Bridging the Interspecies Gap
Clearly there is a great difference between massaging a human client and an animal client. Looking past all of the physiological differences between the two species, we can also put some thought into the way our client can and cannot communicate with us, what they can take from us and what we can take from them. Animals cannot clearly verbalize where there is pain; they cannot verbally tell you when you are in the correct area or give you vocal feedback on whether or not your methods and technique are meeting their needs. Instead we as canine massage practitioners must use our knowledge and develop our intuition to feel the canine form and look for suspect areas, to watch their movements, gestures, posture and mannerisms. With time, the inhibitions that an animal may have with meeting you and your laying hands on them, will fall away. As you build that trust and relationship, the animal’s needs and true personality will emerge, and with time you can develop a great understanding of them with no presence of outward verbal dialogue between you. This is why your true personality and your energy at each meeting are a very important aspect of the care equation. Since animals do not verbalized as we do, they are believed to be deeply in touch with their other senses and the energy of all things around them. They could in theory pick up on either the calm and open energy we have, or on the nervous and anxious energy we are giving off. Whether you believe in the term energy with regard to anything more complex than the vibrational energy we put out into the immediate area around our bodies or not, that vibrational transfer and ripple effect certainly does exist on a scientific level, which is discernible to animals keen to it.
Making Initial Contact
Your first contact; the actual first few minutes with the dog, is crucial for the positive development of the massage. As with us humans, dogs usually tense up and feel invaded if they are too quickly approached or touched in an intimate way where their personal space is compromised. One needs to develop trust between yourself and the dog. Observe the dog carefully before making contact. Watch their physical movements and outward personality. Especially watch for their stride and mechanics so that you may notice any impediment in their movement that could signal an area of dischord. If you approach the dog with some understanding of its realm and help to make it feel secure, the dog will develop trust in you very quickly. Remember that as you needed training to learn massage, a dog also needs to be “massage trained”. Using positive reinforcement and praise by rewarding the dog when he acts appropriately is another way to solidify your bond with them. The first hand contact you make needs to be warm, thoughtful and rich in feeling and vibration, so this contact will have to have a strong and positive impact on the dog’s emotional state. There is absolutely no need to rush. A few minutes is all it takes to establish that crucial first impression. The initial contact situation required awareness, common sense, and a lot of dog sense.
Greeting With Your Voice
Speak softly and kindly when you approach a dog. Long, low- even tones- are not threatening and even soothing to a dog. High pitched baby talk sends mixed signals that often cause the dog excitement or nervous energy. Your voice should echo your energy level, and that should be relaxed, calm and peaceful. Also at this time, evaluate the dog’s breathing and pattern your breathing pace to match theirs. This action will allow you to observe the dog’s inner state; whether calm or restless.
Greeting With Your Hands and Body
Try to greet the pet for your initial meeting in an area where it is not too close, and one where there is at least some neutral space in terms of their element. Greeting them in their bed, going up to them if they are in a corner, or trying to get them out from under a bed is a bad idea. Trying to approach them as they are at their owner’s side is also a bad idea. Taking a knee- or two, sitting down on the floor or crouching low is always best. Not towering over the dog gives them an imprint of your trying to meet them on their level and of not exuding dominance. Just sitting and letting them come to you is also always best. They are aware of your presence before you even come into their home (if you are making home visit), and they are on some level of alert if they are coming to you for a massage, so simply “being there” and allowing them to come to you and initiate interaction is always safest.
Present your hands fully opened and palms up. DO not move too fast. Give the dog time to acknowledge you before you actually make contact. Once the dog has acknowledged you, quietly and slowly move your dominant hand to the nose and allow them to sniff. Never reach over the dog’s head, always reach from chin or chest level and bring your palm up to meet their nose. Keep talking and praising the dog while offering your other hand, palm up and open. Allow the dog to sniff for as long as they like. Most dogs will at this point move closer to you and try to take in your scent and feel your energetic vibe. After they have “met” you, you can slowly move your hands in a fluid motion up around the muzzle and softly stroke or massage the face. Once they are comfortable with that, you can slide farther back along cheeks and along the top of the head and the neck in a smooth gesture. All the while give praise using soft and even tones on your voice.
You have just made your initial contact and meeting with the dog!
And truly, there is no second chance for making a good first impression. If you cannot make a good connection with the pet, your option for a good and beneficial massage may be out of the question, so again, take your time and do it right.
Maintain verbal contact with the dog via praising and commending as needed. Look for feedback signs from the dog and memorize “the Four Ts”.
The Four Ts
Your fingertip perceptions are very important to ensure that you are mentally connected with the dog at all times. Take mental notes of your observations and physically record or write them down in your client care log after the treatment. A record of your visits and techniques will help you remember details and help you to track the progress of your sessions with each client so that you can track improvement.
How a Dog Gives Feedback
A facet of what makes up “dog sense” is being keen to the signals that a dog gives you. Learn to recognize such feedback signs as:
• Moving away from you or your touch
• Eyes wide or staring intensely
• Turning the head towards you and only wanting to face you
• Twitching in the skin
• Whimpering or yelping sounds
• Breathing short and hard
• Muscles and body deeply relaxed and dormant
• Eyes partially or completely closed
• Breathing deep and long
• Head down and ears relaxed
Signals the dog gives that show pain or discomfort should be considered warning signs. Paying attention to these signs will let you know if the dog is uncomfortable with what you are doing or if the pressure you are applying is too hard, or in a tender area. Depending on the type of massage you give and the individual animal, some dogs may be so relaxed that they need a nap and want to stay in a laying position, while others may be energized and want to get up and play after their massage. As with people, some prefer a lighter and or softer massage and others may be most appreciative of a deep and heavier massage. You will be able to find their best fit with time as you apply a gradual increase of pressure or deepness to each area of the massage. Take your notes after each session so that you can pick up where you left off at the end of the previous visit. With time if needed per the animal’s health needs, you can gradually reach deeper in to the muscular and connective tissues without causing the dog to tense or try to get away from you.
Understanding Canine Auto-Responses
Because dogs are social animals and strive to make their owners happy, it is important to use your voice and your hands in a way that lends itself to simple interpretation by the dog when they are being good. As part his genetic design certain areas of a dog’s body have certain emotional and psychological associations. For example, areas such as the feet- which are the dog’s mode of escape when they are scared or feel threatened, can be especially sensitive and require a great amount of trust to handle. The area on back of neck, which is hardwired as an area where, while still a pup, the dog learned that their mother reprimanded then by scruffing, and is also a sensitive area because it correlates with aggression or of being dominated. Dogs’ response of rolling over and giving tummy is an act of submission and they may do this either when they fear you, or are completely at ease with you. For male dogs, the area around the groin is an area where they will offer during meeting another dog as a sign of friendship and submission. And dogs which are restless may indeed be fine with your presence, but simply need to relieve themselves.
