Your dog loves affection in all forms, including massage. While non-dog lovers may scoff at the idea, massage therapy is a growing trend in pet care and it is having noticeable positive results. Dogs that enjoy being pet will enjoy massage. Therapeutic pet massage can alleviate stress, relax muscles, and lower blood pressure. It can also help you to bond with your pet and allow you the opportunity to better understand what is going on with him. As humans, we know first hand how relaxing and beneficial a massage is for us and the same holds true for your pet. It is important to perform the massage with a general knowledge of form and practice to ensure you do not scare or possibly harm your dog. A licensed dog trainer can assist you in your technique or in finding someone who specializes in massage therapy for dogs.
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The Root of the Behavior
More and more, veterinarians and trainers are looking to human therapies and treatments to expand their ability to help our furry friends. Massage therapy has already been proven to be effective in alleviating a plethora of problems from tight muscles, pain, anxiety, and lowering blood pressure in humans. Professionals in the dog world are finding the same results when it comes to your dog. Massaging your dog feels good to your dog, but also shortens the healing time of sprained ligaments and strained muscles. It strengthens the immune system, stimulates liver and kidney function, and improves circulation of the lymphatic and blood system. Massage therapy has also been shown to aid in digestion, reduce pain and swelling as well as scar tissue, improve movement and balance by strengthening your dog's proprioception (his body’s sense of where he is in the world), as well as reduce muscle spasms, tension, and stiffness. Massage therapy also helps to nourish his skin and coat.
When you massage your dog on a regular basis, you are providing yet another opportunity to bond with and get to know him. He will become more socialized in having hands laid on him and you will quickly learn which spots he needs you to focus on as well as spots to avoid. In massaging your dog, you will learn his skin, fur, muscles, and skeletal structure. Should he develop any problems, you will be more likely to feel them and notice them sooner and will be able to talk to your veterinarian about what you have discovered. Early detection of problems can decrease the level of medical interventions necessary as well as recovery time. Studies have also shown that people who give massages also experience a decrease in blood pressure and feelings of anxiety. Massaging your pet is almost as beneficial to you as it is to him. Massaging your pet also helps you provide support to him if he has an anxious personality with certain triggers. If a storm is coming, or it is Fourth of July, and loud sounds are a trigger for him, you can provide him a relaxing massage to help him get through.
Encouraging the Behavior
Massaging your dog can take as few as ten minutes a day. It is important that your dog is calm and in a submissive state when you start the massage. Starting when he is fearful could increase that emotion. Often a short walk is enough to get him in the mood. You can start with simple stroking, gently and with a flat open palm, from one end of his body to the other. You can start at the head; go over his body to the tail, and then down all four of his legs. Your next step is to use the effleurage stroke, which is a gliding stroke that uses medium pressure from the whole hand. This stroke focuses on the major muscles, and should always move towards your dog’s heart. Move from his tail to his torso, his toes towards his chest to keep the flow towards his heart. These strokes help the lymphatic system and can help alleviate fluid retention and swelling. For a deeper level of massage that focuses on knots in soft tissue and relieving more tension, use petrissage. This is the compressed kneading of the muscles. You can ‘roll’ his skin and watch his tail wag away. After he is warmed up, if you know he has injured certain areas, you can apply a gentle chopping motion or compression with your palm on those injured areas in a pumping motion. This often breaks up spasms and allows fluid to relieve the pain in the area. Throughout the massage, talk softly and soothingly to your dog. Watch him for signs of discomfort and stop if at any point he seems upset or uncomfortable. Some dogs can only tolerate massage for short periods of time, so start slowly and let his reaction guide you.
Other Solutions and Considerations
There are certain areas you need to be especially careful of when massaging your dog. When working on his back, do not press directly onto his spine. When working on his paws, note if he pulls away or kicks at you when you touch his paw pads. Dogs often do not like to be touched between their toe pads and have an automatic kick response to being touched there. Also, note if one or more legs begins kicking in a rapid fashion. You may be spending too much time in an area that is triggering his automatic kick reflex. His sensory system cannot handle the massage in that area and you may be making him uncomfortable. Always use caution in using massage on dogs that have open wounds, stress fractures, blood-clotting problems, or tumors. It is important to speak with your veterinarian if he has chronic health issues or unexplained pain before you start using massage. If his problems are behavioral, speak to a dog trainer about ways in which massage therapy can help. You can also ask your trainer if she is trained, or knows someone who is trained, in canine massage therapy techniques.
Dogs love massage therapy just as much as humans do. The benefits of massage therapy, which include decreased anxiety, relief from pain, and increased overall health, have been proven time and time again. Massaging your dog allows you another opportunity to bond as well as socialize him. In massaging your dog, you become familiar with what is normal and can therefore detect when something has changed that may need medical attention. Massage is something you can do it home, but there are also licensed professionals that can provide therapeutic massage and teach you how to work with your dog. He will love his belly rubs, and he will loves his massages even more.