I received a question from a reader the other day, and as I was typing away answering it, it occurred to me that perhaps others could benefit from reading this as well. Patricia graciously allowed me to post her question and my answer, so here it is:
Q: Everyone tells me that in the area I live, people would rather massage their own dogs than pay for a professional even if they aren’t aware of what they are doing. I have such a burning desire to do this [become an animal massage therapist]. I have two dogs and have massaged them for years, based solely on intuition and my human anatomy background, having worked for chiropractors, medical doctors, done medical illustration, etc. I have been researching schools, those that have distance learning, as I have a spinal disease, which makes it impossible for me to travel too far. I have found two and I wonder if you would give me your input. Can you inspire/help me – give me the knowledge of your experience?
Answer by Cattie:
My advice to you would be to do a little bit of research first to see if there is a market for animal massage in your area before investing in an education. I would do this by talking to as many professionals working with animals as possible – vets, vet techs, alternative healers, shelter personnel, etc. as well as dog owners. Since you have two dogs yourself, I’m sure you spend a lot of time in dog parks, or other areas where other dog owners go, so you could easily find this out by just chatting while you’re out anyway (you might want to ask what people would be prepared to pay for such a service too). Go through a few cash flow scenarios to see if you would be able to make enough once you’ve gathered all your data.
Also think about ways that you could market your business and how you would find new clients. One sad side of working with animals is that by the time people hire you to work on their pets, many are old and not doing so well, so you have to be prepared for both the emotional and financial impact of losing your animal clients (I’m talking about the rainbow bridge here, not just people not calling you back).
It’s all well and good for people to massage their own pets, but they need to know what they’re doing. There are instances where massage is not the best option – in fact it can be downright dangerous to the pet’s health. One thing that I did when I had my animal massage business was to offer dog owners the option of learning massage from me while I worked on their pets. You could work that out any way you want to of course, but I what I did was having people sign their dog up for a series of 5 massages. The first and second appointments were me massaging their dog while talking about what I was doing and why (after we went over the dog’s health history and current problems). At the third appointment, I gave the dog a massage and then had the owner try it with my help. At the fourth appointment, we massaged the dog together. I then gave the owner some homework (massage their dog basically) and at the fifth appointment, the owner massaged their dog while I observed and answered questions (and made corrections where needed). A good idea is to have an extra appointment scheduled 6 months later to go over the dog’s health again (in case things have changed) and answer questions and offer additional advice. Before massaging anybody’s pet though, make sure the owner checks with their vet and get his/her ok.
Which schools were you looking at? In my opinion, everybody needs some hands-on training with their instructor(s), I don’t feel like learning from reading and watching DVDs is good enough. Another thing to consider is that giving massages can be kind of tough on your body, depending on the size and lack of mobility of the dog – would it be too much for your back? It’s also good to be able to move fast – not all dogs take to massage and I have had a few try to bite. I always work on the floor, since many dogs get skittish when they’re up on a table, and I also don’t want them to feel trapped. If they want to get up and wander around, and maybe get a drink of water, in the middle of the massage (and many do), I want them to be able to.
Having said all this, if you are really passionate about working with animals and have the drive and determination to not let anything stop you (being a marketing whiz also helps!): go for it. You’ll find ways to work it out, even if it means having to work a full time job while getting your business off the ground, or keep a part time job for a few years until you’re making enough of a steady income to survive on your business alone. Good luck and keep us updated!