Puppies and Massage
It should be mentioned that puppies, as with children, have a different levels of attention span and calm or rest phases. Puppies may engage in playful fighting or nibbling of your hands and clothes. Do your best to exude quiet calm and to help them center themselves. Because their energy level is high and their attention span is short, he massage sessions for a pup will likely always be of shorter duration. It is recommended that a massage for a puppy always be given after a session of heavy play.
If the pup is rehabilitating from an injury and is on limited activity, remember that its mind is fully at play even though it has no ability to burn off the energy it may feel inside. Being patient and taking time with them is even more important.
Getting a Vet’s Approval
Networking with your area vets is extremely important. Through referrals and recommendations, they can help you and you can help them. When dealing with an extreme case of phobia or stress, be sure that a Vet has checked over the dog to give the all clear that medically the animal is sound, and can not be caused more harm than good by the interaction of massage.
In some cases shyness to touch in certain areas can indicate underlying injury or pain that only medical checks could bring to light. While you should never diagnose, you should always take note in your log of any outward things you see, and speak openly with the dog’s owner about any concerns we have. Not being open to see every facet of the dog could result in your overlooking something. At times you may want to talk directly with a vet, especially where there is a rehab situation as after a surgery or post-injury. In some states, per privacy laws similar to human HIPPA laws, it is required that the dog’s owner give approval before an attending vet may disclose their care history or plan with anyone other than the pet’s owner. Talk with the owner if you feel you need more insight into the dog’s medical history, and talk openly with the vet on a respectful, professional level. There are vets who do not consider massage therapy as a practical application for care, so be ready in those cases. Do not take it personally, and do your best to care for your client even if you have to work without the vet’s support.
Overcoming Abuse or Neglect Reponses
For some dogs, because of a history of abuse or neglect, or of improper socialization training or conditioning from their owners, or due to a very traumatic injury, we will have a little more work do to do create a trust bond. Regular massage sessions, even if only short ones, little by little can bridge the trust gap. The shyness that these dogs develop as a secondary response to their conditioning themselves to a constant low level of anxiety can leave them with many blockages and defensive barriers that can take time to overcome. However, with time, patience and love, most every dog is able to be rehabilitated, and to teach us something in return! Every dog has a story- as massage practitioners and care providers working to better the dog’s life quality, you can listen to a little part of each of their lives- and in turn you will always have learned something.
Attaining Compassionate Objectivity
When you are caring for an animal that you have possibly grown fond of, or for an animal that is suffering or near end of life, it can be difficult to keep our mind calm and objective. It can be hard to take a step back and be sure you are emotionally strong and clear mentally so that you can enter a session and be only of help and a source of strength and connectivity. But, if you are not, the animal likely will pick up on it.
It is still very important in the face of loss or sadness to find the beauty in what you can offer, and to always work with both compassion and objectivity at the same time. This is a career field where most begin it for a love of animals and of wanting to help them. That love and completion or fulfillment is not only a building block for becoming a great care giver, but it is also the deciding difference for knowing deep down if this is what you are cut out for. Can you be honest with yourself as to whether or not you can follow an animal when they need you, to help them, and to respect them, to let them guide you, to learn from them, and then to let them go when they no longer need you. Each animal, each session, and each day will be different from any other, and you will learn much about yourself and much about animals.
Another great difference between human and animal massage is that canine clients also have no expectations. They do not sit or lay down with you and expect a certain outcome. It’s quite the opposite actually when you first come to meet each other; they are in the moment and are uncertain as to just what your intentions are. Even as your visits span out over time, each session is as open ended to them as the first; they may have come to know you and what you bring for them, they may know they love you and how you treat them and make them feel, but they never have preconceived notions of what should happen. This is the great thing about animal massage, the animal’s mind is completely clear of anything that could bar them from healing and positive response once they have learned to trust you. With humans, there is a mind working that may pass judgment, one that may have the day’s stresses at hand, may be any number of moods that could inhibit their healing or relaxing and benefiting from your care or may have expectation of what they want from you.
With animals, it is much simpler. The two emotional obstacles they most often experience are fear and uncertainty, or are extensions of those rooted in these two things. These two fundamental emotions are the precursors to stress and anxiety, and then on to aggression or evasion. However, in their emotional simplicity and pureness, they are very easy to bond with and to earn trust with time and care.
The Massage Duration
Your first massage, especially if it is also the first session for the dog, should last from 5 to 10 minutes. This is time measured without the initial meeting time added in. Use your own judgment in relation to the dog’s size, feedback and personality. The first full body massage is a very special moment in which you should emphasize mindful and soft touch and careful gain of contact. Proceed in a relaxed manner and avoid deep massage right away. This massage should last from 15 to 20 minutes- and up to one half hour for large breed dogs. The dog’s personality or temperament plays an obvious role in how long the massage will be. Most dogs become restless after 30 minutes of deep massage, but some enjoy a softer massage for near or past an hour in duration. Maintenance routine massages usually last from 15- 20, but may require more time if new issues arise. Always allow at least full hour for every appointment, and if you finish early, it is recommended spending that time either quietly interacting with the dog, or on logging the day’s results.
When working on any certain area of the dog’s body, it is important to not work that area for any longer than 5-10 minutes depending on the size of the area. If you massage a spot for longer than that, you are at risk of overworking the area’s skin and underlying structures. Overworking an area could result in not just superficial irritation but also inflammation or tissue swelling. For larger areas is it a good rule to massage for the 10 minutes and for small areas massage for 5 minutes. This is also easiest to keep track of during the incremental time allotment of the massage.
Choreographing the Massage
Massages can be broken up in your head into parts that together comprise the full time of the massage session.
Most massages will have 4 parts: the meeting, relaxation massage, working massage (time where you address needy areas and do deeper work), and the stretch/cool down. For example; you come to work on a dog that has age related hip weakness. You know that you will need to not just work on stretching and massaging the hips, but also the lower lumbar and caudal areas or the dog, in addition, you expect to likely have to also work the upper and lower thighs and possibly the pasterns and feet as well. You may even have to work the shoulders and elbows if the weakness is so severe that the dog is unevenly distributing its weight to compensate. So, if you look at each of the areas- 6 parts for the hip areas themselves (each hip, each upper thigh, each lower thigh or gaskin, the tail base or caudal area, and the lower lumbar area), each of these are an average of 8 minute areas. Together that equals just about 1 hour in time. If you also find that you need to work the shoulders, per each area, and each side of the dog, that time can also be broken down to estimate the total time you will spend with that client. Time will become very important for two reasons; scheduling appointments, and for knowing what to quote or charge. For humans scheduling salon massage appointments, the human client spends just a short amount of time telling the practitioner about what they feel needs addressing. And little if any time is spent on stretching, therefore the massage practitioner can schedule appointments much closer together and know with a good amount of certainty how long each will take. With dogs, since they cannot verbally communicate, and because at each session you must spend time both greeting and calming the pet, and then doing a good amount of stretching and cool down after the working massage is finished, the appointments do take longer, and can either run longer or end abruptly.
