Massage Techniques: Human vs Canine

massage techniques humansMassage techniques for humans and canines are different, yet similar in many ways. Let’s first review the benefits of massage in general.

The benefits that dogs get from massage are many and are very similar to those that we humans receive. Some of the benefits of massage are:

  • Massage can ease the pain and aches of arthritis and other old age symptoms
  • Athletes (human and canine) can have
    • better performance
    • fewer injuries
    • aid in the recovery from injuries and surgery
  • Massage is relaxing
  • Massage can lessen anxieties and the effects of stress and emotional imbalances.

Are Massage Techniques Different for Humans and Canines?

massage techniques canineI’m often asked what are some of the differences and similarities between the massage techniques a human client would receive and a massage that I would give a dog?

Before the massage begins, a massage therapist can speak directly to the client and discuss information they have provided on an intake form. To understand what is going on with a dog’s health I also rely on a health history information form (intake form) that has been completed by the owner.  This will include information on previous injuries, surgeries, illnesses and the current health and level of pain or discomfort the dog is experiencing as observed by the owner and the dog’s veterinarian. I also perform an evaluation observing the dogs’ movement and body language.

Neither a human nor a dog will relax for a massage if they feel unsure or don’t trust the therapist.  Dogs live in the moment and do not have the capacity to project into the future that relief may come from a massage. If they are meeting me for the first time and are not sure what I’m going to do, it may take time for them to get to know me and for me to gain their trust.  They might not automatically lie down and relax for a massage.  The time needed for a dog to become comfortable is very individual and can range from almost immediately to several minutes.  It is even possible that it will take more than one session for a dog to relax.

massage techniquesJust as humans can pick up on the mood of the therapist, dogs also monitor the practitioner’s mood, thoughts, presence and level of support.  As a massage practitioner I need to be aware of my body mechanics and body language. Any inadvertent movement, such as holding my breath or shifting my position, especially if I am sitting on the floor, to the dog can quickly shift the dynamics of a session.  I have to be fully present, calm and focused.  During a treatment therefore, I will be focused on the dog and not conversing with the owner. Dogs also use a wider, and different, range of senses than the five we humans have. Dogs 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.  They can become distracted quite easily and this may result in them getting up walking around and then coming back to settle and relax.  At sporting or herding events dogs can be distracted by other dogs or by stock animals.  If a dog has high motivation for their activity, they can have a hard time relaxing when there are other dogs in the vicinity having fun or doing the work they are supposed to be doing.

Massage Techniques: Subtle Differences?

Both dogs and humans can respond to massage techniques in positive ways; however, there are noticeable differences as well.

Dogs respond to light touch.  A dog will not tolerate deep pressure like deep tissue massage that can be painful. Their muscles need to be warmed up before doing deeper work and dogs have ways of letting me know when I have touched a point that is uncomfortable.

Although there are some differences, in general dogs enjoy and benefit from relaxing and therapeutic massage in many of the same ways that we do. Dogs, like humans, have the innate ability to heal themselves for most conditions. Also like humans, dogs sometimes need external touch and support to re-establish their balance.

So, most massage techniques can be applied to both humans and canines. But, there are slight differences both in the way a massage is received and given.

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