The physical benefits of massage are numerous:
- Lowers blood pressure
- Aids Digestion
- Improves joint flexibility
- Relieves muscle soreness, tension, stiffness and weakness
- Helps cleanse the body of toxins
- Improves skin elasticity and coat quality (removes dead skin and stimulates hair follicles)
- Reduces anxiety in chronically nervous dogs
- Helps calm a dog for specific events that may make her anxious, such as vet visits, grooming sessions, moving to a new home, welcoming a new pet or baby into their family, etc.
- Creates a sense of trust
- Is an effective and enjoyable way to bond with your dog
- Help with socialization: Massage gets a dog used to being touched and handled, which is especially important for families with young children or other pets.
- Serve as a consistent way to monitor your dog: When regular massages are given, the therapist can develop a sense for what is "normal" for your dog. Any changes in temperament as well as physical changes (e.g., newly sensitive areas of the body, the discovery of new lumps, bumps or other changes in the skin or coat) can alert you to something that requires veterinary attention and may aid in early detection of a serious condition or illness.
In my own practice, I like to incorporate gentle stretching as well as Reiki and acupressure when I feel that they will be beneficial for the dog. I really ‘tune-in’ to the dog and follow their signals about what feels good and what doesn’t. For some dogs, a short yet continuous session is best. Other dogs like to have longer sessions with "breaks" where they can stand up, stretch, sniff around and then resume the massage. Just like humans, dogs definitely have their own individual preferences and moods, which makes every session both enjoyable and challenging.
One of the most interesting aspect of the massage is what I refer to as the “calming ripple effect.” When I’m working on an individual dog, I’ve often seen the calming effects of the massage trickle over to other dogs in the immediate area. Before you know it, all of the dogs are lying down, relaxing, some falling asleep and snoring! This effect is especially amazing in animal shelters where dogs are experiencing high levels of stress. The calming energy that flows through the room is especially beneficial to these dogs. I believe that it helps them cope until they are able to find their forever home.
What you can do at home
Touch improves a dog's well-being. In fact, I would encourage you to lightly stroke and cuddle your dog as much as possible. However, any deep massage, more advanced techniques or intense stretching should be performed only by a trained professional.
Massage professionals are trained to understand the limitations of a dog’s body including the appropriate range of motion for canine joints. In addition, dogs that are older, have health problems or have recently had surgery can be more susceptible to injury. Thus, it is important to keep your dog’s massage practitioner well-informed of your pooch's current condition as well as his health history. When in doubt of your dog’s specific limitations, always consult your veterinarian first. Share this important information with your dog’s massage provider before the massage too. Massage should be a safe and enjoyable experience for your dog. Don’t be surprised if they get ‘hooked’ and are barking for more!