At the beginning of our last Foundation Level workshop, I asked the 5 people who had traveled to study with me if any had ever taken a workshop like this before. No one had. This group included a vet tech, a physical therapist, 2 massage therapists, a registered nurse, and a dog agility trainer/groomer.
For some of our students, it’s the first time they’ve traveled alone, or since having children, or living on their own. For some, it was the first time they’d visited Ohio, or the Midwest for that matter. They are gambling that attending this workshop is the right choice to prepare them for a career in canine massage. It’s a genuine leap of faith.
I complemented them. They are brave, displaying tremendous courage. They didn’t know what to expect yet, they were trusting that they had chosen the right school for their investment of time, money, and pursuit of their dreams.
Over the last 30 years I’ve attended many workshops. I’ve traveled around the world taking and teaching these courses. I’ve given myself many opportunities to meet incredible teachers, network, and become friends with new colleagues.
My experiences attending other schools’ workshops varied. Some were amazing, some forgettable, some disappointing. In each of them I learned something-even sometimes what not to do. Each has helped define, refine, and added value to my practice and my overall world view. These experiences shaped the curricula of the PetMassage programs and my teaching style.
Many of our students are just getting into these fields from corporate or highly linear career training. So I can empathize with the uncertainty.
Massage, bodywork, yoga, and meditation are non-linear. These are all taught using the workshop format. These are the types of vocations that require one-on-one instruction. They are all practices that are personal commitments to training, evolving, and developing with time and maturity. These kinds of continuing development do not work in the time-structured construct of “traditional” education.
Apprehensions are understandable.
What do you do at a workshop? Is it held in a school setting, in hotels, a park, at a barn, or in someone’s home? What do you wear? What is taught? Is it professional? Now, we ask if it is safe and if we are to wear masks while massaging dogs.
Do the instructors get how passionate I am about wanting to help dogs? Will the instructors be knowledgeable, experienced, friendly, and interesting? Will the lessons be well planned, organized and structured? Will I get a thick manual of factoids that I’ll never use, or will I come away with the job skills I need? Are the instructors committed to being my long-term mentor after I’ve studied with them? If so, will there be additional fees for consultations?
The quality of a workshop is always dependent on a few important factors: the instructor’s personality, experience and depth of knowledge, and their enthusiasm and commitment in supporting their protégés development.
Would you like to know what the workshop experience is? This is a brief description of the workshop.
First, after assessing all your choices for training, doing your due diligence, you choose the PetMassage School and register for the class that’s most convenient for you on the PetMassage.com website. There is 1 more in 2020 and 4 scheduled in 2021.
You reserve your place in the workshop with a deposit, or pay for it in full and get a small discount.
You receive your books, and videos by mail; your instructions, home study courses, and codes for proprietary streaming videos by email. Before the workshop you prepare by watching the videos and studying the PetMassage books on canine massage, dog handling, dog anatomy, and canine massage business creation.
As the date approaches, you make your reservations for travel, and hotel accommodations (we’ll guide you).
On Thursday morning, the first day, we begin with group introductions, goal setting, verbalizing expectations, and begin with a pre-training dog massage to establish a baseline. I explain that this is an immersion-style learning experience. It will be like visiting another country where you don’t know the language or the culture. You don’t even know how to breathe the air. I see PetMassage as a form of communication. You will be learning to “speak” the language of dogs and “inhabit” the canine culture. You overlay that with another new language and culture, that of the terminology, skills, and culture of touch, and massage. These are overlaid with the enhanced awareness of owning, inhabiting and presiding over your physical and emotional space. (Yes: whoa!) Your life will be enhanced and forever changed by the content you learn in this extended weekend.
The reality is that nobody can become expert at any complex skill set in just 5 days. And canine massage certainly combines a lot of the patting your head and belly circle rubbing kinds types of combinations.
The Foundation Level Program workshop teaches the initial things you need to know to begin and be successful in your journey. We provide you with the directions to get to Carnegie Hall. How do you really get there? Practice, practice, practice.
