The foundations

Recommended book : The complete dog massage manual – Gentle dog care par Julia Robertson

Before any manipulation, lets make sure our dog really wants to be touched, have caresses or get a massage. A dog who appreciates caresses in general, may not want to be touched at a specific time of the day or week (excitement, fatigue, pain, thirst, needs, …). If our dog is forced (by physically restraining him or giving him the order to stay for example), the caresses or massages will not give him any benefit.

Some dogs will appreciate a simple touch, such as placing the hand, the back of our hand or the palm on their skin, with relaxed fingers and without moving.

Let’s choose a comfortable place for our dog: a quiet room and a mattress or a blanket. The sleeping equipment (mattress or blanket) will be the place of all sessions. If our dog wants to take a break, he can just leave the sleeping area. It’s up to us to respect its limits and its desires.

Massages are always in the direction of hair growth and muscles, and leaving a hand in contact with the dog (still, outside the massage area). We can also use both hands, making sure that a hand remains in contact with the dog. Let’s be aware that two moving hands are not recommended for nervous dogs. For small dogs, we can use two fingers instead of the full hand (index and middle finger).

When the session begins, lets think about giving him the opportunity to take a break and leave: we just have to take off our hands and watch our dog’s reactions for 5 seconds. Through his body language, his postures or his attitudes, he will tell us whether he wants the session to resume, to end or if a short break is necessary.

If they do not want to be touched, some dogs will simply move back as soon as they understand our intention. Others, will be more subtle and show calming signals such as:

  • freezing,
  • turning the head,
  • licking,
  • yawning,
  • blinking,…

To respect his personal space

If humans hug and kiss each other at will, it’s not the same for dogs. This proximity is far too invasive for a dog; the lack of freedom for any  movements created by “a big hug” may put our dog in an uncomfortable position. Most dogs learn to tolerate these invasions and rudeness from humans, but that does not mean they find it pleasant or comfortable.

How to start

The easiest technique to learn is effleurage : the hand flat, fingers joined, with light pressure. Our dog will tell us if the pressure should be lighter or heavier. It feels like a caress, but the intention is different: let’s focus on the feeling of our hand. What information do we receive through the palm of our hand? Do we feel heat, knots or soft muscles, tensions in our dog’s body?

Here’s how to proceed :

  • Let’s settle near the massage area (on our sleeping equipment such as a mattress or blanket) ;

play-video Video: to invite Fripouille for a massage

  • let’s sit or kneel beside our dog (do not bend over him or face him) ;
  • let’s place the palm of one hand on our dog, this hand will stay on our dog the whole time ;
  • let’s put our second hand, palm on the shoulder, and gently, make slow and calm movements, let’s slide our hand from the shoulders to the flank, respecting the direction of hair growth and muscles (3x on each side) ;
  • we can also use both hands, one after the other (one hand is better for a nervous dog) We can also use both hands, one after the other (one hand is better for a nervous dog) ;
  • during the session, we will be aware of our body language and avoid looking at him (let’s touch exclusively  the flank that is on our side) ;
  • take breaks to make sure our dog still wants to be touched  (5 seconds) ;
  • we should let him leave at any moment if he wants to ;
  • then let’s move from the top of the shoulder to the chest (3x on each side) ;

play-video Video: from the neck to the shoulder and from the shoulder to the chest

  • let’s go back to the top of the shoulder and follow the column backwards (not on the backbone, but right next to it) (3x on each side) ;
  • let’s make sure our dog still wants to be touched ;
  • let’s go to the neck, placing our hand behind his ear and slowly sliding towards the shoulder (3x on each side) ;
  • we can also massage the thighs: let’s be careful to hold the knee joint with one hand, while the surface of the thigh is massaged by the other hand.

If our dog is ready to carry on, we can offer him a smoothing of the ears: the ear held by the fingers and smoothed by the thumb, by slow movements, in the direction of  hair growth (from the top of the ear towards the edge).

Effleurage selon Julia Robertson, Galen Therapy

The hand flat, fingers joined – For small dogs, two fingers are enough (index and middle fingers)

Lisser le cartilage de l'oreille pour des chiens épanouis

Smoothing the cartilage of the ear with the thumb, the ear is sustained by the hand

The benefits

It has been proven that proper massages help to lower the dog’s heart rate. The dog is relaxed, the experience is positive.

Massage positively influences the lymphatic system and the circulatory system and helps healing. Let’s remember that the veins carry stale blood while the arteries carry oxygenated blood. If the muscle is blocked by a knot or tension, it is full of venous blood (waste) that can not circulate properly. By stretching the muscle, arterial blood (oxygen) is allowed to nourish and repair the muscle.

Massage leads to the production of oxytocin. It is a neurotransmitter that has an effect on the limbic system, the emotional center of the brain, which promotes feelings of satisfaction, reduces anxiety and stress. During a massage, the masseur and the dog both produce this hormone of well-being. Massage tends to elevate the levels of dopamine and releases endorphins and serotonin into blood vessels that improve mood and create happiness.

Muscle massage reduces muscle spasms, cramps and adhesions. It also prevents malfunction of muscles and fasciae (tissue that surrounds the muscles as well as the nerves, bones, blood vessels, …).

Massage is obviously known for its relaxing effects, both physiologically and psychologically.

By respecting the wishes of our dog (give him the choice to stop the massage, adapt the pressure to his needs, the massage areas, …), the relationship between our dog and us, can only improve.

Do not massage

  • within two hours before and after meals,
  • when the dog is sick (dehydrated, fever, swollen ganglion, …),
  • when the dog is injured (open wound, infected skin, …),
  • when he is tired or breathes heavily,
  • in case of clinical shock,
  • immediately after an accident or impact,
  • in case of persistent pain (without diagnosis),
  • a lump, protuberance or tumor,
  • if the dog does not want to get a massage.

play-video Video: when Koumack does not want to get a massage


  • it’s up to us to observe and understand what our dog enjoys ;
  • we should give massages on a specific place (mattress or blanket) that our dog can leave if he wants to ;
  • we should adapt the massage (zones, pressures, …) to the reactions of our dog ;
  • we should be aware of contraindications.

activités pour chiens épanouis stimulations mentales et jeux d'olfactionActivities for happy dogs