Who doesn’t love a massage?
Massage has benefits for both the giver and receiver including lowering blood pressure, improved immune response and blood circulation, and stress reduction.
Regularly, systematically and gently handling your dog all over allows you to become more familiar with him so that you will be able to spot any differences quickly and report them to your vet.
Things you might look out for include:
- sensitivity to touch and handling
- swelling or tension
- changes in surface temperature
- skin and coat health & condition
Try this game today and tomorrow when you are settling down, and all is calm. It may take quite a while or your dog may prefer very short massages – you won’t know until you get started!
Use your dog’s calm-mat for this and wait for him to lie on it in a settled position. You can reward him with one or two food rewards if you like.
Sit on the floor beside your dog for his massage.
If your dog is experiencing inflammation, pain, infection, fracture, burns or wounds do not massage in or around those areas.
It’s best to start with the least amount of pressure that will just move your dog’s hair. As you continue, assess how much your dog is enjoying their massage but only increase pressure incrementally.
For the most part, dogs don’t enjoy pressure on the top of their head but may enjoy slightly more pressure along their back.
Less is more and it’s best to keep massage pressure gentle.
Relaxing Body Massage
To start, using the flat of your palm, gently and slowly sweep your hand from the top of your dog’s neck all the way down to the base of his tail.
Repeat this movement over and over, once your dog is comfortable for you to continue.
As your dog settles into his massage, still using your flat palm in slow circular motions, massage over your dog’s entire body.
Really focus on what you are feeling as you handle your dog’s body and take deep breaths. Not only will this relax you, but this mindful approach will help to calm your dog.
Massage down your dog’s body, from head to tail, with flat palms and then bring your hands back up their body.
Use your fingers to crawl up through your dog’s hair and move your thumb along behind them. This will provide slightly firmer pressure, moving their coat and their skin slightly against the grain.
This is a favourite T-touch technique for many dogs and their humans alike. As your dog relaxes more and more from his relaxing body massage, start some gentle ear slides.
With your thumb and finger on either side of his ear leather, slowly move them from the base of the ear to the tip using gentle pressure. Repeat over and over, as long as your dog is comfortable with this move.
How comfortable is your dog?
To us, the sound of a massage is lovely but we generally consent to have someone else massage us.
If we didn’t know a person, if a person had never massaged us before and if a person didn’t ask us if they could massage us we would likely find that highly uncomfortable. Your dog may experience this too.
Don’t assume, just because you enjoy massages and you enjoy massaging your dog, that he feels the same way.
A great tool to use here is to film your dog while you massage or handle his body for about 30 seconds (or as long as you feel he is comfortable).
Review the clip or watch your dog closely and look out for some of the following signs of doggie discomfort:
- stiffness – your dog is still with some tension
- chin raised and still, particularly if you are handling his head
- your dog or any part of his body is frozen, with wide staring eyes
- whale eye – half moon shape whites of one or both eyes visible
- turning away from you
- trying to move a body part away
- trying to avoid your touch
- flinching when you touch an area
- licking at your hand or an area you are handling
- mouthing your hand
- staring at you or your hand
- eyes fixed
- whiskers forward or moving forward
- tightening of the lips
- lifting of the lips
- wrinkling to the top of the nose
- snapping, snarling or biting
If you see any of these signals or any others that you believe indicate your dog might be uncomfortable, stop massaging immediately and try to distract your dog by tossing a food reward or toy for your dog.
Move away and give your dog a break.
Helping boost your dog’s comfort
If you saw that your dog was uncomfortable during massage, take a note of the areas that you were handling when he showed discomfort – hot zones.
Your dog might need a little help to learn to love having these areas handled. Beyond massage, being comfortable with being handled is important for all dogs, who will at some stage, require relatively invasive handling at the vets or groomers.
Play Touch 4 Treat
It’s good that you have identified your dog’s discomfort…now let’s help your dog feel more comfortable with handling and massage.
Don’t practice this on your dog’s calm-mat – put that away and out of sight for now, until your dog is more comfortable.
The key to this game is to teach your dog that each time you touch a hot zone, that makes an unbelievably amazing treat appear.
- make a list of your dog’s hot zones
- concentrate on one at a time
- choose the area closest to your dog’s hot zone that he is comfortable with handling – start there
- touch that area, and immediately feed a treat to your dog – it doesn’t matter what he does, just make that treat appear
- stop if your dog shows any of those signs of discomfort and move further away
- if your dog is happy repeat about a five-count after your dog has finished eating his treat
- repeat in sets of ten and then take a break
Well done for getting through today, even though it really wasn’t like work!