Types of Massage Routines
The relaxation routine can be done at any time. It is always used to start a full body massage. This routine works wonders for changing a dog’s mood, especially if it si depressed, being naughty or simply tense.
The maintenance routine is best done when the dog is warm after some exercise either in the morning or evening. If the dog cannot be warmed by exertion, cover the dog with either a warm towel or blanket or use hot water bottles or heating pads to increase circulation of each area that needs work prior to massaging.
The warm up routine is always done before heavy training or a play workout. The routine helps the dog to warm up its muscle structure and help prevents muscular and joint injuries.
The recuperation routine is always done after heavy playing or training. This routine helps the dog recover faster by eliminating the toxins built up in worked muscles in just a matter of hours.
Post-surgery massage should be worked into a schedule followed by stretching exercises, or a rest period depending on the rate or recovery. Always work with the dog’s veterinarian when an injury or surgery happens in a massage client’s life.
When to Give a Massage
Depending on the goals and situation at hand with each client, you might feel the need to find the most suitable time of the day in order to achieve the best results. Basically any time is a good time to massage a dog (just ask them!), but for many client dogs you will want to work to find a time during each day when they are most receptive. TH most effective use of the massage therapy is to integrate the massage into your everyday routine of working with the animal. For example, you can massage right after grooming, right after exercise, or when putting your own dog away for the night. You can choose a morning or evening schedule for a thorough full body massage as you see works best. Once a dog has experienced the “magic’ of your hands, it will likely come right up to you and lean on you or rub against your hands- sometimes even positioning itself so you can touch where they want to be touched.
When NOT to Give a Massage
Contra-indications are specific situations in which you should not massage a dog. If these conditions exist, consult the veterinarian first.
Do NOT give a massage to any dog exhibiting any of these signs:
• If the dog has a temperature over 104 degrees F or 39.5 degrees C.
• When the dog is suffering from shock.
• When there is acute trauma such as a torn muscle or an area with internal bleeding such as an acute hematoma following a strong blow. Have a veterinarian evaluate this condition immediately. Use ice for the first few hours. Massage can resume in the chronic stage, usually after 72 hours.
• Where there is an acute sprain, use ice until the initial swelling goes down.
• Where there is acute nerve problems or nerve irritation (neuralgia) in a particular area following a wound or bad stretch. Simply applying cold hydrotherapy to dull the nerve endings both before and after laying the hands on the dog in that area may help and soothe.
• Where there is broken skin or healing wounds, avoid that particular area. You may massage the rest of the body to release compensatory tension or excess swelling.
• During times of diarrhea, colitis, pregnancy or hernias- use just a light stroking touch on the abdomen and only if the dog shows no negative response.
• When there are severe forms of functional nervous disease such as acute disc disease.
• Inflammatory conditions such as phlebitis would be worsened from direct massage.
• Tumors or cysts of cancerous origin are contra-indicated; massage will spread them. Avoid the affected areas but massage the rest of the body. Also check with the vet on each case.
• Acute arthritis may be too painful to permit massage. Massage could worsen the inflammation. Chronic stages of rheumatism and arthritis require a different massage plan. Light massage over the affected areas as this will help to relax the compensatory tension from the muscles supporting those structures. Do not work deeply around the joints.
Under the circumstances where massage must be delayed or could cause further harm, the laying on of hands will often soothe an irritated area. Placing an opened hand over the top of the head and the sacral area of the dog and applying light pressure, will help them feel secure and calm. Hydrotherapy also will relieve the inflammation and pain considerably, and it will also assist in recovery and comforting of the animal.
Massage is formally contra-indicated in the following conditions; since massage may spread the problem:
• Acute stages of any infection disease
• Skin problems of fungal origin such as ringworm and bacterial disease.
A Few Words About Contagious Diseases
ZOONOTIC DISEASES are diseases caused by infectious agents that can be transmitted between (or are shared by) animals and humans. It is of utmost importance to avoid contact with a pet if these diseases have been diagnosed. If you do come in contact in such cases, you must immediately cleanse yourself and your work space. Change your clothes, shower, disinfect and/or sterilize your tools and equipment which came into such contact, and be sure to monitor your health state for symptoms. Be sure to study independently and get as much information about these diseases as you can.
The following is a list of zoonotic diseases spreadable from dogs to us:
• Bergeyella (Weeksella) zoohelcum
• Brucella canis
• Capnocytophaga canimorsus
• Capnocytophaga cynodegmi
• Cutaneous larva migrans
• Dipylidium caninum
• Franscisella tularensis
• Gastrospirillum hominus
• Granulocytic ehrlichiosis
• Lyme disease (Borrelia burdorferi)
• Mokola virus
• Neisseria canis
• Neisseria weaveri
• Pasteurella multocida
• Plague (Yersinia pestis)
• Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
• Staphylococcus intermedius
• Strongyloides stercoralis
• Visceral larva migrans
• Yersinia enterocolitica
Be careful when dealing with what happens to be an abnormal situation. When in doubt, contact a veterinarian. The laying on of hands will often soothe an irritated area that cannot otherwise be manipulated without causing pain or further harm. Hydrotherapy also will relieve inflammation and pain considerably, and it will also assist in recovery and comforting of the animal in situations where wetting of the skin is possible.
When performing massage, there are many ways to use and position your hands and upper body. Each method affords a certain type of contact with the skin and the muscle(s) beneath, and each movement serves a purpose. The purpose for different techniques is to use your hands and body as tools to convey healing touch as an outward catalyst upon the client’s physical body. There are seven essential classes of massage moves. Each class of moves can contain a number of variances of that movement depending on your rhythm and pressure. They can thereby be either stimulating or relaxing. Due to the high sensitivity of a dog, always begin softly and work up to the desired pressure and rhythm.
1. Petting: petting with the growth of coat is one of the most basic and most overlooked forms of massage technique. While it is simple, it still benefits the pet in a number of ways. The warmth and gliding motion of your hand helps to stimulate the skin to produce skin oils within the individual hair follicle. This release of added oils helps to naturally cleanse the skin and coat, to add moisture to the skin, and to add luster to the coat. Petting movements are performed with the entire hand: palm and fingers.
2. Stroking: This movement is also utilized for its calming affect- pure nervous reflex- on the central nervous system. Done very slowly it can produce a sedating effect. Done faster it can produce a stimulating effect. When a dog is very nervous, slowly stroking its back and legs will soothe and ground him. You will always begin and end a massage with stroking over the desired body part you will be working on. Stroking movements are performed with the fingertips or the palms of the hands. Using very light pressure as this is a pure reflex move so there is no need for mechanical release. Stroking can be done in any direction, but preferably with the direction of coat growth. This also stimulates blood circulation to the fatty layers of the skin which can help flush built-up fluids from the connective tissues. Petting and being pet also has been proven to lower human blood pressure and to stimulate endorphin release in both humans and animals. Petting is a bonding and synergistic link; emotionally it helps cultivate trust, appreciation and closeness.
