Canine Massage Guild

My Dog Hates Massage!

I really feel for owners whose dogs don’t enjoy massage and are either obviously just tolerating it or actively trying to escape. They get their dog treated to help them feel better, and end up feeling conflicted because their dog hasn’t enjoyed it and they wonder whether they are doing the right thing.

Well firstly let me confess - none of my three dogs enjoys a full massage treatment. And I would say it’s more common for me to treat a wriggly escape artist, at least on the first treatment, than it is a happy relaxed dog.

So why might your dog not be enjoying massage?

Dogs are individuals, with different preferences about touch, different tolerances to pain, and generally different opinions about what could be considered enjoyable. Just like humans, where one person finds a Swedish massage at a spa blissfully relaxing, and another one (me!) would rather be anywhere else, but can tolerate a deep sports massage when needed. We also can’t explain to our dogs what we’re doing and why, so it must feel very odd and potentially scary to them.

Poppy enjoys some treatment, she’s always loved cuddles and attention, so for her some Swedish techniques are a nice relaxing extension of that. But she has a low tolerance to pain and finds much of what I’d like to do very uncomfortable, and she’s not shy about telling me that she absolutely won’t tolerate it!

Finn isn’t keen on handling in general, and would love to escape. He is tolerant at best, but does at least trust me enough that he will let me work on him to some degree or let me hold him while another therapist is treating him.

Fly hates any form of attention and touch, and while she is the most compliant of my dogs, lying very still, she’s also clearly the most uncomfortable.

Can you do anything to help your dog?

Talk to your therapist about what might make your dog more comfy - would a change of location, a different time of day, other dogs being present or absent, music in the background, more getting to know you time, or lots of chicken help? You know your dog best, if there’s anything you can think of that might help, suggest it, it might be worth a try. 

It’s also worth considering, if your dog is being treated due to a chronic orthopaedic condition, is their reaction due to pain? And if the reaction is because massage is painful, are their pain levels generally under control? If you haven’t considered medication or haven’t reviewed medication in a while, have a chat with your vet. While I try to use natural pain relief where possible, prescribed medication absolutely has its place. And over time medication can become less effective, so a change of dosage or of meds may help. 

But what if despite everyone’s best efforts your dog never progresses beyond just about tolerating massage? Should you continue to get them treated?

For me the answer will depend on the individual dog, and I base it on the following - Does the benefit my dog gets from massage outweigh their dislike of it? 

For Poppy the answer is absolutely yes. Poppy’s main issue is that her left hind leg takes all the strain from her arthritic right one. When her left leg gives up she can’t walk. And with one treatment I can get her moving again. Also she is happy to wear a muzzle so I’m not at any risk, and she’s very quick to forgive any painful bits, both important considerations. So without massage Pops would have a seriously reduced quality of life, meaning it is definitely worthwhile. Because she lives with me I work on her little and often, if she were a client I would be carrying out maintenance treatments every 4-6 weeks. There are techniques I don’t use as she can’t tolerate them, but on the whole massage is very effective for her.

For Finn the answer is that it is worthwhile but I keep it to a minimum. He doesn’t enjoy it and doesn’t find it relaxing, but he is quick to get over it, doesn’t seem to be particularly affected and does respond well. I treat him just the same as I would a client - when he’s fit and well I treat him 3 to 4 times a year as he’s an active sporting dog and I want to pick up little niggles early on. I will only treat more often if he’s actually injured. 

Fly is different though. When treating her she goes absolutely stiff and tense, and won’t relax at all. Although she just lies there, she displays every stress signal going. And afterwards she slinks around the house looking nervous. For Fly regular maintenance massage would more than likely do more harm than good. So instead I watch Fly for any signs of a problem (using the Canine Massage Guild 5 Principles of Pain to guide me - and only check and treat her as necessary. Because she’s a hardy creature, that’s only been once this year, and even then I found her lameness was due to a skinned pad. Yes there are minor muscular issues, but nothing that affects her movement or wellbeing in a noticeable way, so I respect Fly’s right to say that treatment isn’t for her.

If you’re not sure whether treatment is right for your dog, chat to your therapist. We’ll be honest, I personally don’t want to treat a dog who really does hate it and as a result doesn’t benefit much. If your dog does benefit though, we can talk about what is the longest gap we can leave maintenance treatments, make sure you’re aware of the signs of when your dog might have an injury so you can seek treatment at the right time, and potentially give you techniques to use at home which may make your dog more comfortable with touch.