canine nose

Long ago, we accepted the power of massage for helping us bipeds cope and alleviate the effects of stress and physical and emotional imbalances. We have been massaging each other for hundreds of thousands of years. Now, we are finally using massage to comfort and help our pet animals.

The Little Things Still Matter

Everyone knows how to pet and scratch a dog. Petting and scratching dogs is one of the great pleasures in life, for both dogs and their attentive people. Everyone who pets and scratches their dog sees how much their dog enjoys it. Petting, scratching and rubbing are aspects of pet massage, but they are not the whole story.

Pet massage is substantially–profoundly–more and different. Consider the difference between the results of a casual shoulder squeeze and the way your body feels after an hour-long therapeutic massage session.

The shoulder squeeze may offer a slight amount of brief, pleasant relief; the full-body massage, on the other hand, can create a course adjustment to your body that can alter your entire quality of life.

What Are the Benefits?

The benefits that dogs get from pet massage are similar to the benefits bipeds get. We have evidence pet massage affects mood, chronic anxieties, such as dog and food aggression and separation issues.

We know competition dogs have better times and less injuries when they get pet massage. We’ve seen young dogs who are exhibiting growing pains find relief and old dogs, who can barely move, rise up and dance around like puppies.

You’ve heard the list of benefits before.

Massage increases and balances the circulation of all the fluids in the body. This includes blood, lymph, cerebral spinal fluid, interstitial fluids, cellular fluid, saliva, urine, synovial fluid, the fluid in the eyeballs and even the oily wetness on your dog’s nose–that’s a lot of fluids. The way fluids move in the dog’s body is different.

Dogs do not perspire through their skin (largest organ of the body). They have a different system of temperature control than we humans. The closest they come to perspiration is wicking off heat through the evaporation of their saliva and release of moisture from between the pads of their paws.

Dogs get sweaty palms, too. Mostly, temperature is controlled through conduction. When dogs are hot, they lay on the cool ground. When they are cold, they retain their body heat by curling up into a ball.

They Heal Themselves

Pet massage supports the balance and circulation of fluids within the fascia. The movement of water within the tissues controls the temperatures throughout their bodies, including core temperatures, organ temperatures, as well as temperatures of the skin and superficial muscles.

The normal wear and tear of muscles, tendons, ligaments, skin and fascia that dogs have from romping and playing keep their bodies in a constant state of self-repair and maintenance. Dogs, like humans, have the innate ability to heal themselves for most conditions.

Dogs, like humans, sometimes need external touch and support to re-establish balance.

Differences between Human and Canine Massage

What are some of the differences between the massage you would give a human client and a massage you would give a dog?

With a dog, the practitioner must stay absolutely present, or else the dog will get up and walk away. A dog will not tolerate deep pressure that induces “exquisite pain.”

Dogs live in the moment and do not have the capacity to project into the future that relief may come after enduring discomfort. If it hurts now, it may hurt forever unless the dog does something to make it stop.

Moving away, yiping, snapping and biting are natural responses; although, I did have one client whose old fragile German Shepherd appreciated his master’s touch so much that he stayed motionless even with the heavy-handed pressure his master used. It was sweet and at the same time, sad, to witness the dog enduring the massage, shuddering and wincing in pain.

Dogs use a wider, and different, range of senses than our paltry five. They are hardwired to notice sounds, movement and subtle nuances of smells. They are keenly aware of everything that is going on in the room and on the other side of the walls in the next room.

Utilizing Self-Awareness

So, an essential part of the role of a pet massage practitioner is self-awareness of body mechanics and body language.

Any inadvertent movement, such as holding one’s breath or squaring one’s shoulders, to the dog can quickly shift the dynamics of a session. The addition of aromas, or rather the lack of the introduction of aromas, is a big component of a session.

Dogs monitor the practitioner’s mood, thoughts, presence and level of support by tracking minute fragrance shifts in practitioner perspiration. I do not encourage the use of fragrant oils. Anything that masks this information complicates and diminishes, rather than enhances, a dog’s pet massage experience.

Pet massage accesses and supports the fluid energy within the tissues. In the process, it initiates subtle changes to the body. It supports the animals’ intuitive self-healing abilities.

Pet massage combines the use of knowledgeable, compassionate touch, fascia releases, presence and understanding to effect inner body-language communication and resolution.

About the Author

Jonathan Rudinger is founder of PetMassageTM ( Rudinger, R.N., L.M.T., has been instrumental in developing the field of canine massage for people at home and at the professional level since the mid-1990s. He has facilitated more than 250 weeklong professional level canine massage workshops and has attracted students from all over the world to the PetMassageTM Training and Research Institute in Toledo Ohio. His home-study courses have provided instruction for thousands more dog owners. He is the author of several instructional books and DVDs that address many aspects of PetMassage including basic training, energy work, end-of-life care, creating and marketing an animal massage business, and a PetMassageTM children’s program for scouts, camp and afterschool activities. He is founder and president of the International Association of Animal Massage and Bodywork (, and is also the president of the Association of Canine Water Therapy.