Another one of the many similarities between humans and our canine companions is that we can both benefit greatly from massage! Here, we’ll talk through the benefits of professional dog massage therapy and also detail a step-by-step guide to relaxing dog massage you can do at home with your best friend.
In this article:
- Benefits of dog massage therapy
- Before massaging your dog
- 8 steps to dog massage with instructions and diagrams
Benefits of dog massage therapy
There are so many benefits of dog massage! A professional dog massage therapist is specially trained to understand a dog’s anatomy and how much pressure can be safely applied to canine muscles. Health benefits include::
- Helping restore movement and flexibility, while resolving muscle stiffness
- Maintaining agility for active, working dogs
- Assisting before or after surgery
- Helping reduce anxiety and stress levels, promoting a more relaxed state in your pet
- Helping treat and slow progression of changes with arthritis and hip dysplasia (hip dysplasia cannot be 100% prevented as it is mostly genetic or caused by early age growth issues)
- Helping reduce recovery time after injury or surgery
- Assisting dogs with maintaining a good range of motion, as well as ensuring joints remain strong and supple, especially important in our senior pets
- Helping promote healthy circulation and blood flow to muscles.
Aside from professional massage therapy, there are also other benefits:
Teaching a tolerance to touch
For all dogs, it’s important they’re comfortable being touched. From vet visits to trips to the groomer, a dog will need to be comfortable having their paws, face, ears and mouth examined. Gentle massage can be a great way to start building this trust, especially with puppies from the moment they join your family.
Dog massage is great for bonding
Your pooch isn’t the only one to benefit from massage. Studies have shown that when we pat our pets, our brains release oxytocin, or the ‘love hormone’ that helps us to create close bonds with them.
A hands-on check for your dog
As you massage your dog, it’s a good opportunity to look for matted fur or any lumps and bumps you’ve not seen before, and also examine your dog for ticks. If you notice anything suspicious, head to your vet as soon as possible.
Before massaging your dog
There are some gentle dog massage techniques you can safely try at home to aid your dog’s relaxation and deepen the bond between you and your pet.
Please note: Serious treatment should always be left to a professional. If your dog is in pain, or has recently been injured or had surgery, speak to your vet first before attempting any massage yourself. Your vet can recommend techniques you can safely use at home or refer you to a qualified dog massage therapist or for hydrotherapy.
Set a relaxing scene
Before starting, make sure you and your dog are both in a calm and relaxed state, and in a cosy place, like cuddled up on the couch or on your pet’s mat. Avoid having your dog on a raised table if they are not comfortable with this. When speaking to your pet, use a low, soothing voice and reassuring words.
Make sure your pet is warmed up
If your pet’s muscles are warmed up after a short walk, it can make your dog more receptive to massage. A pet-specific warming blanket or pad can help make your dog extra comfortable (but please avoid hot water bottles).
For the ultimate dog massage experience, include some music like ‘Through a Dog’s Ear’, which has been scientifically researched and composed to be more relaxing for the canine nervous system!
While essential oils and incense can enhance a human spa experience, these should not be used on your pets, as they can have the opposite effect to calming.
Following the massage, have some fresh water on standby. As a natural part of the massage process, toxins in the system can become more mobile and keeping hydrated can help to flush them out.
Monitor your dog’s reaction to massage
As you progress with the massage, look for signs that your dog is becoming more relaxed – they may occasionally stretch, or relax into your hands, or they may even drift off to sleep!
Also keep an eye out for signs they may be uncomfortable – they may start to growl or wriggle away from you, yawn, slide their eyes, or lick their lips – which can all be signs of discomfort. In this case, stop the massage and give them some space until they feel more relaxed and try again later.
How long to massage for
For puppies, a very gentle massage of up to five minutes a day is all they’ll need. For our adult companions, 10 to 20 minutes a day will do just fine. Try to massage your dog at the same time every day, so it’s a consistent experience they can get comfortable with.
How to massage your dog in 8 steps
Step 1: Prepare your dog for a massage
Using flat hands, slowly and gently stroke your dog on either side of their spine, from their neck to the base of their tail, for a count of 10-15.
Continue this step for 2 to 3 minutes to make sure they’re thoroughly relaxed for the massage ahead.
Step 2: Start by massaging your dog's head
With your hand and fingers flat, start just above your dog’s nose and gently slide your hand between their eyes, over the top of their head, following the direction of their fur.Continue for 1 minute.
Step 3: Use light pressure to massage your dog's neck
Feel for the base of your dog’s skull, at the back of the neck. Use a flat hand with light pressure in your fingers, make light, circular movements in a clockwise direction. Experiment with larger and smaller circles to see what your pet enjoys.
Continue for 1 to 2 minutes and repeat this on the other side of their neck.
Step 4: Massage the shoulders using a flat palm
With your dog lying on its side, use a flat hand to massage their shoulder blade using slow, circular movements.
Continue for 1 minute and repeat on the other side.
Step 5: Massage your dog's paws including toes
With your dog lying down or sitting, hold its paw in one hand. Using your forefinger and thumb, massage gently along the bones that make up the paw, as well as along each of their digits.
Continue for 1 minute and repeat on the other front paw.
Step 6: Massage both sides of the ribs whilst your dog lies on it's side
With your dog lying on its side, use your fingers to find the gaps in between their ribs. Then, make small up-and-down vibrating movements that help to stimulate the intercostal muscles in between the ribs.
Continue for 1 to 2 minutes then repeat on the other side.
Step 7: Continue to hips and legs whilst your dog continues to lie down
While your dog is lying on its side, find the hip joint by gently bending and straightening their top back leg. Once you’ve found the hip, massage the area in a circular pattern with your fingertips. Continue this for 1 to 2 minutes then repeat on the other side.
Step 8: To complete talk to your talk in a soothing voice and pat with a flat palm along their body
Finish the massage gently by laying your dog on its side. Using a flat palm and fingers, gently and slowly stroke your dog (1) down their back, then (2) from their hip to back foot, and finally (3) from their shoulder to front paw.
Speak calmly and reassuringly to your dog during this time. There’s no need to repeat the above process on the other side, just let your best friend be calm and enjoy their newly-relaxed state.
Further reading about dog massage
- ‘The Healing Touch for Dogs’ by Dr Michael W Fox
- ‘Getting in Touch with Your Dog’ by Linda Tellington-Jones
The information in this article was checked by ZamiPet Veterinarian and General Manager Dr Andrew McKay, BVSc, University of Melbourne, 2000. Vet Registration No: V3985
Disclaimer: This information is general advice only. Before starting any treatment or supplement with your pet, please consult your vet first for the best approach to getting your pet back to their best health.