How to Give Your Dog a Massage

Have you been thinking of ways to pamper your dog even more? Rather than taking your dog to a doggie spa (which could be very expensive), consider giving it a massage at home. Just like for people, a massage could relieve your dog’s stress, increase its blood circulation, and decrease muscle pain.[1]You can even strengthen your bond with your dog by giving it a massage. Start slowly, be gentle, and eventually, your dog may grow to love the extra pampering.If your dog is suffering from any medical conditions, speak to a veterinarian before giving it a massage as issues like tumors or skin conditions can actually be made worse with massage.

Method 1 Giving Your Dog a Basic Massage

1.Establish a massage routine. There are different reasons to massage your dog (e.g, calm his nerves, warm him up for physical activity, relieve joint stiffness), each of which involves a slightly different massage technique.On most days, though, a basic massage will suffice for your dog. To set up a routine, come up with a word or phrase (e.g, ‘rubdown,’ ‘It’s massage time!’) to let your dog know it’s massage time.

  • Pick a time of day for the massage. It is best to wait until your dog has gone to the bathroom, and at least 15 minutes after he has eaten.

2.Prepare the massage area. The massage area should be quiet and distraction free. Play some soothing music, such as nature sounds or soft classical music.

  • Set up an area for your dog. The surface on which he will lay should be flat (no pillows or cushions), firm, and soft.  A layer or two of comfortable blankets on the floor would work well.
  • Prepare the massage area so you can sit comfortably to massage your dog.

3.Stroke your dog from head to tail. Have your dog  comfortably on his side. With your palm facing down, use broad, light strokes to touch your dog from the back of his head to the tip of his tail. This will probably feel like normal petting to him, and will help get him ready for the massage.

  • There is no set amount of time for you to do this. Move forward with the massage when your dog looks calm and settled.

4.Massage along your dog’s spine. Starting at your dog’s shoulders and working back to the base of his tail, massage the muscles alongside his spine—do not place direct pressure on his spine. First, use your fingers to make small circles (clockwise, then counterclockwise) down his back.

  • Next, use your thumbs to apply gentle, vertical pressure down his back.
    • As you massage along the spine, gently lift up small sections of your dog’s skin and slowly knead it between your fingers.
    • Throughout the massage, pay attention to your dog’s body language.  If he is not enjoying the massage and wants you to stop, he will use such body language as tensing, holding his breath, growling, and flinching.

5.Rub your dog’s sacrum. The sacrum is at the very end of your dog’s spine between the hips.With your palms facing down, use light pressure and make slow circular movements with your fingers.

  • Massaging this area improves the mobility of the hips and spine.

6.Rub your dog’s legs and paws. Use the thumb and fingers of one hand to rub his leg muscles, starting from the top of each leg.  When you get down to the paw, gently squeeze the muscles between his toes and individually move his toes up and down in a wiggling motion.

  • Flex and rotate each paw to release any tendon pressure. You can also give each paw a gentle squeeze.]
  • Not all dogs like their paws being handled. Read your dog’s body language when you start massaging his paws.

7.Give your dog a tummy rub. As much as your dog probably loves a tummy rub, it is important to remember that his tummy is a sensitive area.  As with the other areas of your dog’s body, use light, circular movements to rub his tummy.

8.Massage the areas of your dog’s head. With your hands on either side of his head, use a slow, backward and forward motion to massage his cheeks.  If you have a small dog, it may be easier to use your fingers rather than your whole hand on his cheeks. To massage his ears, start at the base of the ear and rub the earflaps between your fingers until you reach the ear’s tip.

  • You can also scratch behind his ears.  Your dog will probably love how that feels!
  • Rub under his chin, over his nose, and between his eyes.

9.Squeeze your dog’s tail. Your dog’s tail deserves attention, too! Starting at the base of his tail, make several, gentle squeezing motions from the base to the tip.  Be careful not to pull the tail as you squeeze – that could be uncomfortable for your dog.

10.Complete the massage. After giving individual focus to each body part, complete the massage the same way you started it—broad, gentle strokes from the base of your dog’s head to his tail.Stroke down his legs as well.

Method 2 Massaging Your Dog for Specific Reasons

1.Reduce your dog’s anxiety. If your dog becomes anxious during certain situations, like the sound of fireworks or thunder, you could try massaging him to calm his nerves. Starting with your palm lying flat against the top of his head or neck, make light and sweeping motions down to his tail.

  • Continue these sweeping motions until you see your dog start to relax.
  • Finish the massage by lightly resting one hand at the base of his head and the other on his hips (near his sacrum). These locations represent the parts of the spinal cord that control rest and relaxation responses.
  • It may help to talk to your dog in a quiet and soothing voice while you are massaging him.

2.Warm up your dog for physical activity. If you have an active dog, it is helpful to get him warmed up before intense exercise. Begin by petting him over his entire body for a few minutes. Next, with your palm still facing down, use the heel of your hand (near your wrist) to briskly rub his large muscles (thighs, hips, neck, shoulders).

  • Do not apply excessive pressure with the heel of your hand. Your dog will likely let you know if you are using too much pressure.
  • After briskly rubbing those muscles, lift them as if you were kneading dough — gently grab the muscles and rub them between your thumb and fingers.
  • To warm up his leg muscles, gently squeeze the muscles at the bottom of each leg and work your way up.
  • Finish the massage the way you started it—broad strokes across his entire body.

3.Relieve joint stiffness and soreness. Dogs, just like people, can become sore after vigorous physical activity. Giving your dog a massage after exercise can help him recover a little more quickly. If you notice a particular joint that seems to be sore (e.g., hip joint, shoulder joint), begin to pet in that general area to warm it up.

  • In a rhythmic fashion, gently press down on the muscles around the joint, then release the pressure. This compression improves circulation through the muscles and takes some tension off the tendons around the affected joint.
  • Make sure not press down directly on the affected joint. If you do by accident, your dog will let you know that you’ve touched a painful area.
  • Finish the massage by petting the affected area again.

4.Help your dog feel better if he has cancer. If your dog is suffering from cancer, you may be able to use massage to help him feel a little better. In human cancer patients, massage can help to reduce anxiety, relieve such symptoms as pain and nausea, and lower blood pressure. It is reasonable to think that dogs with cancer may benefit from massage as well.

Talk with your veterinarian first before massaging your dog.

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