PetMassage Canine Aquatic Massage

This Helpful Hint blog is based on this YouTube video. Its intention is to describe canine aquatic massage and encourage you to learn and practice it.

Canine aquatic massage is a fabulous variation of the dry PetMassage. Sessions are given in a heated (usually indoor) swimming pool.  They both have the intention of creating balance, enhancing respiration and circulation, and increasing strength, flexibility, and comfort during movement. Massage in water has special advantages. The key is the warm water. It is a non-weight-bearing, non-temperature shocking, experience. Movement does not stress the joints; it increases flexibility in the joints.

So which dogs would benefit from a warm, wet, non-weight bearing bodywork experience?

  • Athlete dogs, in training or recovering from injuries
  • Dogs recovering from surgeries; in the water they can move past their fear of pain.
  • Older dogs with arthritis and joint issues
  • Obese dogs whose every breath and movement is restricted and labored

The canine aquatic massage that we teach is very different from the dry massage that we teach and the physical therapy style of massage that is learned in vet schools. And, while it is a water therapy, it is very different from the therapeutic use of underwater treadmills. It is not swimming. It is not water play, like repetitive retrieval of tossed water toys.

WaterWork™ is its own thing.

It has its own unique set of agendas with specific intentions, skills, and training.

In our workshops, we set a couple of goals. First is to create an experience for the dog that is safe. These dogs could be in pain, immobile, incontinent, unsteady, confused, unable to perform their ADLs (Activities of Daily Living), and unable to socialize with other dogs. They are in a state of trauma because of their current life conditions. We don’t want to add to the stress tsubo (vortex) they are already experiencing. So as they are first introduced to the water we are considerate of their fragile emotional states. Once the dogs become comfortable in the process, it’s a good time for them. It’s an amazing time for us practitioners.

Safety first

We continue our monitoring of their sense of surety and safeness throughout their sessions. The dogs must feel safe enough to relax and allow; which can only happen when practitioners use safe and correct body mechanics. Before students begin working with dogs, they master water movement exercises. Sound footing is our foundation. Walking, turning, and several other movements need to be confidently secure while we move about in the water. Dogs feel every slip, every slide, and every skid. Any unsteadiness courses up the body into our fingers. When our foot slips, our grip tightens. The dog feels it. When we slip, our eyes widen. The dogs can see the surprise in our faces. Our momentary flailing suffuses our body with the stress hormones that direct the muscles to reestablish control. Each of our hormones has a unique scent. Dogs recognize the one for off-balance. So dogs not only feel every misstep, they see it and smell it, too.

Moving dogs in water

Soon, the students begin to be more skillful as they work with dogs. The water – the dog’s ability to easily move in it and be moved by it – is actually doing the work. So, we call our aquatic canine massage: PetMassage Canine Aquatic Massage.

We facilitate the dog’s movement through the water in a specific set of movements to get specific affects.  Every element that supports movement and function is, at some level, massaged. The warm water interacts directly with the coat and the skin. Moving the dog’s body across the surface, the water pushes, pulls, drags and floats the surface tissues. Indirectly, it works on everything underneath: the adipose tissue, the surface structures around muscles, the muscles within sheaths of fascia, tendons, ligaments, bones, nerves, and the viscera, internal organs.

The water in a warm swimming pool is clean and sanitary. It is very different from being in a lake, a stream, or in the ocean, where depths, footing, and water qualities are not controlled.

Continuous Observation

Before the dog gets in the water we document a history of his health and lifestyle. He is visually assessed for body symmetry and gait coordination. As he is moved in the water we watch the quality of movements and notice any variations. We observe levels of fatigue and many other attributes. We also record underwater videos. In the YouTube video you can see the forelegs of the small white dog moving but the rear legs are not. That’s part of the canine aquatic massage assessment.

We assess the length and strength of our dog’s stride. Ideally, the movements are balanced on both sides and in both directions. In the water, we can encourage the specific movements they require to rediscover their True North.


As canine aquatic massage practitioners we cannot claim to offer rehabilitation, or treatment, even though the unspoken benefits dogs receive are unmistakable. Most of our sessions are done with the supervision and referral of veterinarians. The owners of The Dog Dive, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the facility where we hold our workshops, have received many accolades from instructors at the Vet School at Michigan State University.

There is a clip in the video of a Weimaraner. Most of the bones in this aquatic massage poster puppy had been shattered in a horrific automobile accident. He was subsequently stapled, screwed, wired and grafted back together. Today, he’s a happy, playful, rambunctious guy who still loves to hunt. Without his water massage treatments, he would not be walking or swimming today. And, he requires consistent maintenance. If he misses a week of water massage, he can hardly move. His vet says, “Get him back in the water…NOW.”

Every dog’s benefits are noticeable. When it’s available, PetMassage Canine Aquatic Massage, has the potential to help so many dogs in so many ways. That’s the dogs.

Invitation to the Dance

Let’s talk about us, the PetMassage Canine Aquatic Massage practitioners. When we get to facilitate these dogs in the water, and we see what is happening, we are filled with awe. When you know you are doing this much good, and feeling this good about what you are doing, you cannot help but grin!

That’s joy on our faces. It isn’t shown in the video but the looks on the faces of the dogs’ owners are just as ecstatic. “Gratifying” is an understatement.

I have been teaching PetMassage Canine Aquatic Massage since 2000. I feel so fortunate to have discovered and advanced the state of the practice of canine aquatic massage as PetMassage Canine Aquatic Massage. I would love to share this skill set with you.

Please consider owning and operating your own facility or you could rent space at a local dog swimming facility. There are very few canine aquatic massage practitioners in the US and Canada. The dogs are there. The demand is there. The opportunity is there. We have the experience. We have the reputation. Give us the opportunity to teach you and mentor you.

We created a video several years ago of a PetMassage Canine Aquatic Massage session with me and our late standard poodle, Jacques-a-Poodle-Doo. Enjoy the dance.


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