While talking to people about canine massage, the most common response has been "it sounds great, but there's no way my dog will lie still for that long." I'm sure people are picturing human massage, where we lie flat and relax, only moving when we're told to roll over.
I won't deny it, my job would be much easier if dogs did the same. But in reality very few dogs will lie still for the whole treatment, especially if it's their first one. It's not a natural or comfortable position for some dogs to lie in, and must feel vulnerable to lie like that, especially with a stranger working on them.
The advantage that a human massage therapist has is that they can talk to their clients. They can explain what position they would like you in, what they're doing, and warn you about bits that might hurt. And yet some people (me included) still tense up, wriggle and flinch. So as we're not able to explain how we'd like them to behave or what we're doing, is it any wonder that dogs sometimes find it difficult to settle.
Having said that, you might be surprised to hear that many dogs do settle for at least part of the massage, and even if they don't during their first treatment, by their second or third visit when they understand what's going to happen they're normally relaxed and trusting enough to settle well. And even if they don't, that's fine as we can still treat them .
All canine massage therapists will have experienced wriggly dogs, yours won't be the first, and probably won't be the worst! As part of my training with the Canine Massage Therapy Centre, I learnt to work with a wide variety of dogs, and how to adapt the techniques to whatever position the dog chooses to be in, whether they prefer sitting, lying in a sphinx position, or even working very quickly in a painful area to avoid your dog making a break for freedom. I will work with you and your dog to find the most comfortable way of treating them, as some dogs prefer to be on the table, whereas others are comfortable or safer on the floor. Most dogs need a quiet and calm space, but I have seen a couple of dogs who preferred to be right in the middle of a busy family room.
I use techniques designed specifically to stimulate the dogs parasympathetic system, otherwise known as the rest and digest response, which is responsible for slowing the body down and bringing a calm feeling. Very few dogs fail to respond to this.
So what can you do to help your dog to settle?
Stay calm - It's fine if your dog isn't settling. If you start to worry, and try too hard to control and settle them, I can guarantee that you and your dog will both get more and more stressed. Trust me, I've been in that position with my wriggly Spaniel, Poppy. Relax, take deep breaths and send calming thoughts, your dog will pick up on this.
Listen to the therapist - The person treating your dog knows what you can do to best help, whether that's sitting with your dog, holding them in a certain way, watching for responses, or even just leaving them to it. If you have questions or suggestions, by all means ask, but trust that we've seen similar dogs before, we're asking you to do something for a good reason.
Set the scene - If the therapist is coming to your house, make sure you've got a calm quiet space ready, no toys lying around, other dogs are occupied elsewhere, and family members are briefed not to disturb. If possible try not to book a treatment for your dogs regular walk time or dinner time, they're unlikely to be calm if they're expecting dinner to arrive at any minute, I know I can't relax when I'm thinking about food!
Don't feed your dog during treatment - This might sound counter productive to those who are used to using food rewards to create positive associations. However a dog working for food tends to be in a state of anticipation, meaning muscles feel tense, it'll be harder to feel for issues if the muscles are in a state of contraction, and the treatment won't be as effective. Even at the point the dog eats a treat, we can feel the movement and muscle contractions that causes throughout the body, and if we're at a crucial point in a technique, the muscles suddenly contracting and the body moving can make it ineffective.
If you are considering massage for your dog, but you have some concerns, talk to the therapist. I'm always happy to talk about what the treatment involves, as well as discussing concerns specific to your dog, such as dogs who are wary of touch. A free muscular health check, offered by all Canine Massage Guild members, can be a good way for your dog to first experience touch, without any treatment taking place. I would definitely recommend booking your dog in for a treatment before any minor issues become serious, and before your dog is in pain. After all, it's a lot easier for them to relax and enjoy it when the treatment feels good, rather than some bits being uncomfortable because they are experiencing pain.