3. Effleurage: to glide, stroke or touch lightly with horizontal strokes applied with the fingers, hand, or forearm that usually follow the fiber direction of the underlying muscle, facial planes, or dermatome (growth of skin and hair) pattern. Effleurage is the most often used movement. Second to stroking, effleurage is used to start, weave or end any massage routine or movement. Effleurage is used as every second move- every 10-20 seconds- during most of the massage duration to encourage venous drainage. To assist in proper venous blood flow, always perform effleurage towards the heart.
How do you perform effleurage?
Hands, fingers or forearm, pressure applied broadly & generally, smooth motion from light to moderate depth, long stokes covering length of limb toward heart, no pressure on return stoke; a gliding movement done with the entire palmar aspect (full palm side including the fingers) of the hand. During the effleurage stroke, the thumb never leads but rather follows the fingers. The hand should be well- molded to the body contours and in full contact with the body a t all times. You may use one or both hands, simultaneously or alternately. The pressure is even throughout the entire stroke, except when going over an area where the bone is close lying beneath the skin. Effleurage has a mechanical draining effect on body and lymph fluids. This draining effect again is proportionate to the amount of pressure applied during the movement. The rhythm of this movement should be smooth for aiding in general circulation. Using a faster rhythm can help to drain swelling, but should only be done over a smaller area being treated as doing this faster rhythm over a large area will most often cause irritation. When effleurage is applied in a deep manner with heavy pressure in a slow rhythm it stimulates the body to increase blood and lymph circulation while the slow rhythm soothes nerve endings. When effleurage is done deeply with faster rhythm is strongly stimulates circulation. This can be sued to perk up muscles just before exercise or as a warm up. Always work more lightly over ligaments and bony body structures and more heavily over major muscle groups.
4. Petrissage: The foundation of massage. A combination of kneading; rhythmic rolling, lifting, squeezing, and wringing of soft tissues (including muscle squeezing, muscle stripping, wringing, picking up, pen C's -C scooping, skin rolling, kneading). All of these movements are soothing when doing at an average rhythm of 1 per second, but if done at a faster rate of 2-4 strokes per second, they will become stimulating. The moves are intended to clean the tissues of waste products and to assist circulatory interchange. Petissage movements are done with pressure and relaxation alternately. With the kneading, compression and muscle squeezing movements the tissues are pressed against underlying structure. While the wringing up and skin rolling massage moves the tissues are lifted up and away from the underlying structure. Used constantly in sports and active recovery massage, these moves work on muscle tension, muscle knots and spasms and congestion.
4a. Kneading: This very effective technique is performed with the thumbs and palmar surface of the three fingertips (index, middle and ring fingers). It is done is a circular way, with small shorter strokes in small half-circles which overlap each other, pushing outwards the same way you would knead dough. Contact is kept at all times.
Kneading is usually performed with two hands but can be done with one if the area is very small. You can try using another variable of this movement by using only your thumb and two fingers as well. When working large areas, use your entire palm in combination with some of the weight of your upper body weight with proper posture. When kneading gauge your pressure carefully; begin with 2 to 3 pounds of pressure and increase to 5-12 pound of pressure for more bulky muscles. Intersperse kneading with a good deal of effleurages every 20 seconds.
4b. Compression: These movements are made with the palm of the hand or with a lightly clenched fist, alternating each hand rhythmically and applying pressure directly onto the muscle groups. Compression is applicable to only large dogs, and when working over large muscle groups such as the hind legs. This method is similar to kneading but without the gliding movement over the muscle. The rhythm should be one per second. Any faster would be very stimulating and possibly irritating. Never use compression over bony or thin muscle layered areas. Compression compliments kneading by saving time and reducing fatigue of the hands when working large muscles. Be careful not to over-compress the muscle. Do not use more than 10-20 pounds of pressure.
4c. Squeezing: This movement is used most commonly to decongest and relax tension of muscles. It is used mostly along the crest of the neck and is quite useful for working on the legs and tail. The movement is made between extended fingers and the heel of your palm using the entire palm surface in full contact with the body part as you squeeze. You may use one or two hands to deliver the squeezings. Taking care not to pull the muscle away from its body structure, nor to pinch it at all with your fingertips, grasp and gently squeeze it. Muscle squeezing accomplishes several things. It gives a strong feeling of touch to the animal and thereby deepens the relaxation of the muscle. It gives you feedback about the tension of the muscle fibers you are handling and it has a pumping effect on the blood and lymph circulation. Because your goal with this move is to relax and decongest, it is not necessary to exert very much pressure. Remember if there is tenderness in the muscle, squeeze very gently.
Doing this movement in a slow rhythm of one per second is very calming- such as with the relaxation massage and doing it across the crest of the neck. Doing this move with one or two hands in a brisk rhythm is very stimulating and invigorating- such as with warning areas during cold weather.
4d. Wringing up: This is a wonderful movement for use along the back, shoulders and hind quarters of the dog. It increases circulation and improves oxygenation and removes toxins. It helps to reduce inflammation over muscles and dogs seem to love it. This movement is done with the palmar surface of the hands and the thumbs abducted at 90degree angles. Lay both hands flat on the body part and then start wringing the muscle side to side as how you would gently wring linens. The muscle is lightly and gently lifted and wrung side to side. Wringing up is very effective in stimulating circulation and warming muscle groups quickly. Use an average of 2 pounds and building up to no more than 15 pounds of pressure depending on the size of the muscle mass. Always use light pressure over bony areas and use a smooth stroke of one per second or less.
4e. Skin Rolling: This very smooth motion used primarily to maintain rich blood supply to the dermal layers. It helps to keep the skin and coat healthy and shiny, and to break up small fat deposits or prevent formation of excessive adhesions and maintain good elasticity of the skin. With thumbs on one side and fingers on the other side, grasp and lift the tissues. Skin rolling is a gliding motion of the superficial tissues which include skin and dermal fat layers. It should be performed in a slow soothing, manner to avoid irritating the skin nerve endings, especially over areas where the tissues lie tight on the underlying structures. Your angle of direction may be varied and repeated to ensure maximum effect to the tissues. Skin rolling motions are used in acupuncture to stimulate the bladder meridian. When doing skin ro0lling never exceed 2 to 3 pounds of pressure.
4f. Shaking: This is a very strong mechanical movement used most frequently in sports massage to stimulate circulation. Shaking is performed either by the fingers or the whole palm of the and in full contact with the body depending on the size of the area you are covering. When applied in a slower rhythm, it is soothing and when applied more briskly it is one of the most stimulating massage moves. Pay attention to the animal’s feedback when using this move and always ease off when moving over bony areas. To work coarsely or cover more area, you can use your entire palm and glide over the skin as you go from one area to another. A full treatment of this movement should not last more than 3-5 minutes depending on the size of the dog.
