A local dog walker has been very helpfully recommending my dog massage service to her clients. She asked me if I could put together a ‘Puppy Pack’ and ‘Senior Sheet’ – some documents that she could hand out to her clients who have young dogs and more elderly dogs and how massage could benefit them.
Assembling my ideas for a Senior Sheet was quite easy – things like relaxing techniques, massage movements targeting arthritic joints, passive stretches and releasing tight muscles. The Puppy Pack took me a bit longer to get my head around. But being the research nerd that I am, I started to pull together some information from articles that I found plus work I had done myself in my Dog Diploma course. This gave me a framework of ideas and techniques that would be most appropriate to a puppy with reasons why they would be useful.
While I was putting the pack together I had a call from a rather anxious owner of a 6 month old Springer Spaniel puppy who asked if I could go and see her for ideas of how to calm her dog down as the puppy was very hyperactive as well as very nervous. The owner seemed to be running out of ideas and it seemed rather fortuitous for me as I could get some real evidence for my document.
When I went to see her it was clear that she was becoming quite distressed with the puppy’s behaviour. One piece of advice that we were constantly given at the puppy behaviour classes that we took Sam and Sarah to was that your puppy will feel your anxiety. If you are nervous when out walking, that will transmit along the lead. At the time I thought “Yeah….yeah” but have now come to realise that dogs and their owners really do have a telepathic link.
The owner I went to see had already been to two canine behaviourists. The last one she saw recommended she take the puppy to the vets to be put on medication (!). I found that quite scary advice as the puppy is, after all, a puppy and a Springer Spaniel puppy at that. They are clearly going to be bonkers for much of their younger years but could turn out to be loving intelligent dogs with some work. The owner specifically said she felt she needed to bond with her puppy more. I suggested that working out a massage routine for her that she gives to her dog daily for the next few weeks could be a great start to the bonding process since massage can be so intimate and quiet.
I had to start by peeling the puppy from the walls and ceiling – she was indeed very bouncy. She eventually sat next to me on the sofa and allowed me to perform some introductory touches to get her confident with me. A bit of wriggling ensued as she thought this was a great game but I persisted. After a few minutes I was actually able to do 3 effleurage strokes in a row along one side of her body. Initially 3 seemed the limit before she wriggled and nibbled my arm. But I still persisted until I had got up to 5, then 7 and eventually a whole 12 strokes along one side. The key was rhythm. Dogs love routine and I have found during my time of treating dogs that keeping my movements rhythmic and predicable soon helps the dog find their ‘massage zone’. You start to get the sighs, the deep breathing, the rolling eyes and general settling down. This is what the puppy needed. She certainly didn’t need anything fast or more stimulating – she was active enough as it was.
After 20 minutes or so I was able to maintain effleurage along both sides of her body down to her chest and up her front and back legs with diminishing protest. I thought I’d go for broke and try another stroke. Compression strokes on her shoulders and thighs did not go down well but neck, cheek and chest massage resulted in me getting big licks and gooey eyes. While I was on a roll I tried foot pumping – she loved that too looking up at me with the biggest eyes possible.
After 30 minutes or so she decided she’d had enough and simply put herself back into her bed where she lay down. Her owner was speechless. She hadn’t seen this reaction for many weeks. While we were chatting about what to do next the puppy came back and sat right on my lap as though she’d decided she wanted more. No more climbing the walls, just a ‘Les-massage-me-NOW’ look. Both the owner and I shared a little smile.
I handed the puppy over to the owner and talked her through the techniques that seemed to work. Slow rhythmic relaxing effleurage from the rump, along the sides and down the chest. Effleurage from the toes to shoulder and hips. Circles around the cheeks and rump. These did the trick – for both owner and puppy. After an hour the owner also seemed in a happier, calmer place.
I suggested she try adding some calming natural oil to her routine – maybe with lavender to promote relaxation and left her with a 20 minute routine that I suggested she performs at least once a day. The puppy was also quite anxious at times, such as getting in or out of the car, so I suggested adding a quick massage at these extra times of anxiety so she begins to forget the nasty stresses but looks forward to the nice massage.
So thanks to the little spaniel I was able to go home and finish my Puppy Pack of techniques and reasons why they would work. Simple techniques like slow calming rhythmic effleurage can make all the difference and can help you bond with your puppy and make sure that you prevent things going wrong or become aware if they do. Your puppy will soon understand that you are being caring and love you all the more.
Dr Les Ellam
AchyPaw Remedial Massage & Massage Therapy for Dogs
Dr Les Ellam is a dog massage therapist, human masseur and sports therapist. He also has a first class honours degree in Zoology and a PhD in Neurophysiology & Behaviour and taught at the University of Brighton for more than 20 years before founding AchyPaw. He resides in Brighton, UK, with his two collie/spaniel crosses Sam and Sarah.