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Does Your Dog Need a Massage?

Help your dog stay fit and flexible with these stretch techniques by a certified pet strength and conditioning specialist.

by Raquel Wynn
May 31, 2022
Woman in navy sweatshirt massaging small white dog on the couch
leungchopan / Adobe Stock

Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)

You’ve perfected the butt scratch and the belly rub, but what about a full-blown dog massage? Stretching and massaging your pup can have bonafide health benefits. For many dogs, especially as they age, joint degeneration, muscle atrophy, loss of flexibility and subsequent pain are all too common. Considering that Western medical options for treating a dog’s pain and arthritis are limited (typically, prescription drugs and/or surgery), it is important to seek out natural ways to increase our pups’ longevity and minimize their pain.

Movement is how a dog’s body heals. Dogs can maintain and even improve mobility and range of motion of the joints with just a few minutes of stretching and massage each day. When it comes to health, mobility, and pain management, consistency — rather than intensity — is key. Once you have the green light from your vet, incorporate the following dog stretches and massages into your dog’s regular rubbing routine. *

Benefits of Stretching Your Dog

  • Keeps muscles supple and flexible

  • Boosts circulation

  • Increases oxygenation and hydration

  • Enhances dog/person bond

  • Engenders feelings of calm and contentment

Dog Massage Tips

  • Be gentle, patient and attentive.

  • Set your intention on healing.

  • Watch for signs of discomfort and adjust your approach accordingly.

  • Provide a safe, quiet environment when using “hands-on” modalities.

  • Take note of bumps, areas of heat and sensitivity, and changes in the skin and fur.

  • Discuss all abnormal findings with your vet.

  • Follow your dog’s lead.

Ask a Vet

Sudden scratching? Finicky food eater? Loose poop? Whatever pet health question is on your mind, our veterinary pros are here to help.

Types of Dog Massages and Stretches

Butt & Back Rub

Keep your pup’s back in tip-top shape — and nerve impingement to a minimum — with some light massage on the sacrum, located above the base of the tail between the hip bones. Use light pressure and circular movements over this hard flat surface. Proceed up the length of your dog’s spine with gentle massage strokes. (When in direct contact with spinal vertebrae, use very little pressure.)

Results: Increased spinal fluid flow, root chakra balance, decreased anxiety, mobility of the hips and spine, freedom of movement.

Back Leg Stretch

Decreased mobility of the hips and deterioration of the knee are major problems for elderly canines. Keep your dog perky by loosening up their hip, lower back, and leg muscles. Take hold of their rear leg near the knee and gently pull the leg back in an extended position. Move slowly and confidently. Hold the stretch for a few seconds, release and repeat.

Results: Increased mobility of the hips and flexibility in the spine; decreased pain associated with arthritis; improved health of the low back, hip and leg muscles; oxygenation of the ankle, knee and hip.

Shoulder Stretch

More than 60 percent of your dog’s body weight is absorbed by their shoulders. Improved range of motion at the shoulder equals greater mobility, less pain, and looser chest, shoulder, and upper back muscles. Move your dog’s front leg forward in an extended position. (Stabilize movement at the elbow for a more intense stretch.) Hold this stretch for a few seconds, release, and repeat. Once you have completed this shoulder stretch, move the dog’s leg forward and back in a pendulum movement to further release the muscles of the shoulder, chest and back.

Results: Integrity of the shoulder girdle; increased breathing capacity; improved health of the wrist, elbow and shoulder; decreased pain; freedom of movement.

Chest Opener

Your dog’s chest musculature endures a tremendous amount of strain. Offer some relief with this abduction (away from center) stretch. Take hold of their front legs near the wrists and gently open them out to the side. Hold for a few seconds, release and repeat. Finish up with a gentle chest massage.

Results: Softening of the brachial and cardiac plexus, ensuring a calm canine; heart chakra balance; hydration of the chest, shoulder and intercostal (between the ribs) muscles; increased breathing capacity.

Belly Rub

Your dog’s soft belly is a sensitive area, so be especially gentle when touching this spot. Gently place your hand on their belly, wait for a pulse or heat, then release and repeat. Move hands in a clockwise circular motion to treat constipation; use a counterclockwise motion to treat diarrhea.

Results: Decreased anxiety; loosening of the muscles along the front of the spine; increased mobility of hips, low back and spine; softening of the solar plexus and diaphragm; increased breathing capacity.

* All moves can be performed while your dog is either standing or lying down.

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Raquel Wynn

Raquel Wynn, CSCS, CPT, LMT, based in Nashville, TN, is the author of the book Stretch Your Dog Healthy and the host of petliferadio.coms Wynn with Dogs.