Rubbing Your Dog the Right Way

The Benefits of Massage

It’s no secret how great a massage can make you feel. What many aren’t aware of is how great a massage can make your dog feel.

Therapeutic massage has actually been used on animals as a physical therapy tool for decades, but according to Top Dog winner Rubi Sullivan of Heal Northwest, there are very few conditions that can’t be helped — and in some cases healed — with regular massage.

In addition to chronic joint and musculoskeletal issues, like arthritis, massage can help reduce post-surgery inflammation, boost the immune system, and calm allergies.

“Anytime you can bring a system into balance it’s a good thing,” Sullivan says. “It’s like a positive response to the pain cycle.”

Your canine friend having digestive issues? A little hands-on care might help with that, too.

“Massage helps in particular with the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the rest and relaxation part of the nervous system,” Sullivan explains. “That happy satiated feeling you get after you eat — massage can create that.”

Engaging the parasympathetic nervous system through massage has also been effective in addressing behavioral problems.

“Beth and I have been working with a couple of dogs that are very reactive. It’s a scared response,” says Sullivan. “But if you can show them that they’re not going to get hurt … baby steps … increasing that relaxation response, it can be very helpful.”

What’s even better about massage is that it’s something pet owners can learn to do themselves at home —making it a bonding experience that benefits both pet and pet parent. But don’t expect your dog to just lie there in bliss.

“Dogs are kinesthetic learners,” says Sullivan. “They learn through the process of touch. So your dog might need to get up, walk around, maybe take a water break and come back before you’re done.”

Want to have the magic touch when it comes to your dog? Heal NW holds basic Massage for Dog Owners classes, teaching pet parents how to massage their own dogs at home, at various metro area locations. Details appear page D24, and at 

If you go, be sure Sullivan shows you some good chest and neck rubs, as well as how to go about “tapping the sacrum.” She says many dogs seem to especially like those techniques.

Even if your dog doesn’t have physical conditions that need to be addressed through massage, the practice can still benefit your relationship with your canine.

“The more hands-on you are with a dog, the more comfortable they’re going to be with you,” Sullivan says.

Michele Coppola is a veteran Portland radio personality and copywriter for Entercom Radio as well as the new Managing Editor for Spot Magazine. She shares a home and couch space with her three rescue pooches Lucy, Bailey, and Ginny--as well as Bryon, the stray man she married six years ago.