PetMassageTM Due Diligence

A student’s quest

A student in our last PetMassage Foundation level workshop shared with me that, once she had decided to learn canine massage, she spent considerable time and effort choosing the school she would attend. She read and researched everything she could find online about all the schools that offer training. At the end of the day, she felt that the style and philosophical compatibility PetMassageTM offered, was the best fit for her. She had done her due diligence. There were certainly schools that were closer; on the same continent. I’m so pleased that we were her first and final choice.

She chose PetMassageTM because I have published so much expressing my passion for focusing on the spiritual aspects of canine massage. In her opinion, PetMassageTM is unique in this. It is the emphasis on working with the energy of dogs that sets this school apart from the others.

I considered what she said, and thought about how my divergence from the medical model happened.

Western medical model massage training

In the massage school (massage for humans) I attended, we were taught a specific definition of massage, the one that would –and did- appear on our State Medical Licensing Board exam. This was it. “Massage is the manipulation of muscles and skin to promote increased circulation to all the organs and tissues in the body.” This was the accepted, definitive, definition by John Harvey Kellogg, MD, in his 1895 treatise, The Art of Massage. 

His interpretation of the then newly codified Swedish massage is still the foundation for most training in human massage and the basis for physical therapy. His Swedish massage, based on the understanding of 19th century Western medicine, is the mechanistic approach to the body. “Circulation” refers to the movement of fluids, blood, lymph, interstitial fluids, etc. coursing through the tubes, conduits, and spongy tissues of the body. Pressing the skin compacts the tissues beneath, and the change in the created pressure affects fluid movement in the tissues below. The harder you press, the more intense the affect. Movement is controllable and directional, flowing either with the arteries or with the veins. Movement toward the heart from the extremities increases circulation and is stimulating. Movement away from the heart toward the extremities is relaxing.

And, of course, on a mechanical, measurable, western medical model level, this is indeed what happens in a massage.

And, it is essential to note, there is more to health and wellness than what is described the Western medical model. Mechanical manipulation is just one part of a full and complete massage.


Expanding on the Western medical model


In her book, Four Paws Five Directions, Cheryl Schwartz DVM adds two more attributes that flesh out the definition. Cheryl writes, “Massage is the touch of the physical and energetic body with a healing purpose.”


The scope of massage is now expanded to include physical and energetic aspects, including the practitioners intention.


  1. Physical refers to the western medical vision: tangible things you can feel and measure
  2. Energetic refers to the underlying matrix within which the physical can happen.
  3. Massage affects the whole organism: body, mind and spirit.

It was the Kellogg version of massage that I learned so many years ago. It was deemed to be Medical Massage. My class was a diverse group with unique personalities, career histories, and even body types. Some of us were young, just out of high school; some more mature, just into retirement. Some, the personal trainers and yoga teachers, were strong and physically fit; others, more panda-like. Some were taller, some lived a bit lower to the ground. Some of us had big, strong, beefy hands; some had hands that were small and delicate, with slender priest-like fingers. We were all rigorously schooled to perform the exact same massage routine. All massages had the exact same sequence, same rate and the exact same pressures. If you were receiving a massage from any of us, you could not tell who was touching you. We were well trained. The quality and intention of our touch was mechanical. Unresponsive. Non-interactive. The massage we would give a live human was the same as the one we would give a plaster store mannequin.

I soon realized that, besides being indistinguishable, the massage was also unremarkable. Boring. Unfulfilling for me and unfulfilling for my clients. We had learned to be wooden. Our training had taught us to work on bodies. We had not learned to work with bodies. We had not learned the essential raison d’être (reason for being) of bodywork: that massage is the way to connect with and harness the body’s natural flow and rhythm of its life force. Massage can redirect the body to more adequately process its stressors.

Incorporating myself and mindfulness

My massage practice evolved. I attended more enlightened workshops and learned to feel. I discovered that my awareness of empathy is a natural talent and, with practice, I developed it further. As I learned more about myself, my preferences and capabilities, I took the big leap and gave permission to myself to incorporate my own variations in my massage. Heresy! How dare I deviate from the accepted way of doing things!

My clients were ecstatic. Here was someone who was “classically trained,” who could offer a different medium for relief; one that was molded for them in their own image. I no longer needed to expend my energy and focus on what I termed “search and destroy” activities. Seeking, finding, and dispersing loci of stress. I didn’t have to find something and fix it, to validate my practice. I found that when I attempted to force the tissues into what I thought would be more functional patterns, the massage was fundamentally less effective than when I allowed the same tissues their self-corrective movement. I found that extremely light touch engaged the body more than deep probing. It was facilitated bodywork. I was coordinating my efforts, movements, and intentions with my clients. How different from my Kellogg days.

My interpretative sessions were always more effective. They were more nurturing, and the residual effects were longer lasting. I discovered that, when correctly facilitated, the naturally operating body systems that are already in place, reestablish balance to the body.  

This is all the more important in our work with dogs. Dogs do not have the voice to let us know clearly and concisely, where to apply massage. Besides, just like humans, they can not discern between symptoms that are at the cause, or discomfort referred from some other part of their body.

In PetMassage we identify stress as the causes of all body, mind and spiritual discomfort, disease, and disconnection. When we reduce and/or partially relieve the way a dog is reacting to stress, whether it’s causative or symptomatic, the rest of the body is freed to resume its normal functioning. 

Workshop training is freeing

So, in our workshops we instruct our students in the use and application of a big skill set to use while in the process of manipulating a dog’s “muscles and skin to promote increased circulation to all the organs and tissues in the body.” Then, we assist them to incorporate mindfulness, self-awareness, other-awareness, and body mechanic techniques that free them to flow with their dogs. We are always mindful that there is so much more that is involved in a PetMassageTM. Deep within the core intent of each touch, each stroke, and each stretch, our spirit antennae are tuned in to receive the dog’s body’s fundamental response to touch.

We pause, listening. We need to consciously slow our hearts that want to race in eager anticipation; hopeful aspirations. We are allowed “in.” Awarded permission. We have the privilege to facilitate their sacred little bodies in their journeys toward wellness. There it is: listen closely. When you are open, you sense the tiny verbalization. You are witnessing the body’s story, a real-time commentary of the long-view story and the current condition of the quality of life in the dog’s joints and muscles. You hear it in your heartbeat. You know it more than hear it. Watch it with your mind’s eye.  Feel the corrective shift spreading through your fingers. This is what we are here to do. This is our raison d’être.


During the workshop, I felt a spontaneous gush of joy flow through me, like plunging into a 90° body of water; warm, safe, loving, and timeless. I witnessed the energy of the room soften when all the students who were practicing PetMassageTM with dogs, simultaneously paused, shared the quiet stillness, and moved on. The dogs noticed it too, and slipped silently inward. It prompted me to write, “PetMassageTM is a way for us to listen to the song that the dog’s spirit is singing.”

When you know how to listen, and what to listen for, there is so much to hear.  If you are already practicing canine massage professionally, or you massage just your own dog, we can help you expand your awareness. Train with, and permit PetMassageTM, to facilitate the growth and evolution of the way you connect with dogs.

Train with us

There are still openings in the October 2016 Advanced Level Workshop, the November 2016 Foundation Level Workshop, and the PetMassage Canine Aquatic Massage in March, 2017. This is the link to our complete workshop schedule:

Four Paws Five Directions, Cheryl Schwartz DVM, is available on our website shopping cart. You’ll notice that it is the regular price; not discounted as it is on Amazon. Consider that when you purchase from us, the few dollars more that you pay supports the PetMassageTM School, the work we do, and the entire canine massage industry. Here’s the link: 

Leave a Reply