5. Vibrations: Quivering movement performed by hand and fingertips for about 30 seconds- there are fine (pure reflex effect) and coarse vibrations. This manipulation is mostly used to reach below superficial tissues into the deeper structures of muscles or joints. At the start, use no pressure other than the weight of your opened hand laid flatly on the part you are addressing, and increase to no more than 3 pounds of pressure. You can also administer another variation of this movement using your fingertips or thumb(s) which is called “point vibration”. This gives you greater accuracy for small areas and the aim is to pass soothing vibrations to deep tissues. Done gently with 1 to 2 pounds of pressure and applied with a fine, gently rhythm, vibrations have mechanical soothing effects with a strong nervous reflex effect. Applied with 3-5 pounds of pressure and a faster rhythm vibrations are mechanically stimulating and less of a nervous reflex. This manipulation is very soothing to the nervous system as it is very efficient in eliciting the parasympathetic nervous response. Do not use this movement over the top of the skull. This movement helps soothe swollen joints from acute trauma and chronic injury. Vibrations are also effective in helping inflamed arthritis where regular massage is contra-indicated. Start with a small vibratory movement, maintain it for a few seconds and then gradually release and move to another location. Intersperse effleurage and stroking frequently with this move so as to drain the tissues and relax the dog.
6. Tapotement: to rap, drum or pat; springy blows to the body at a fast rate to create rhythmic compression of the tissue (including percussion, light tapotement: pincement, tapping, point or digital hacking; heavy tapotment: clapping, cupping, light hacking, heavy hacking, beating & pounding) All of these movements are mechanical and stimulating. Hands usually work alternately. Done on their own, tapotments are very effective for warming up muscle groups just prior to exercise. The dog may take some time to adapt to this movement, but they will soon learn to like them. Start with very light pressure and increase progressively. The duration should last a few minutes of 30 seconds to 2 minutes. A strong soothing feeling of relaxation will follow such an application. Always finish this movement with some effleurages and stroking.
6a. Clapping: This movement is done with the palm of the hand flat and the fingers stretched as though applauding. Use 2-3 pounds of pressure to start and building to 5-10 pounds of pressure maximum unless on a very large dog. Use this method only on muscle groups and not over body structures with exception of the ribs. Keep the pressure light over thin muscles as well.
6b. Cupping: This movement is done with the palm of the hand cupped as though holding water. This is a softer version of clapping, using about 5 pounds of pressure, used most commonly around the bony structures, or curved areas of the rump and chest.
6c. Pincing: This movement uses the fingers to softly grasp and squeeze small folds of skin and fatty tissue. This movement increases circulation and helps break up swelling.
Hacking: This method is done with the medial border (outward side) of the hand and with the fingers spread out in a flexible and non-rigid manner. Use 5-8 pounds of pressure and up to 12 pounds when working with bulky muscle groups. Hacking penetrates deeper into the muscle structure and yet is very gentle. It is a wonderful movement for the back and the thicker hind quarter muscles.
6d. Beating: This movement is done with a relaxed clenched fist, hitting the muscle groups with the ulnar (or medial) side of the hand. Pressure can vary from 5 to 15 pounds depending on the size and bulk of the muscle you are treating. Use this application only after you have used several clapping, hacking or supping moves. This movement is rarely used except when to deeply stimulate big muscle groups like the hind quarters on big dogs. A strong stimulation of fluid circulation will follow this method.
7. Friction: This is a very specific movement used mostly to break down adhesions developing over muscular fibers, ligaments, tendons or joint capsules and bones. You want to use this movement only after sufficiently warming up the area with effleurages. These small deep movements applied across the length of the muscle fiber bundles or back and forth over a patch of fibrous tissue. Use the tip of your thumb or the first three fingers for localized areas. This movement is very stimulating to the body and causes a very strong hyperaemia (increased blood circulation). To break down an adhesion, you will need to use a fair amount of pressure starting at around 10 pounds, and progressively working up to a maximum of 25 pounds depending on the area and the size of the dog. Do not use friction in too specific an area for too long; at any time 2-3 minutes maximum and always watch the dog’s feedback signs. When using these specific circular or transverse movements that do not glide on the skin and that are focused on the underlying tissue, these circular movements are most usually done in a clockwise motion and begin at the center of the swollen area and move inward as in the diagram below. Never begin this friction movement in the center and work outwards as this can push the fluid at the perimeter of the swelling out too fast and cause bruising. The idea of working inwards pulls apart and spreads the fluid section by section or layer by layer (as if with the peeling of an onion) away from where it has congregated. When working a patch of scar tissue, start from the periphery towards the center of the scar with fairly low pressure to loosen the fibers. Drain thoroughly with effleurages then use friction across the whole fibrous patch, going in circles towards the center. Follow this lighter pressure with the next round of circular motions having a heavier pressure. As you use friction to relive adhesions or to break down old ones, it is good to ice before and after treatment. This will ensure the numbing of the nerve endings and will therefore keep pain down. Simply add a cold pack or use the ice cup massage technique. You can use this method of icing muscles by freezing a paper or Styrofoam cup half full of water, and peeling back the lip of the cup so the surface of the ice within it is exposed. Lay this ice within the cup directly onto the coat and massage with medium pressure in small circular rotations. This icing application should last for 1-2 minutes for small to medium dogs and no longer than 5 pounds for large dogs in any single given area. Be careful not to cause ice burns by moving around and following the icing with a light massage.
The Laying On of Hands
This method has great therapeutic value in treating wounds, inflammation, nerve irritation, stress or both mechanical and nerve origin, and is helpful for emotional anxiety. The laying of hands is not considered a technical massage move but is the oldest form of massage and its benefits make it a must for all therapists. The technique is most often used where massage cannot be used and it’s a great addition to regular treatment routines. Put your hands gently over the area of concern and mindfully feel the energy and vibration of that part. Use very little pressure for this simple hand contact. Be thoughtful of the moment, of the dog, and of yourself as you do this. The feeling of closeness that will quickly develop between you and the dog is a sure sign of effectiveness of this touch. As the nervous tension is released a warm feeling will develop and you will feel a heat wave coming out of the area which is proportionate to the stress and pain of that area. The laying on of hands will soothe the area and help both physiological and nervous relaxation. A great feeling of relief will follow this movement. When massage is contra-indicated, this movement will often bring soothing energy to an irritated area and help to relieve pain. It is recommended that you rinse your hands with fresh water after such treatment to drain the “negative” energy you picked up. Cold hydrotherapy applied to the dog’s treated part (a towel wet with cold water and then wrung out) will also relieve inflammation and pain considerably. The laying of hands will definitely give comfort and assist with recovery.
The Movements of Massage
There are a number of massage movements that can bring about a variety of effects. Each one can be utilized for a specific purpose to work towards the same goal.
