave your fingertips or full palm back and forth on the shoulder area, like you are strumming a banjo. Begin slowly and as you see your dog easing into the motion, increase your speed and pressure. This is a great stroke to teach children who are just learning to interact with a new family dog.
- The Long Graceful Slide: Stroke with your fingertips from the base of the neck down the length of the back.
- Waving Down the Neckline: Stroke from side to side like a windshield wiper or like you are waving. Work this motion down the neck, back, and sides of the body.
- Chin Ups: Caress under and around the chin. Many dogs tip their heads back and bask in this motion -- they really like it!
4. Consider your speed. “Speeds are one of the most valuable components of the massage technique,” says Ms. Ballner, and “most people tend to touch too fast.”
Instead, offer a slow caress. To get an idea of how slow you should go, stroke your dog from the base of the neck to the tail and see how long it takes. Probably just a few seconds. For a massage, you’ll want to double that time.
5. Consider your pressure. At times a light touch may be more appropriate than a heavy
one. In general, you should always start your dog out with mild pressure and go deeper as the massage progresses. The deeper the pressure, the slower you should go.
6. Repetition, repetition, repetition! “When you find a technique your animal likes, repeat it, over and over and over,” says Ms. Ballner. “While we may get bored with repetition, repeated actions signify comfort and safety for our animals.”
Massage your dog every day and soon you’ll find that they are seeking out your loving touch!
You can learn more about Maryjean Ballner’s techniques and purchase her instructional videos and books at www.catmassage.com.
More on Bonding With Your Dog
Take Your Dog for a Ride
8 Ways to Love Your Pet This Valentine's Day
Cat and Dog Games