He is the most faithful of friends, showering you with unconditional love and always ready to lend an understanding ear.

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Yet, your dog can’t communicate to you when he experiences aches, pains and stiffness associated with chronic pain, mild injury or aging. You can contribute to your dog’s well-being and enjoyment of life with dog massage, also called canine massage therapy, sessions performed by a trained professional.

Dog Massage is Specialized

Canine massage therapy is a specialty that goes far beyond a pat on the head or petting. This specialty requires specific training in canine anatomy and much more.

“Canine massage therapists are trained in reading dogs’ body language, assessing gait and stance, and understanding the behavioral motivations within breeds and for each individual dog,” says Jonathon Rudinger, who runs PetMassage Ltd, in Toledo, Ohio, and is president of the International Association of Animal Massage & Bodywork and the Association of Canine Water Therapy.

Rudinger and two other animal massage specialists—Megan Ayrault, L.M.P., who runs All About Animal Massage in Kirkland, Washington; and Patti Sirens, who runs Patti Sirens Pet Massage in Santa Cruz, California—spoke with MASSAGE Magazine about the benefits of massage to our canine companions.

4 Ways Dog Massage Helps

1. Pain relief

Just as with human clients, massage can alleviate sore or tight muscles; improve circulation; and assist the flow of lymph. Jumping on and off the couch, running in the dog park, and other daily, physical aspects of living a dog’s life can result in muscle strain. For example, Sirens says many of the dogs she massages have stiff necks from being moved and held by a leash.

2. Flexibility

In between walks, stiffness can build up in a dog’s muscles and joints. This is especially true for dogs living in harsh winter environments who might not venture out much until the snow melts.

“Dogs that may not be as active during the winter, and then suddenly in the spring are taken on long walks or runs, can be prone to muscle strain and tightness,” Sirens says. “Massage can be very beneficial after that first long hike of the season.”

3. Emotional health

Anyone with a dog knows that he doesn’t hold back with emotions—from the surprise or anger shown through growling or barking, to loving kisses and snuggles, dogs are emotionally expressive creatures. Just as some people create coping mechanisms to try to feel safe and relieve anxiety, so do dogs.

Rudinger says these might include overeating, separating or isolating, aggression, belligerence, socialization or destructiveness—and that all of these behaviors can be gentled with massage.

Ayrault says massage can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and create a relaxation response in a dog, “as well as build trust and confidence with people, provide positive social interaction, and generally be a grounding experience for a stressed-out canine.”

4. Old dog, new touch

As your pooch’s age grows, so does the chance of developing arthritis in the hips, knees or lower back; generalized stiffness; or compensation patterns. Massage eases an aging dog’s pain by limbering up muscles, increasing circulation and improving range of motion.

Also, often when dogs have tightness or pain in one body area, they will, just as people do, make up for it in another area, which can cause even more tightness and soreness, Sirens says. “For example, if a dog has a hip or knee problem, they will tend to put more weight on the front limbs, which can create tightness in the neck or shoulders,” she explains.

Dog Massage is Good for You, Too

Some trained animal massage therapists also teach pet owners how to massage their animal companions with easy-to-learn strokes, for use between professional appointments. 

“Canine massage benefits the person providing it as much as it does the dog,” Ayrault says. “For dog owners, not only will they get physical and emotional benefits from the time spent connecting with their dog through touch, but they will also learn useful information and experiences that can be applied to their own body and health—and anyone can learn how to do it.”

About the Author

Karen Menehan is MASSAGE Magazine’s editor in chief (www.massagemag.com).