Massage is classified into three basic groups; soothing; stimulating, and pure nervous reflex.
Soothing Movements: These movements are designed to inhibit nerve impulses and soothe them into a relaxed state. These movements are:
• Slow working
• Gentle wringing
• Fine shaking
• Fine vibration
• Petrissage- all done with very light pressure and slow rhythm
Stimulating Movements: These movements cause excitement of the nerve endings and elicit muscle reflex. This reflex stimulates muscle tome and causes increased blood and lymph circulation, thereby this oxygenation also causes better nutrient intake, and removal of waste and toxins. Rhythm and pressure play an important role in the degree of stimulation you intend to help produce for the dog. Working in a hasty or fast paced manner or changing movements too quickly will clearly irritate the dog. Always monitor the dog’s feedback signals.
The mechanical repetition of these movements will bring the desired effects. Always begin lightly and adjust accordingly. In time and with practice you will develop a sense for the correct amount of pressure and the appropriate rhythm. Always error on the side of caution and as the dog becomes accustomed to the massages, it will allow you to work deeper. Always remember to ensure drainage through effleurage techniques when doing stimulating work. These movements are:
• Fast stroking
• Firm to vigorous effleurage
• More firm petrissage
• Coarse shaking
• Coarse vibrations
• Fine and coarse frictions
• Nerve manipulation with nerve pressure and nerve stretching
Pure Nervous Reflex Movements: The main characteristics of these massage moves are that they induce reflex effects on the central nervous system and result in a release of nervous tension, anxiety and stress. They promote strong relaxation. These moves are:
• Very gentle effleurage
• Fine vibrations
• Laying of hands
It is strongly recommended that you wash your hands with fresh water right after your massage work. Washing helps you to unload all of the residual undesirable energy which you will pick up as you massage, and keeps you from passing it on to other clients or people as you go on through your day. It will also help to center your vital energy and to keep you grounded.
Mechanical or physical effects are those that are caused by the direct pressure applied to the body. The mechanical effect is directly related in proportion to the force one exerts throughout the movement; meaning that more or less pressure equals more or less mechanical effect. The force exerted in the massage move will stretch tissue and push the fluid (either lymphatic, arterial or venous) in the direction of the movements being made. Lighter pressure gently starts everything moving, and working on to heavier pressure strongly affects the areas being worked. The body responds to this mechanical stimulation by increasing the blood supply or circulation to an area which in turn created better metabolism, more oxygenation, and lowered blood pressure. Deeper mechanical pressure also releases endorphins which in theory based on the function of endorphins, could cause pain inhibition.
The mechanical pressure of specific massage moves will also stretch and soften the tissues, thereby releasing tension, contractures, trigger and stress points of spasms and with time breaks apart scar tissue. Mechanical pressure also affects the nervous system. Depending on the type of movement, it will either stimulate or soothe muscles. Slow light to medium pressure and slow rhythm is relaxing, and faster rhythm, and medium to heavy pressure is stimulating.
Pure Nervous Effect
The pure nervous reflex effect refers to the class of movement which influences only the nervous system. The nervous reflex effect is achieved with only a very light touch. Exert almost no pressure and only light contact of the skin to touch the cutaneous sensory nerve endings. Stroking fine vibrations and very light slow effleurage are mostly used to elicit this nervous reflex effect. This gentle stimulation of the dermatomes which are skin sensory nerve endings, sends relaxing impulses to the brain. The motor nerves then let go of tension. For this type of massage, use a slow and gently soothing rhythm of one stroke per second or even slower on average. Pure nervous reflex is used primarily to soothe and relax when you need to calm an animal in a general state of anxiety and/or tension, or one which is in pain or even shock. This touch is integral also in the relaxation massage regimen. Pure nervous reflex does not increase the secretion of glands, cause chemical effect or have a mechanical impact on the body, although it may increase some of the skin and hair coat oils dispersed across the skin.
Good posture assures good energy flow from your self to the dog and back to you. Standing fairly close to the dog reinforces energy exchange. The feeling of closeness is important because it gives the dog greater chance for deep relaxation and better benefit from treatment. Closeness reinforces the feeling of care that occurs naturally when giving a massage, but if the dog objects to your proximity, you should always be ready to give more space.
Your Hands as Receptors
Your touch should provide soothing and comforting treatment. The palms of your hands and your fingertips will give you accurate feedback on the physiological state of all of the various areas you will work on. Learning to trust your hands is not easy. You need to concentrate so as to detect the very subtle changes in the body area on which you are working. The quality of your work will reflect the ability of your hands. In the early stages of your practice, a good way to form your hands sensitivity is to work with your eyes closed. Doing this helps you to focus on your hands and fingertips. This in turn enhances your touch awareness. This manual participation in the massage has a double benefit for you. First the massage stimulates the circulation of blood flow to your hands and fingertips. Secondly because the nerves in your fingertips are directly connected to the brain, the use of the hands tends to promote a feeling of psychological ease. Always remember to use your fingers as receptors to get feedback through the Four Ts on the condition of the animal you are working on.
Your fingers should become an extension of your brain. Use them as probes; quickly feeling and assessing what they touch, learning to know instinctively how to adjust your pressure and adapt your massage movement techniques.
Understanding the Four Ts
Temperature: the normal body temp of a dog is from 99 to 102 degrees F. Changes in temperature of the dog’s skin suggest that a problem may be underlying. If an area is abnormally cool to the touch, this could indicate lack of blood circulation and therefore signal a muscle contraction or deep tension. And area which is hot to the touch compared to surrounding areas could indicate inflammation and is a sure sign of underlying problems such as stress points, trauma or trigger points.
Texture: Texture of the body tissues refers to the density or elasticity of the muscle fibers. With practice on healthy animals, you will develop a sense of touch for what normal, healthy tissues feel like. Tissues which feel too soft or puffy can indicate swelling or edema.
Tenderness: Tenderness of any of the body’s structures will relate to the sensitivity response of the dog to your touch. If sensitivity is high, underlying problems likely exist. Nerve endings could be irritated or perhaps even damages. The dog’s reaction to your touch is proportionate to the degree of severity of the condition and its stress level.
Tension: Tension refers to the tonicity of the muscle fibers. Muscle tension is often the result of too much exercise. Sometimes muscle tension can result from scar tissue build up. Too much tightness means less blood circulation, less nutrients, and less oxygen to tissues. Tension increases toxicity buildup and in turn create inflammation. Trigger points or lactic acid build ups and stress points or small spasms may result. It is normal to find some high muscle tone following exercise but finding tension after a resting period usually signals some muscular compensation in response to some other problem.
Too much tension in a muscle may be a sign of scar tissue developing as a result of inflammation.
The term modality with regard to massage means the mode or manner by which a massage is given which denotes a certain method of delivery. There are many different modalities of massage, many of which are shared for both human and animal species alike. Many modalities are developed over time by certain ethnicities or geographical areas per the needs of their indigenous peoples, the same follows suit for pets.
