Dog Massage – How to Do It

Dog Massage – How to Do It

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Trey from Canine Compilation graciously contributed this super-informative post on massage for your dog. If you want to know more, jump on over to her website where you’ll find more articles to help both you and your dog get the most out of life.

Every now and again, I come across dogs that really don’t enjoy being petted, and of course we should respect that and not impose ourselves on them. But most dogs love to be touched, and just like us, many dogs really like massage. So why would you massage a dog, what type of dog benefits from massage, and how do you massage a dog?

Close up of a tan and white beagle lying on the floor. Timo Piredda
Image Timo Piredda from Pexels

The Benefits Of Canine Massage

There are many general benefits to canine massage, but it can be especially helpful if your dog suffers from arthritis, as mine does, or is elderly, has had an injury or is due to have treatment.

Reduce Stress And Increase Relaxation

We humans have been using massage to help to reduce stress and encourage relaxation for centuries. In recent times, it’s become recognised as being a valuable tool for achieving the same in our pets.

Not only will your dog relax when you massage her, but you are likely to relax too – it’s a win-win situation!

Endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good drug – are released too, making your pooch even more relaxed and happier.

Improve Your Relationship With Your Dog

Doberman lying down ready for a massage. Tracey Athay
Mino relaxed and enjoying his massage. Amanda

Massage is a great way to improve the bond you have with your favourite furry friend. My eldest, a 12 year old dobermann, is very demanding and insists on being petted. When I just absent-mindedly stroke him, he’s never satisfied with that. He seems to know that whilst I may have one hand on him, 90% of my focus is elsewhere. He responds by pushing at me for more fuss.

When I massage him though, I’ve noticed that he immediately chills out. He leans into the massage, clearly enjoying it, but that sense of pushy frustration has gone. Straight away, he senses that this is quality time together, not simply fobbing him off with a quick pat on the head.

Be There For Your Dog

In addition, massaging him helps me monitor other potential problems with him, for instance, where he might have any new cuts or growths, whether he has ticks or fleas.

When you first start massaging your dog, you might be surprised to discover that there are things about her that you didn’t know – little lumps here, hardness there, greater sensitivity in one area, reduced mobility in another.

This is all super valuable insight into her health and wellbeing. It may well enable you to give better information to your vet about your dog’s situation, or to flag up potential problems early on.

Post-injury healing

Doberman relaxing into a leg massage. Tracey Athay
Mino relaxes into his leg massage. Amanda

Massage is also a useful treatment in healing injuries and relieving pain. During massage, there is an increase in blood flow to the muscles, improving oxygenation to the area.

Toxins that have built up in tight, spasming muscles will be flushed out of the muscle. At the same time, the spasming muscles will relax, which will help with pain relief.

Improve Muscle Tone

When muscles are tight, movement is limited since the dog can’t move its limbs fully. By making the muscles relax, the range of movement will improve.

Massage is especially useful in cases of dogs that have restricted movement – for instance during bed rest after a treatment, or following an injury.

What Type Of Dog Benefits From Massage?

Shih Tzu lying down and enjoying a massage from Pixabay

If for nothing more than increased bonding and relaxation, massage is potentially great for all dogs.

However, if your pet dislikes being petted, unless he has a particular injury or ailment that would benefit from massage, there is really no point in making him have one. The experience would just upset and stress him.

There are certain injuries and ailments though that especially benefit from massage, and they include:

  • Arthritis and hip dysplasia
  • Old age
  • Muscle strain and muscle injuries
  • High activity working dogs

Is It Okay To Massage Your Dog Yourself?

Whilst it is possible – and easy – to do some light, generalised massage on your dog, you should of course get your vet’s advise concerning professional massage for particular ailments or problems that your dog may have.

A trained animal therapist who is qualified to do animal massage will be able to properly examine your dog and present a treatment plan. In many cases, this may involve showing you how to massage your dog so you can do exercises at home.

You can find a qualified animal therapist in the International Association of Animal Therapists and the International Association of Animal Massage and Bodywork. Alternatively, talk to your vet who may already work with a local practitioner. Either way, all therapists require veterinary referrals before embarking on treatment.

How do you Massage An Older Dog?

My beautiful ‘older’ dog adores any kind of contact – he’s never happier than when he’s getting his ears rubbed or being cuddled.

I started to do some physio exercises that I had learned with him to help him with his gradually stiffening joints – he suffers from arthritis in his hips. In addition, I now regularly give him massages. Not only does he love the attention but it also helps him with improved mobility and pain relief.

We need to be especially gentle when massaging sore and injured muscles and joints such as in older dogs. Be careful not to do any exercises that your dog is not strong enough to manage.

Dog Massage Tips

The pressure used to massage your dog is not the same as the pressure we humans feel when we get a massage. When massaging your dog, you need to use a much lighter pressure than you would on a human.

This great little video with Pet Massager Melanie Phillips shows several simple massage techniques that you can do at home with your dog.

Melanie Phillips shows us how to do a dog massage

For Successful Dog Massage

Find a warm and comfortable place to do the massage – this will help your pooch to relax.

Give your dog a soft cushion or blanket so that he can lie down comfortably. My pups love to be covered up with a blanket too – if yours also likes this, go ahead and cover up any areas you’re not immediately working on.

If he likes being spoken to, talk to him. If he seems calmer in silence, leave it that way.

Now that you’ve got him in a relaxed environment, begin by gentle, all-over stroking. Note any areas where he seems to flinch away or seems uncomfortable. Don’t work into those areas, but observe where they are.

Begin to focus on different areas – start at his ears and rub them gently. If your dog is like mine, he will push into your hand for more. Take one ear at a time and really focus on it. Stroke it gently, as well as rubbing it more firmly.

Move on to the neck. With my boy, I use the heels of my hands to rub the muscles along the sides and back of his neck, almost like I’m kneading bread, but my girl prefers a gentler approach. With her, I use my fingertips to massage her neck muscles. Either way, be careful not to massage near your dog’s windpipe.

Next, run your palm lightly down the length of his spine, all the way to the tip of the tail. Don’t rush it, and do this several times. You can gradually apply more pressure as long as he doesn’t move away from it, but don’t put a lot of pressure on his lower back.

Now for the legs: rub the large thigh muscles to warm them up. Then begin to knead into them. Next, gently squeeze your hand open and closed around the lower legs – this ‘press and release’ action helps to move the blood through the area. Be careful not to apply pressure over bones.

Finally, gently stroke your dog all over to finish the massage.


Massage offers many potential benefits for our dogs, from relaxation to pain relief. There are simple massages that we can easily do at home.
Have you tried it with your pup yet?

If you’d like to know more, check out this book: Canine Massage: A Complete Reference Manual by Jean-Pierre Hourdebaigt

Keep these instructions on hand – Pin to your favorite Pinterest Board.

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