Massage for

Show Dogs
Performance Dogs
Surgical Rehabilitation
Happier Older Dogs
Tension and Fear
Pain Management

The Dog

please also see
horse topics which apply:

Myofascial Release

Protect those Tendons.pdf

Massage and Chiropractic.pdf

Massage during Layup.pdf

Behavior and Temperament.pdf



The Dog

Dogs have shared our lives for so long that some of us cannot imagine life without them.  Paleontologists continue to come up with older fossils suggesting an even earlier dates of domestication.  We don't know who started the 'domestication', or which of us is actually the domesticated one.  Imagine that first glance between wild canine and early man, that first agreement.   The first stroke.

People who study human behavior have claimed recently that the dog is a better model for some human social interactions than the chimp, despite our close overall genetic relationship with the higher primates.  Apparently a small part of the dog genome, and presumably a small part of ours, has been influenced by our long romance, by selection for the unique compatibility we have together.  Until socially, we are kin.  (So they actually are part of the family!)  Finally, a partial answer to the question of why the bond is so strong.

We take responsibility for them.  They take care of us in many ways.  In our modern world, we are fortunate to be able to offer them sophisticated medical care and a wide variety of health-related services, and massage is one of those.   The dog's relationship to touch is simple in some ways and complex in others.  For instance, they tend to be sensitive about their feet (lameness would be a disaster in the wild, since there are always larger predators around, some of them cats!) and their tails and the areas around their tails, forward toward the hip (lots of behavioral significance there).  To 'tame' their sensitivities is to become more intimately trusted through demonstrating 'no harm' and appropriate bonding.

My own background with dogs is very long.  For over 40 years I have owned, shown, bred, worked, taught and been taught by dogs: many Siberian huskies and whippets, a bouvier, a giant schnauzer, a Jack Russell terrier, and a glorious Rottweiler/lab cross named Rudy (pronounced 'WROO-dy!!).  I love the specialization, charm, and the particular beauty of the existing breeds.   I am also an enthusiastic fan of careful crossbreeding to eliminate some genetic problems that inevitably arise during the development of any breed over time.  Our existing breeds came from the blending of compatible dogs of different origins; some of the breeds going forward will be the same.

Because my first breed was a working breed, and in particular bred for long distance travel, the study of gaits was part of  essential breed knowledge.  Gait as related to conformation, and the improvement of gait for quality of life through bodywork, retraining, and conditioning, is an endlessly fascinating subject, and leads to the study of biomechanics. 

For beautiful, efficient, floating gait in the breeds where movement is especially important when judging breed traits, the techniques of massage are potent (myofascial release, muscle energy technique or MET, and Swedish style range of motion mobilizations for example).  Increased fluidity, alignment, power and grace are quickly obtained by good massage work.  True alignment of soft tissues helps a lot.

As a biologist, the interaction of the systems in any living thing is my central interest, and decades of observation has developed in me an eye for the biomechanics of gait, but also for tiny variations in all posture, expression, and mood. 

(Of course dogs also have this refined eye: I discovered many years ago that a dog, approaching from a distance, would pick me out, even in a group, and make a beeline for me.  I think now that my interest was visible to them as a result of their own highly refined eye, which could see the tiny hesitation in my gaze as I looked toward them, 'snagging' on them in particular - maybe a slightly tilted head as I focussed on them - so quick that I was never aware myself.  An interspecies "Instant Message".)

During my postdoctoral research years at the University of Washington, the lure became so strong that I applied and was accepted to veterinary school, but in the end I did not go.  It would have meant disbanding my kennel, which was the center of my life at that time.  

My concern for the comfort and longevity of dogs as well as other animals continued in my involvement with my national breed club, where I served as chair of the genetics committee for 12 years.  I was privileged to show my own dogs to a number of successes including Winners Dog at the SHCA national specialty in 1974,  Best in Show at the SHCA national specialty in 1975, some working group placements, and a number of Best Brace in Show wins.  During that time I wrote a column for Northern Dog News.

Today my use of massage in the dog is for rehabilitation from injury, surgery, illness; performance in sport;  tension, compensations, and movement patterns due to restrictions; strain-sprain, arthritis, emotional trauma, and stiffening from age or inactivity.  All these are common in dogs.

You will see on the side panel a number of links, some of which (though they were prepared originally for horses) are included here because they apply equally to dogs.  There is much biomechanically that is the same.  Massage is tremendously beneficial through a variety of techniques to improve fluidity, power and scope of movement; in the prevention of injury to tendons and ligaments; to complement chiropractic treatment; during layup and recovery from surgery, injury, or fracture; for increased comfort of older dogs or chronic conditions; and not least for behavior and temperament issues.

CATS!!   My education continues with cats.  And yes, massage is appropriate for cats.. and of course (though they have been with us for even longer than dogs) their relative social independence does not change the fact that we are responsible for them, and that injury, surgery, illness and the effects of old age befall them too.  There are few organized athletic events for cats, although some pursue agility using clicker training.

Some  cats, of course, will climb onto the table or into the lap and present themselves for full body massage without hesitation.  Some are more hesitant.

For those, there are techniques similar to those used with timid dogs and fearful horses, involving first body language suggesting lack of intention, and indirect approach.  There are kinds of touch which are very still or even off the body at first, which are not only useful for such a sensitive creature, but also effective through neurologic reaction.  As confidence increases, more traditional methods can be used with all the same goals as are held for other animals.

As a volunteer at a large Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Clinic, I have expanded my information base about cats, and hope to introduce some level of touch to my adopted colony of five neutered adult ferals.  The development of relationship with a couple of these naturally wild creatures has entertained and is teaching me some of the lessons of the cat.