Bonding and Touch Massage: refers to the most basic and beginning level of massage care as well as an opening for massage dialogue. This is a building block modality which most massage practitioners begin with for each session to acquaint themselves with the animal and to begin necessary trust. This is also a modality that most pet owners practice on a regular basis with their pets without realizing all of its possible benefits as a genuine modality itself. Simple petting and stroking creates bonding and trust which in end helps attain a better outcome to every massage experience. Superficial stimulation of the skin and hair coat creates a release of endorphins and positive energy. It stimulates localized circulation and temperature increase. It also stimulates the skin to produce more oil, which lessens friction or drag upon the coat from your hands, and which aids in self grooming and natural cleansing of the coat. To begin on the stepping stones of each massage session, seat yourself in a non-threatening position and begin by sitting quietly and gently petting the dog as it allows. Move yourself along carefully and feel the dog’s responses to your presence and interaction. As you move along the pet, take note of any outward issues you see or feel with the dog, and take note of its personality and outward mannerisms. If the pet is open and passive, you can then move on to more pressure with each petting movement and more deliberate hand positions and movements.
Relaxation Massage: relaxation massage is exactly what the name implies: a massage strictly for the purposes of rest and relaxation. This massage technique is not designed for therapeutic effects or for dealing with chronic pain or discomfort. The massage consists of the therapist applying gentle to medium pressure of the hands to the body, gently manipulating the tissue to promote relaxation. It is not a deep tissue massage.
It is not designed for working the deeper muscles of the body, but just a gentle kneading and rubbing of the outer layers of the body tissue. It will cover a wide range of areas on the body including the back, limbs and neck. This massage can be done at any time, and anywhere.
T-Touch: Tellington TTouch is a gentle method of body work and movement exercises that positively influences behavior, performance and well-being and deepens the relationship between animals and their people.
TTouch is a method of touch and movement for animals that relaxes them so they can think and make better choices. TTouch as an ‘all systems approach’ that uses bodywork and ground exercises to re-educate the body at a cellular level. It is a well-developed system of bodywork and training that employs:
Bodywork: circular hand movements, slides, lifts, and other non-habitual movement
Training: mazes, balance beams, patterned walking exercised, etc., plus some basic obedience training and management education
Equipment: body wraps, head collars, leads, harnesses, wands, and dozens of other items at hand
TTouch is based on communication and respect cooperation and understanding, never fear or force; observe without labeling; give direction, not correction. It is not about fixing, curing, or doing something to the animal; it is about working with that animal to bring a new awareness, offering another experience and giving new information so the animal can be more flexible and adaptive. Touch meets the animal where they are, never expecting more than it is capable of at the moment. TTouch looks at the whole picture exploring the underlying stress and fear that result in the unwanted behavior or physical limitation. It has one look at the possibilities, not the limitations to promote balance - physical, mental, and emotional. It encourages self-carriage, self-control, and self-confidence. TTouch works on the level of the central nervous system circular movements and non-habitual movements affect unused neural pathways, replacing habitual messages of discomfort with less stressful ones. TTouch is an effective way for people to deepen their relationship with their companions while solving a challenging or frustrating situation.
Swedish Massage: refers to a variety of techniques specifically designed to relax muscles by applying pressure to them against deeper muscles and bones, and rubbing in the same direction as the flow of blood returning to the heart. This form of massage was created at the turn of the century by Henry Peter Ling in Sweden.
It involves the use of kneading, stroking, friction, tapping, and vibration and may provide relief from stiffness, numbness, pain, constipation, and other health problems. The main purpose of Swedish massage is to increase the oxygen flow in the blood and release toxins from the muscles. Other possible benefits include stimulation of circulation, an increase in muscle tone, and a balance of the musculoskeletal systems.
Swedish massage shortens recovery time from muscular strain by flushing the tissues of lactic acid, uric acid, and other metabolic wastes. It increases circulation without increasing heart load. The usual sequence in which a Swedish massage strokes are conducted are Effleurage, Petrissage, Friction, Vibration, Percussion, and finally passive and active movements (bending and stretching).
Myofacial Release Massage: The term myofascial release is derived from the Latin words myo (or muscle) and fascia (or elastic band). In practice, myofascial release is a gentle therapy, consisting of a mixture of light stretching and massage work. During a session, the practitioner will apply hands-on massage strokes in order to release tension from the fibrous bands of the muscles, bones, nerves and joints, by unblocking any scar tissue or adhesions due to injury in the muscles and surrounding tissues. The therapist will often use light to moderate traction or friction and twisting strokes to apply the appropriate tension on the soft tissue, and to achieve a full reflex range of the muscle. This slow and subtle technique can be used to unblock fascia and muscle throughout the dog’s body. Myofascial release is a safe therapy that can be used as a preventative method or to promote the healing of an injured, stiff or painful muscle.
However, this therapy has also been effective in helping dogs with poor posture due to overcompensation from injury, chronic fatigue, severe tension and anxiety, as well as repetitive stress injuries of the muscular-skeletal system. Myofascial release therapy is done with kneading-style strokes that are meant to stretch, loosen, soften and lengthen muscle tissues. The strokes are applied with gentle pressure, and held for approximately 2-mintues in order for the stretch to have its full effect on the muscle. Typically the same stretch is performed more than once by the practitioner until the muscle is totally relaxed and a release is felt. The practitioner will always apply massage in the direction of the muscle fibers to encourage the full range of motion of the muscle. This massage can follow a ROM or Stretch modality.
Deep Tissue or Sports Recovery Massage: As its name implies, this method of massage concentrates on healing the canine form which is stressed from training or activity, and to help heal possible or existing physical ailment not accomplishable with more superficial modalities of massage. Deep tissue massage is a type of massage aimed at the deeper tissue structures of the muscle and fascia, also called connective tissue. Deep tissue massage uses many of the same movements and techniques as Swedish massage, but the pressure will generally be more intense. It is also a more focused type of massage, as the practitioner works to release chronic muscle tension or knots (also known as "adhesions.") in overworked areas.
With this massage, the practitioner will work more specifically with affected areas where knots and fluid retention is an issue. Rubbing your hand slowly over the dog’s entire frame while feeling for additional heat, swelling or bumps and watching the pet as it moves in a walk and a trot will help to find problematic areas. Stretching to maintain range of motion should always begin and end a deep tissue or sports recovery massage.
With any type of deep tissue massage it is important for the pet to have access to plenty of fresh water and frequent bathroom breaks following a session as a deep tissue massage will help flush lactic acid out of the tissues. If a pet doesn't get extra hydration and potties to help flush waste, they might be sore the next day.
