by Lisa Sellman
A dog that has chewed up a couch and aggressively bites everything; a scared and submissive dog that is freighted of everything and everyone; a puppy that won’t settle; what do all of these have in common – they were transformed by Canine Massage.
When I started taking Canine Massage classes 10 years ago, I wanted a way to connect with dogs that I trained. I have became a believer that dogs respond to touch in a profound way. I now offer Canine Massage in my business and teach people how they can massage their dogs for a deeper bond. It is so fun to see a dog change in a mere afternoon with the right techniques. The following are tips for you to give your own dog a massage and the key areas to concentrate on.
As with a human massage, you want to continue contact with your dog during the massage. To start, get in a comfortable position. In the beginning, you may be unsure and your dog maybe nervous. I would suggest 5 or 10 minutes at first, depending upon your dog’s response, then you can continue longer in the future. Let your dog tell you where they want you to start at. I usually begin at a neutral location such as the front, right shoulder. The dog may be placed on a blanket on the floor or for smaller dogs, I usually put a blanket on a table. You can also just sit on the couch with the dog as you try some techniques.You are ready to begin as you take a relaxing and cleansing breath in and out. Breath is very important and can help your dog relax as you relax.
Shoulder: With your right hand on the chest, use your left hand to slowly with a little pressure, brush the shoulder in a downward and gentle motion. We are focusing our intention on helping the dog to relax. Do this for a few minutes and watch your dogs eyes soften and relax.
Legs: Concentrating on helping them ground. I start with the area under the arm pit with my hand completely around the leg. I raise the leg upwards and slowly go downwards with this skin several times as I culminate at the feet. I often go down the legs many times as they really like getting their legs touched. Sometimes the dog is standing and sometimes they will be laying down. Whatever they want is fine and you just adjust your stance.
Feet: The feet are very important. Some dogs do not like their feet touched because of nail trims or other reasons. That is why it is so wonderful to make it an enjoyable experience for them. They may just surprise you as they let you trim their nail, again. I massage the pads of the feet and go in between the pads. If they really don’t like it, I only stay for as long as they allow.
Stomach: Just as we feel fear in our stomach, dogs do as well. We can help the dog with their fears easily by working with the stomach. A relaxed and confidant dog should have a loose stomach. If your dog’s stomach is tight, try the following. Put one hand on the back and one hand on the stomach. Slowly breathe in as you raise your hand on the stomach. Then slowly exhale as you lower the hand. Do this many times. If it is a larger dog, you may use a towel that is placed on the stomach and raised and lowered with the breath. This is quite important for the hips, as well, with older dogs. You can move your hand backwards on the stomach and move the towel, also.
Tail: The tail is actual an extension of the back and has vertebrates within the tail. The tail is extremely important for fearful dogs as well as overly confidant dogs. Sometimes how they hold their tail has became a habit which influences their behavior. A tucked tail is fearful while a straight up tail can be dominant. With massaging the tail, we just want to help loosen it so it can hang naturally.
To begin, place your index finger on the tail and your thumb underneath. Do a small circle with your hand and move the tail gently. Now go vertebra by vertebra towards the tip of the tail. Raise your hand up and down as you move slowly out the tail. You can do this many times if your dog likes it. Then shake out the tail sideways as you get to the tip. It is really interesting to see how the behavior can change from fear to confidence just with the tail. If your dog does not like it’s tail massaged, just work on touching the hind quarters more and more until you can work towards massaging.
Back: Along the vertebrae, put both thumb and finger and run them along the spine. It is so relaxing for your dog. Just do it lightly and watch them love it. You should use this technique going from the neck to the tail.
Neck: Because of the leash and collar, I like to spend a lot of time on the neck. If they seem to have a problem, you may want to get a harness so there is not tension on the neck. I use my entire hand and just massage the neck. They love it and will often stare into space and relax. Make sure you go all around the neck for the full benefit.
Mouth: Just like people who are stressed and may suffer from TMJ, be pencil chewers, or cigarette smokers, dogs show their tension in their life in their mouth. Often, the mouth can be very tight in the corners. To alleviate this stress, they will chew on anything they can. Dogs enjoy chewing but when it is a destructive pattern, it must be stopped and curtailed.
For the mouth, there is an acupuncture point right underneath our nose and also on dogs. If you can touch that, place your finger there and gently do small circles with a nice amount of pressure. Slowly move to stroking the cheek, one side at a time. You may also go above the nose slowly with pressure towards the forehead. Once they are relaxed, you may massage their gums and stretch the skin on the corners of their mouth. This is especially nice for teething puppies.
With all of these techniques, it will be up to your dog to tell you how you are doing as the massage therapist. Dogs are so receptive to touch that it is quite fascinating but may take a few sessions to figure out your dog’s favorite positions. Good luck and keep touching your dog. The bond that is formed is a transformation for you and your dog.
Lisa Sellman is a Dog Trainer, Canine Massage Therapist, and Pet Care Professional in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Should you have any questions about Canine Massage or Dog Training, please contact her at (952) Good-Dog or GoodDogMN@gmail.com. Her website is www.GoodDogMN.com