Canine Massage & Stretching: An Introduction

There is a growing interest in various complimentary methods of pet health care. Massage and stretching is one such practice which could considerably improve the quality of your dog’s life and may enable your pet to enjoy the natural agility of youth for many more years of its life, writes Jim Oleby.

As a canine physiotherapist I treat dogs with muscle, tendon, joint and ligament related problems and injuries.

My activities include a number of different forms of treatment including electrotherapy, acupuncture, laser treatments, massage and stretching.

An important part of my job is to inform and improve knowledge about the everyday care of dogs in areas such as hygiene, coat and paws, nutrition, exercise and training. Massage and stretching can considerably improve the quality of your dog’s life.

The dog may be able to enjoy the natural agility of youth for many more years of its life. Massage and stretching are a complement to daily exercise, obedience training and diet and are suitable for all dogs regardless of breed, age or size.

Many dog owners invest considerable time in activating their dogs by obedience training, seeking activities, tracking and protection exercises at training grounds, out in the countryside or in the forest. We might present dogs at shows and judge their appearance and breed attributes.

These activities allow us to spend time with our dogs while also keeping them physically and mentally alert. We also spend time to improve the everyday care of our dogs in areas such as hygiene, coat and paws, and nutrition.

We easily spend a considerable amount of time and money every year on the caring and training of our dogs. We do tend to “forget” a simple and low cost preventive treatment. That is massage and stretching. The cost of massage and stretching is low and is a great and important investment in our dog’s health. The knowledge of massage and stretching cost so little but gives so much.

Let me take an example from a “normal” day. We all agree that we do feel better when we are exercising. Maybe we go out for that weekly jogging round and of course we bring our best friend with us for company. When we get to the woods we do not dash out of the car and run for our lives a couple of hundred metres and then stop, making some short explosive rushes and then stop again. After that we run as hard as we can again for some more hundred metres. And so on.

No, of course not, you say. We are starting of with a walk and then after a while we will start jogging and maybe we after a while will increase our tempo to running. When we have finished our 3 or 5 kilometres round we slow down to jogging tempo for a while and then slowing down further to walking. And when we have stopped we use some minutes for stretching our sore muscles. I think we all can relate to this. We will feel much better the next day after some stretching. And then of course who wouldn’t like some massage afterwards as well.

Well, that was us. How are we treating our best friend in a similar situation, maybe at the training ground or out in the woods for a longer stroll? How many times haven’t we just released our dog and then it has taken of like a tornado. Maybe we have thrown balls or sticks for it to catch and so on. Honestly, why are we not as generous to our dog as we are to ourselves? It is so easy to do the same procedure with our dog.

How to do it!

First remember that the dog should have warmed up before starting the exercise. I also strongly recommend that you allow your dog to wind down after the exercise before any stretching activities.

Here is a check list that could be used before the exercise.

· Let the dog walk slowly for a while and then increase the tempo for 2-3 minutes.

· Let the dog trott for 2-3 minutes.

· Let the dog gallop for one minute.

· Then let the dog make some short explosive moves.

· Let the dog wind down a little by going back to trotting and then walking.

Warming up does not tire the dog but rather increases blood circulation and warm up the muscles ensuring that the joints are lubricated and more supple. The dog is now ready to perform. After the warm up you could also easily test your dog’s mobility using the eight most common stretching grips. You should be sensitive to your dog’s signals. The dog should not experience any discomfort. If it does, don’t hesitate to contact the vet.

After completing the exercise let the dog wind down and then carefully do some stretching exercises. And when you come home reward the dog with massage and you will get a happy performing dog ready for new challenges. Massage and stretching is an essential and low cost investment in your dog’s health and future competitions.

Massage.

Massage is by far the best treatment for reducing muscle tension and the recovering period is reduced. You can progress faster with tougher training if you integrate massage and stretching because the muscles are assisted in the work of increasing the absorption of nutrients and the removal of lactic acid. Massage also extends the tissues and muscles we are unable to reach through stretching. Massage and stretching will give you a relaxed and better performing dog.

“The greater part of the pressure you exert should be applied by the flat hand although your thumb and fingers are also engaged in manipulation.”

Stretching.

Stretching is when you extend an extremity towards it’s ultimate position, in other words you separate the muscle’s root and insertion, holding this position for a moment. With stretching you work up good mobility in the muscle and around the joints and you also reduce the pressure on the joints. I think that we should pay greater attention to assessing mobility to encourage the sort of care that can spare dogs unnecessary injuries in the future. A well-functioning dog has retained its natural elasticity and suppleness.

“Hold the dog’s elbow with one hand, grasping the wrist with the other. Move the leg forward and upwards, stretching the elbow joint and the flexor muscles of the foreleg (shoulder joint)."

Massage and stretching are an essential and low cost investment in your dog’s health and will give you a happy and healthy canine friend. As a dog owner you can massage and stretch your dog’s muscles regularly. This enables your dog to maintain good health longer through life and improves the quality of your dog’s life. The risk of injury is substantially reduced and you may be able to detect changes in your dog’s health before they can be seen. So why don’t you try it?

You will see that your dog will want a massage and will no longer be content with random rubbing and neither will you.

Jim Oleby, author of the book ”Canine Massage and Stretching – A Dog Owners Manual.

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