The healing concept of shiatsu massage comes from the idea that under a normal healthy situation, the body experiences a free and balanced flow of energy through the meridians (twelve for humans and fourteen for canines). When the organs are not functioning properly or when there is undue stimulation from external sources, there is a stagnation of energy which results in sickness. For healing to occur in this situation, the energy flow must be normalized by working on the specific meridians in an even manner either through concentration on some specific points of the meridian or on the entire meridian. Either way, the shiatsu massage will help normalize the flow of energy.
The goal of acupressure or shiatsu (shiatsu is similar to acupressure) or other types of Asian bodywork is to restore health and balance to the body’s channels of energy and to regulate opposing forces of yin (negative energy) and yang (positive energy). Some proponents claim acupressure not only treats the energy fields and body but also the mind, emotions, and spirit. Some even believe that therapists can transmit the vital energy (external qi) to another person.
Shiatsu applies pressure on the meridian points and therefore no rubbing is used. This pressure is applied using sensory organs especially the palms, fingers and thumbs in order to regulate body imbalances. This means that a shiatsu massage practitioner must acquire good experience and skills to effectively help patients to get proper healing. It is not like ordinary massage; the practitioner uses body parts such as the paws, neck, head, back, toes and feet as access points to the major organs of the body which contribute to the overall well-being of the body.
Shiatsu massage uses body meridians. The human body has twelve meridians and each of these shiatsu meridians is linked to an organ in the body, the same applies for canines except that they have fourteen meridians. It is believed that the canine has more meridians than a human because due to their inability to vocalize, they have a greater attunement to their physical/emotional body connection. As such, shiatsu massage helps in stimulating the chi for the healing of the whole body. It does not heal the body organs directly but by balancing the flow of the chi in the meridians, the body is automatically able to heal itself. These meridians are referred to as the principal channels since they comprise the majority of the system’s meridian. In zen shiatsu massage therapy the meridians are named depending on the organs related to them.
Whether one believes in chi or life force energy, if you so choose, there is this channel of massage available for you to practice. It takes great additional study and time to be an accomplished acupressurist.
Palliative Care, Pathway or End of Life Massage
This is one of the most meaningful forms of massage care. When a pet is suffering from a progressive or untreatable disease, or from the advancing pain that can be associated with aging, massage can help. Whether from the anxiety that can accompany the gap that forms between a pet’s capable mind and their incapable body, or to give time of peaceful relaxation and relief from constant pain, this type of massage is a bridge between pain relief and releasing a pet emotionally from its lifelong earthly attachments. Easing pain that is chronic for a pet not only gives them some peace, but it gives their owners some peace as well. If you do not believe a pet feels emotions such as fear or anxiety, that is fine, pathway massage is also very much for the pet owner who indeed can feel all of these things when their pet is leaving them. Many owners become involved in pathway or end of life massage as a way to complete and bring full circle the bond with their pet that eventually must give way to telling a pet it is alright to move on and to not linger for their human bond. Pathway massage helps give a pet owner closure and relief to know their pet understands they are loved and respected for the spirit and entity they are.
This type of massage channels the unspoken word and concentrates on the energy which passes between the pet and their owner or massage practitioner. This type of massage is commonly shared in rescue and shelter situations with dogs which are not adoptable and feeling displaced in addition to struggling with physical pain or facing end of life.
This type of massage is also commonly shared in addition to sharing Reiki. One of the most powerful and leveling experiences a canine massage practitioner can go through is to offer pathway or other massage to pets which have no family, no support network, and are at their end of life transition. The transcendence that an animal attains as it passes through this world is a deep reminder of the importance of being genuine and simple with your heart and your actions.
Pressure, Contact and Rhythm
To understand your physical ability for applying pressure, try pressing on a kitchen or bathroom scale using just the muscles of your shoulder and arm. Practice by understanding the amount of force you exude by alternating using your thumb, your fingertips both singly and in groups, and the palm of your hand. Next add the other hand and use them together. Next practice each of the massage moves discussed earlier both with and without some of your added body weight as you would if giving a massage. Also, practice evaluating different pressures from 1 to 3 pounds, then onto 5 to 10, and up to 15 or 20. Repeat these exercises until you are aware and can feel what it takes of your body to exert the pressure at each level. These exercises will help you realize how little exertion you need to reach deep muscle structure.
During a massage you must be careful of the pressure you exert. Too much pressure can bruise muscle fibers without being outwardly noticed. The indication of a bruise, since it is not visible to the eye due to the dog’s hair coat, will be indicated by a hardening of the tissues. This is caused by a congestion of blood.
A finger stroking touch should rate at .1 to .5 pounds, and light touch is from .5 to 3 pounds, a regular touch is 3 to 5 pounds, a firm touch is 8 to 15 pounds and heavy pressure starts at 15 pounds. If you ever use more than 25 pounds of pressure you will bruise the muscles of most any dog. You would only want to use heavier pressure of around 15 pounds on the larger muscle groups and only after the dog has been well warmed up. When working on scar tissue or on ligaments, you can use up to 20 pounds of pressure, but you must work with care at that stage of your massage. The best pressure is one sufficient to cause the receiver a sensation midway between pleasure and pain. A good massage practitioner can apply pressure that produces deep bodily effects without any discomfort. But this work takes much care and practice. When getting into the deeper tissues always closely observe the dog’s feedback; especially the eyes.
Always begin with light pressure and work on to more pressure. Never jab or poke with your fingers. Start with light stroking, follow with effleurages (a gliding movement done with the palm and fingers), then build with wringing and kneading or compressions. All of these movements should be interspersed with effleurages every 20 to 30 seconds. Consequently, always ease off of heavier work with lighter and lighter strokes. Very heavy pressure will almost certainly cause soreness which will peak the following day.
Contact with the dog should be mindful. The best touch with the dog should be accomplished with your hands flexible and molded to its body parts.
Mindful contact will be strongly perceived by the dog, and this builds the trust bond necessary to achieving benefit for the dog. Always weave each stroke into the next to give a feeling of continuity. Never completely remove your hands between strokes. At all times, keep contact even when moving from one side of the dog to the other. If you lose contact you can create a disruptive feeling that prevents the dog from relaxing. Be mindful of how you use your fingertips while maintaining constant contact with the dog. Use the bulbs of your fingers and not just the very tips.
Within the confines of massage, rhythm refers to the frequency in which you apply your movements or strokes. Rhythm plays a large role in the effectiveness of your massage. A gentle or slower rhythm one stroke per second is used most frequently. Use a soothing rhythm to start your session and weave your movements into one another. A soothing rhythm works wonders in relaxing a dog’s nervous system, and this soft approach allows you to also work deeply if needed. A faster rhythm stimulates the dog, and it can be used to perk them up before exercise to aid in circulation before deep treatment or simply to warm up a dog when it is chilled. Be cautious of too fast a rhythm could irritate the dog and cause it to react negatively against the massage. Develop your sense of rhythm by counting in your head, by listening to the beats of accompanying music, or to your own heartbeat. Always start gentle and end gentle and vary your rhythm as needed in between.