Finding yourself with some extra time at home and wanting to help your four-legged friend feel a little relief from a variety of symptoms and conditions, or just an unexpected treat? Learning how to give a proper dog massage is enriching for both the owner and dog alike – while creating a powerful bonding experience.

Dog massages are great for older dogs or those with arthritis, since it helps soothe sore and achy joints.

How to give your dog a massage : 

Step 1 – Relax Together

The phrase “relaxation protocol” might sound a bit juxtapose, but it is a helpful process to start any therapy with your dog. While it is generally used to help dogs with anxiety issues and breaking bad habits, the fundamentals of relaxation protocol are based in helping your canine create mental calmness to not react, or rather overreact, to their environment. 

Start by placing a mat or cushion on the ground and getting your dog to first sit, then lay down and finally relax. Gently guide them with your hands or issue commands, if they are trained. Once the pet is relaxed on the cushion and your hand is on their chest cavity to provide some comfort touch, begin step 2.

Step 2 – Light Touches First

Start with soft, slow strokes from head to tail. Scratch behind the ears, rub along the cheeks and under the chin, over the nose, between the eyes. Always use light pressure and small, circular strokes–nothing fast, hard, or abrupt. 

Step 3 – Neck, Chest, Shoulders

When you move to the neck, shoulders, and chest, it’s perfectly fine to gather small folds of loose skin for a gentle pinch. You can use three fingers on each side of the leg, too, rubbing softly in opposite directions. You can even give the paws a prolonged and gentle squeeze, if your dog is comfortable with having his or her feet handled (not all are).

Step 4 – Spine and Tail

Walk your thumb and index finger down the length of the spine–not on the spine, but along the long muscles on each side. Squeeze the tail–don’t pull, but squeeze, gently and firmly, from base to tip. End with those long, slow strokes again.

Step 5 – Slowly Bring to an End

Throughout the massage, take your time. When your dog is ready for it to end – they will make it clear, usually by becoming restless or uncooperative – stop immediately. 

Precautions for your first massage

Bear in mind that not all dogs enjoy massage, so you need to pay close attention to your dog’s reactions as you proceed. Keep an eye out for these particular behaviors, all of which are telling you to stop now:

  • Growling or snarling
  • Flinching or yelping
  • Even the slightest nip
  • Flattened ears, twitching eyebrows
  • Tensing or holding of breath
  • Sidelong looks, rolling eyes

Giving your dog a massage reduces anxiety, relieves stress, improves circulation, and creates a great bond between you and your dog. If you have any issues with your pet that you feel need a professional, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team at Banning Veterinary Hospital.


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