Each day of the workshop, we learn a little more about dogs, dog behavior (culture), dog movement, dog anatomy, dog handling during the massage session, massage techniques as applied to dogs, correct body and breath mechanics for your personal safety, comfort, communication, and practice longevity.
They are all revealed in layers; slowly, methodically, and creatively. Visualize a flower blooming. Your learning is meaningful, memorable, and entertaining.
There’s a lot to learn and it’s all new. Expect to be confused. Expect at the beginning to feel challenged, lost, overwhelmed, and insecure. Also expect to feel supported and encouraged.
I promise that by the end of the workshop on Monday you will feel better about yourself, your abilities, and confident about your path to your dreams. By the end of the workshop you will be eager to return home and begin your practice.
This last workshop, the 5 students that I described in the introduction were so connected that they didn’t want to leave. Each was reveling in the group’s loving support, shared vision, acceptance, and encouragement. After our group photo and completing their post-workshop evaluation sheets, they created a WhatsApp group and continued their newfound sense of tribe, celebrating the workshop experience and each other, at a local, pub deep into the late afternoon over margueritas and wine.
A Graduate of the PetMassage Foundation Level Program writes:
I had the honor to administer some love on an absolutely gorgeous Doberman by the name of Jochen yesterday. He was almost as tall as me (though that is not saying a lot). He is 8 years old and has DCM and Arthritis. As I was vectoring, I became almost in a zone with Jochen, almost one.
In class, you taught us to be always present and, in the moment, which I like to think I always am. But something was different yesterday. I don’t know whether it is the fact that I have been giving more massages and becoming more confident in my skill or if I finally had a break through. It was amazing. I felt every muscle, fiber and breath in his body. I was one with Jochen and totally in tune with him.
I was very tired when I got home, which is something new. I was informed Jochen took an hour nap, too, which he never does 😊
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Jonathan’s note: Every canine massage engages dogs at multiple depths, levels of recognition, and with layers upon layers of expression and interaction.
Ear bone’s connected to the lip bone.
Massaging dogs is a kind of meditation for me. I’m aware of my breathing, my heart rate. I’m open to what’s going on in the dog’s body and her body language signals. My self-awareness is activated. I’m open to any unconscious cues that my own body might be sharing. My intuitive mind and the dog’s inner voices empathically synchronize. This psychic entrainment happens often during massage.
As an instructor of canine massage, there’s also a part of me that’s always looking for something to share as a teaching moment.
That something presented itself recently while I was working with a beautiful, densely coated GSD, German Shepherd Dog. This dog is physically strong and strong willed. She’s loved and cherished; accustomed to her wants being accommodated. At home, this dog is leader. I’ve massaged her over a dozen times. Although she has never growled or snapped, her warning signals are unmistakable. She makes it very clear that she is in control and highly protective of certain areas on her body.
If my hand begins to get close to one of her “Do Not Enter” zones, she lowers her chin, bares her teeth, looks at me, and emits a frequency that says “That’s close enough. Proceed further at your own risk.” I respect that.
At one point in her massage, my head was over her spine and my line of vision was over the back of her head. Her head tilted forward as her chin lowered. Then I noticed her ear prick forward on the side my hand was advancing toward. I leaned around to make sure and, okay then; that’s not a smile. That’s a warning. I tasted the bile rising in my throat; my indication that she’s moving into the yellow zone. And I had come close to crossing the yellow ”No Passing” line.
The facial muscles between the ear and mouth were contracting when she bared her teeth. I saw it as a dime size spot turning like an antique key in an old lock. It twisted the tissues around it, into itself.
I recalled the signals I used to watch for that horses employ. Perched way back on the saddle, the rider needs to track cues about what thoughts are transpiring in the horse’s head, a meter in front of you. From that sight-line, what can you observe? The angle of the neck, the tilt of the poll, and of course, the ears.
The language of the ears tells us if the horse is scared (pinned back), bored, distracted, confused, aware, avoiding flies, or paying attention to the rider. Here’s a link to a more comprehensive translation of horse ear language: https://www.equinespot.com/horse-body-language.html
Horses are great at multitasking. I recall one cross-country event in which we were cantering up to a curve in the trail. I was feeling pretty good about how well we were doing; and as I began my self-congratulatory grin, my horse’s right ear swiveled to the right. His neck stretched out and, mid-stride, he chomped off a twig of fresh spring green shrubbery. We continued, my ears reddening (embarrassment) and pulled back (affection), as I chuckled out loud. My horse’s ears flopped in happy arcs as we cantered down the path, him munching his snack.
