Nothing says pampering like a full-body massage. It works out all the kinks and knots, it stimulates blood flow, it soothes sore muscles and it calms and relaxes. But these benefits aren’t just for people – our dogs can get all the same perks from a massage. The best thing is you don’t have to take your pooch to an over-priced spa to get a doggie massage – you can do it yourself! We’re going to give you some valuable tips on how to master the art of dog massage.
How to massage your dog
Dog massage involves the same techniques that are used on humans. There’s effleurage (long, slow strokes), friction (pressure without moving the skin) percussion (drumming with the fingers or hands), and petrissage (kneading). You can use all four on Fido. You can massage the entire body (with a few exceptions) or concentrate on special spots–or even on a cupuncture points, if you’re familiar with them.
What to do:
- Have your dog lie down on a soft but firm surface–no pillows or cushions that may cause the dog to twist or bend in unexpected ways.
- Start with soft, slow strokes from head to tail.
- Scratch behind the ears, rub along the cheeks and under the chin, over the nose, between the eyes. Always use light pressure and small, circular strokes–nothing fast, hard, or abrupt.
- When you move to the neck, shoulders, and chest, it’s perfectly fine to gather small folds of loose skin for a gentle pinch. You can use three fingers on each side of the leg, too, rubbing softly in opposite directions. You can even give the paws a prolonged and gentle squeeze, if your dog is comfortable with having his or her feet handled (not all are).
- Walk your thumb and index finger down the length of the spine–not on the spine, but along the long muscles on each side.
- Squeeze the tail–don’t pull, but squeeze, gently and firmly, from base to tip.
- End with those long, slow strokes again.
- Throughout the massage, take your time. When your dog is ready for it to end–he’ll make it clear, usually by becoming restless or uncooperative–stop immediately.
What not to do:
- Don’t force it.
- Don’t wear out your welcome.
- Never massage a dog you don’t know well.
- Don’t pull or jerk a dog’s ears, tail, whiskers, or fur.
- Avoid pressing at all on the stomach; you could damage internal organs.
Bear in mind that not all dogs enjoy massage, so you need to pay close attention to your dog’s reactions as you proceed. Keep an eye out for these particular behaviors, all of which are telling you to stop now:
- Growling or snarling
- Flinching or yelping
- Even the slightest nip
- Flattened ears, twitching eyebrows
- Tensing or holding of breath
- Sidelong looks, rolling eyes
Remember, this is supposed to be enjoyable for everyone involved. If your dog isn’t having a good time, what’s the point? And don’t forget: keep it light and gentle. Serious, deep massage should only be done by a trained and certified practitioner whom you trust. If all goes well–and it probably will–you may find you’ve put your dog right to sleep by the end of the session. And that’s a good thing.
In just ten minutes a day, you can give your dog a “maintenance” massage. Use a flat palm to slowly touch all the parts of your dog’s body. Really focus on what you are feeling and pay attention to all the layers, from hair through skin, fat, muscle, and down to bone. Meanwhile, Liverlover is basking in the attention and loving the extra “petting.” However, there is more to these massages than just quality time together. After a few days, you will have a clear picture of what is normal for your dog’s body. In future sessions, you will be quick to notice any differences in surface temperature, sensitivity to touch, localized swelling or muscle tension, poor coat quality or tight skin. Left undetected, these things can lead to problems requiring medical care, medications, or even surgery. Knowing what feels normal for your dog can also help you provide better information for your veterinarian, trainer, or massage practitioner. This is one way that regular massage can add to the length and quality of your pet’s life.
Warm-Up Massage for Active Dogs
If you work out or play a sport, you’ve likely been told many a time that warming up your body is a vital part of your fitness routine. Active dogs that compete, run, hike with their owners, or just play hard also deserve a good warm-up, and it may even prevent injury. Start with several minutes of petting strokes over your dog’s entire body. Briskly rub the large muscles (neck, shoulders, buttocks, and thighs) with the heel of your hand. Gently lift and squeeze the muscles. The technique is a lot like kneading bread dough. Wrap your fingers around each lower leg and squeeze gently. Relax your grip and move up Warm-up for active dogs the leg gradually, squeezing as you go. Finish with more petting over the entire body to stimulate the nerves.
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