It doesn't take long to give a dog massage, and you could greatly benefit your dog's health in just 10 minutes a day. It's also a good way to foster the bond between you and your pet. But how to give a dog a massage properly so that your pooch enjoys it rather than tries to run away from you? I'll show three techniques on how to massage a dog.
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The Benefits of Dog Massage
Just like humans, a dog's body gets tired after a long day. Your dog will enjoy getting a quick massage (when done properly) just as much as you would because it relaxed their muscles and provides a pleasurable feeling.
There are many health benefits that a dog massage provides. Massaging your pet, and making sure it lasts about 10 minutes or so every day, may potentially:
- lower the dog's blood pressure
- increase circulation
- aid in digestion
- strengthen his immune system
- reduce your dog's stress and anxiety
- rehabilitate tired muscles and reduce pain and swelling
I've discussed these benefits and many others in greater detail on my podcast here.
Finally, giving your pet a massage will also help you get to know their body better. When massaging your dog, you'll feel changes in his muscle mass, discover lumps and bumps, and notice areas that are causing the dog pain. This allows you to be proactive about the dog's health and seek veterinary treatment if needed.
How to Massage a Dog in 3 Different Ways
1. Daily Dog Massage (Standard)
This is a type of very simple and easy pet massage that, when doing it for about 10 minutes every day, can improve the dog's health. It's easy to do, and it's also a good way to warm up an active dog each morning before walks or exercise.
Do NOT massage your dog as you would massage another person.
Unlike massaging people, dogs do not need a deep tissue massage, and it will likely hurt the dog more than it will help your pet. Instead, a gentle massage of your pet's body is all your pooch requires. You do NOT need to push deep down into muscles.
How to do it:
You'll want your dog to be in a calm state for this to work. In my video above, I massage my dog while she's resting on the couch. If your dog is nervous, he's not going to enjoy the massage, and he may even get irritable if you stumble upon an injury or sore muscle.
(1) Calm them down. So the first thing is you'll need to calm your dog down using some proven techniques. Talk in a calm voice, and begin by running your hands over the dog's entire body very gently and slowly. This light petting will help to calm your dog and prepare him for his massage.
(2) Proper movements. Begin your dog's massage at the neck and work your way down his body, slowly making progress. Make small circular motions, and remember to keep the pressure light (no deep muscle tissue massaging). Massage your pet all around the neck and then slowly move down to his chest and shoulders.
(3) Massage the full body. Once you're dog with neck and shoulders, continue down both front legs, and don't forget the paws. If your pooch doesn't like having his paws touched, which is quite common, then you can skip the paws altogether and continue moving down toward the dog's back and abdomen.
(4) Sensitive areas. Work your way down to your dog's hips and back legs. Take special care here, as this is a very sensitive area for dogs with arthritis, hip dysplasia, and other health conditions. Use gentle pressure and make small circles. If your dog shows any sign of pain, stop immediately.
Once you've reached the end (hips and back legs) and spent a few minutes gently massaging that area, you're done. Again, the whole process should take about 10 minutes and no longer. Regular “massage movements” are more than enough, where you should focus on gently relaxing your dog's muscles.
2. How to Give a Dog a Massage for Sore Muscles
If you notice that your dog has a particularly sore muscle, you can use a specific type of dog massage technique to help the fluid move through the muscle and relieve the dog's muscle pressure. This is similar to massaging gas out of the dog.
This type of dog sore muscle massage is only for this specific purpose and should be stopped once the condition improves. You will need to perform this massage every few hours for one or two days to aid in the healing of the muscle and stop after that.
How to do it:
(1) Calm them down. This is the same situation – use the above-mentioned tips.
(2) Petting. Now, move to gently petting the area of the sore muscle (without any massaging). This will help to warm it up and show your dog that you're not trying to cause him more pain in his sensitive area.
(3) Apply some pressure. After your dog is comfortable with petting, do some massaging now. With an open hand, press down gently on the muscle and hold the gentle pressure for 15-30 seconds. (If your dog seems irritated, stop immediately.)
(4) Rinse and repeat. Release the pressure and remove your hand for 15-30 seconds. Then do it again for another 15-30 seconds. Continue this press and release pattern for about 5-10 minutes.
(5) Petting again. After you've massaged the dog's sore muscle for 5-10 minutes, you can end the massage with more gentle petting. This will show your dog that he did well to tolerate the treatment and you're not trying to hurt him.
3. How to Massage a Dog with Anxiety
One of the best benefits of dog massage is that it has a calming and relaxing effect on dogs. This is perfect for severely anxious dogs because studies show that applying pressure to certain points on the dog's body provides them with relief (this is how anxiety vests and anxiety wraps work on canines).
Let's say your dog is afraid of thunder. When you notice the dog becoming upset, nervous, or anxious, you can try to calm the dog down with a massage when both of you cuddle up on the couch. Close proximity to you and a 15-minute pet massage is likely to relieve anxiety in most dogs.
How to do it:
(1) Calm them down. Once again, use the same tips mentioned above.
(2) Hand position. After the dog has settled down, place one hand at the base of the dog's head and the other one above the dog's pelvis. For now, just rest them there – do not apply any pressure.
(3) Apply some pressure. Now, run one hand down from the base of the head to the tip of your dog's tail. Apply only a tiny amount of pressure as you pet the dog. If it seems to be helping, continue massaging your dog this way for at least 15 minutes (you can even slightly increase the pressure, but again, without making it into a deep tissue massage).
Note: For some dogs, this type of “calming massage” may make them more agitated and achieve the opposite effect, depending on their condition. If this is the case, stop the pet massage immediately and give your dog some space instead.
4. Tools for Massaging Dogs
Generally, you don't need any dog massage tools to provide the above-mentioned benefits to your pet. However, some tools make it easier for you (the owner) to massage the dog in case your hands get tired too quickly, while others are better for specific types of massages such as calming and anxiety.
I've reviewed a few of them here, but some of the best dog massage tools I personally like and would recommend are these:
5. Books on Canine Massage
In my guide and video above, I've only shown you three types of pet massage for dogs but there are actually many, many more that provide tons of other benefits. Some more specific (and more complicated) techniques will help dogs with clinical conditions such as hip dysplasia, osteoarthritis, and epilepsy, for example.
I've gleaned most of the techniques from canine physiotherapists who've developed their approach based on scientific evidence. My favorite book for massaging dogs to heal a variety of conditions is Canine Medical Massage by Narda G. Robinson and Shelley Sheets. This is a very extensive guide with photos and detailed technique explanations.
- Canine Massage by Jean-Pierre Hourdebaigt
- The Complete Dog Massage Manual by Julia Robertson
- Healing Touch for Dogs by Michael W. Fox
- Balance Your Dog by C. Sue Furman
If you want to learn how to massage a dog, there's a lot more you can glean from those books and the experts that wrote them. They all contain photos and detailed step-by-step guides which make it very easy to copy every single movement, and I highly recommend them.
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