New findings of PetMassageTM Research Re: The skin between your dog’s toes.

Examining paws

The pads are the first information receptors for the physical world around the dog. They communicate the shapes, textures, temperatures, and other descriptive information that the dog needs to stay safe. The pads are flexible and can contour to the shapes they press on. Dogs use all five of their pads on each paw, four pads, one for each toe, and in the forelegs, larger palmer pads. The pads work together to collect and share information so that they can have a greater understanding of their environment. The fascia serves as the communication system for all the nerves, muscles, tendons, ligaments, blood and lymphatic circulation. Whatever any one of these functions experiences affects the entire network. The fascia communicates from one toe to another through the webbing between the toes.

During a PetMassageTM, I make a point of examining dogs’ pads; stimulating them. I press and release the various textures on the bottoms of the pads, the sides of the pads, and the hairy hollows between them. The paws are where the rubber meets the road. Scratches, scuffs, cuts and embedded debris can cause considerable discomfort. Little irritations can morph into bigger problems.

Swelling as an inflammatory process

Often the toe joints are only minimally flexible. When they are, I assess the knuckles. Sometimes I notice puffiness which would suggest swelling. Swelling restricts movement by increasing the pressure within the joint capsule. The pressure also creates the increased heat that we detect over swollen, injured, or stressed areas.

The bones are the levers and attachment sites for the fabric of fascia. When the joint is moved too far, the pain receptors get squeezed and it elicits pain. So dogs choose to self-restrict movement to avoid pain. They may not toe touch, they may limp, and they may step tentatively. By reducing the movement within the joint, the elements of the joint have the time and opportunity to heal. This is the nature’s way.

PetMassageTM Protocol

The PetMassageTM protocol is to support the body’s systems, by using hand compression and joint mobilization to gently roll the toes. With one hand above and one hand below, the toes are rolled from side to side. This type of rolling moves the articulating ends of the bones about, to unexpected and unfamiliar patterns.

This is not new. We’ve been teaching compression, joint mobilization, and this rolling technique in PetMassageTM workshops for almost 20 years.

New findings

This is the exciting new part!

I have recently noticed in several of my clients that when I gently massage the webbing between their toes, they retract that limb, collecting it back toward the body. This applies especially to the limbs that are held in rigid and immobile positions. The pressure I employ is mild; as if rolling a plump golden raisin between thumb and forefinger.

Is it a pain response? I experimented on myself. When I pinched the webbing between my foretoes forcefully, it did elicit hurt. However, since I would never use such pressure with dogs, the limb retraction must be an alternative motor response. Is it tickling the dog? No. Dogs appear to enjoy the foot massage and often appear a bit surprised when their legs soften and retract.

Autonomic response

This response appears to tap into the Autonomic response of the Reptilian part of dogs’ brains. It is similar to the Fight or Flee impulse. Let’s name it the call and response of noticing something weird between the toes and a quickly withdrawing response.

The dog is obviously accessing and responding with encoding from ancient genetic memory. Consider the lessons of stepping into an unfamiliar or dangerous or irritating environment. Dogs learned long ago that it is not a good idea to step on bugs, reptiles, and rotting wood infested with things that bite and sting. Best to avoid any nuisances that wriggle about between the toes. They also display confusion when they step on a turtle that they’ve taken for a rock and it moves.

The activity of gently massaging the webbing between the toes elicits the same movement as a dog that is not expecting the rock to move. They pull the outstretched limb back toward the core. This is a good and propitious thing. It apparently reminds dogs of feeling sensations that are unfamiliar.

We do not need to know why the limbs retract.

For a healthful and comfortable quality of life with adequate respiration and strong cardiovascular circulation, dogs require movement. Some of the older dogs who come for PetMassageTM are so stiff that they simply cannot move easily or well.

Gently massaging the webbing between the toes is an easy way to get a dog to contract her limbs automatically, as willed from the body itself, without having to work against their preconceived or habitualized notions of how their limbs are “supposed” to function.

I am a bodyworker who lives in a world of continuous wonderment and appreciation for the complex nature of relationships within myofascia. Now we see that PetMassaging the webbing between dogs’ toes affects movement of the shoulders, elbows, wrists and paws in the fore, and the hips, stifles, hocks and paws, in the hind.

Movement supports the autoimmune systems.

Remember, the major lymphatic nodes are in the major joints. The lymphatic system is the foundation for the immune system. The major lymph nodes are the Submandibular (under the jaw), Prescapular (in front of the shoulder blades), Axillary (in the armpit), Inguinal, (in the groin) Popliteal (behind the stifle). These are the primary large movement areas: the head and neck, the shoulders, the hips and the legs.

The web signals flow in the opposite direction, as well. Dogs with undefined itchiness or discomfort, from allergies to stress, often intuitively lick the spaces between their toes. Usually the area we see is pink, or if it is a white dog, saliva stained brown. Dogs can get so obsessive that their licking escalates to raw, open sores. These are medical conditions that are beyond our scope of practice and require veterinary intervention.

Application for forelegs

This PetMassageTM response is most effective with dogs who are stiff from advanced age, obesity, compensating for shoulder soreness, arthritis or injuries, and lack of balance.

Application for hindlegs

It is effective for dogs with such hind end issues as hip soreness and instability, stifle stiffness and instability, swelling, heat, and refusal to accept touch to hocks and paws.

This technique gets dogs to bend the joints in their legs. Folding the legs into the body increases circulation. Folding the legs into the body enhances flexibility.

Documenting and duplicating the response

As I am writing this, I attempted to duplicate the response with Camille, our 3 year old boxer. Cami, who was sleeping at the time, altered her breathing pattern, shifted her position on my lap, and instinctively pulled her elbow into her ribs. I’m enough of a whisperer to recognize her grumble, “Cut it out. I’m asleep!”

Okay, this time the limb pulled in because it was annoying. I get that. But, even with our young, healthy, and vibrant Sleeping Beauty, it works.

Find student reports on

There is a menu item that we’ve entitled A & P, or Anatomy and Physiology These are student papers that you can use as a resource for your practice and education. We invite you to check out the extensive table of contents, each of which is the link to an original paper.

To learn more about the “Pads of the Paw” please visit:

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