Ear language is similar in dogs to that of horses. Dogs have dozens of interacting muscles that affect movement of the their ears. 27 muscles coordinate to push, pull, extend, contract, and rotate each ear. And now we know a few of them insert into the sides of the mouth.
Pay attention to the dog’s ear. It may be connected to her mouth. Watch for this signal. It may save you from injury.
The general rule is when dogs ears are pinned back, it suggests fear or apprehension. The face becomes more streamlined, more aerodynamic, so it can move faster to where it needs to go. Ears pricked up and/or forward shows alertness, interest. Sometimes it’s just one ear; sometimes both. Ears project the direction of their focus. Ears flattened and down shows affection, like Bashful in the Disney Snow White cartoon.
What other ear messages have you noticed?
Protests all over the planet are revealing a lot about us and our culture. We’re learning that there are disconcerting versions of our history, our education, our culture, even our unconscious narratives.
This is a very different world from the one I knew when I was a History major in college. Our civilization is evolving. All around the world there are people expressing informed variations of the history I thought I’d learned. We are addressing and engaging in some serious life-and attitude-altering conversations.
For some of us it’s too frightening to consider alternative points of view and we prefer to cling tightly to what we believe we know. Others of us are eager to discover other cultures with the intention to blend or accommodate the best of their perspectives.
When we hold a space that is open to communication, there is aways some unsettling discomfort; and yet our goal is to participate in and honor the conversation, applying the 3 Graces of Respect, Appreciation, and Love.
Protests, if and when they are acknowledged and replicated, can be very influential. An individual or small group will notice that something in their lives can be better; and be so moved by what they feel, that they organize gatherings, give heartfelt speeches, and create flashy banners to attract like-minded supporters to their ranks. What begins with a small group of individuals can quickly expand, influencing an entire community’s thoughts, feelings, and actually change long-established behaviors.
On the macro level, protests challenge the consciousness of society and potentially shift it.
On the micro level, it’s what we canine massage professionals are doing with each dog, each session.
Dogs bodies – all bodies – are happiest when all of the parts of them are functioning easily and as they should. We all crave the comfort of homeostasis.
When some aspect of the body politic is misbehaving, the body registers its complaint. From the perspective of canine massage, what is a cardiovascular constriction, a swelling, a sore, a limp, or an acting out, if not a commentary by the body about its current state of affairs?
When we’re hungry, our tummies growl. When we’re deficient in magnesium, we get leg cramps. When we’re dehydrated, we get thirsty, headaches, heart palpitations, or confusion. These are protests by, and for, the body. It’s the body’s way to draw attention to where it’s needed. It makes sure its demands are heard and keeps it up until they’re acknowledged. This is the Body’s Language.
Palpation in canine massage allows us to feel the disgruntled muscle or nerve cells, that want to shift the conversation of the body politic. Our attention is drawn to them as if they were brightly colored lights, bullhorns, and bouncing banners. We sense tightness, heat, stagnation, fluttering, and any imbalance, as signals in real time, as they are happening. Their bodies are displeased with what’s going on and these are the cries for help -protests- from within dogs tissues and overtly, in their behaviors.
Canine massage addresses whatever the body has identified, in the body and the mind. The CTA, Call To Action, may be
- somatic/feeling, orbehavioral muscle memory/long-established habitual movement.
- behavioral muscle memory/long-established habitual movement.
Once they have our attention, we can redirect untoward behavior, and in so doing, influence the whole of the dogs quality of life, in this moment and for these of her days.
The keys to successful canine massage – one that assists dogs back towards their dream homeostasis – are
- to palpate with open awareness that includes touch, intuitive thought, feeling, and subjective context
- acknowledge the protests, and
- assist the dog on her resolution of those physical and emotional disputes with the 3 Graces of Respect, Appreciation, and Love.