The tension we see and feel in dogs is always protective. They may be self-restricting their movements for several reasons. They may be experiencing a pain that is at a tolerable level but any addition to what they are doing would be too uncomfortable. So, they’d act like they are stuck in quicksand. They’d breathe shallowly, and move minimally.
They might be anticipating the possibility of pain or danger. They could be stepping through a doorway into the unknown. They could be entering a dog park where they’d been attacked. They could see a person whose body type or hat reminds them of someone in their past who, in their mind, abused them.
The dog’s heart beats faster, breathing patterns change, muscles tighten and bunch up. The coat along the top line becomes either more erect or lies flatter, compressing itself against the skin. The superficial fascia, especially around the trapezius and thoracic spine forms a suit of armor. There is safety inside the barrier. But the barrier restricts movement.
We feel this as tissue tightness. Knots. Tight bands of muscles. Thicker, dense layers around the neck and shoulders. Taut ligaments. Contracted muscles. We see wide open eyes, worried facial features, flattened ears compressed against the skull, and the tail held tight against the anus.
Feel the restricted movement in your body. Imagine you are walking without flexion in your knees or ankles. Your legs are like thick sticks, stiff from hip to heel. You’d have so little balance support from your nervous system that your back, neck and your arms would all get tense. Your anxiety about possibly toppling over understandably increases. Your heart rate speeds up. Your respiration changes. You glance about to assure yourself that if you were to fall you wouldn’t crash into anything.
This is how a small dog with a tightly held stiff spine that I massaged, presented. He walked like a wind-up toy, but without the metallic clicking of a coil unwinding. All four of his little legs were stiff. He showed minimal flexibility in his elbows, stifles and hocks. His entire jerky gait arose from movement from his shoulders and hips. It was all agonist without the support of antagonist and synergistic muscles. Stiff, jerky, and tentative; that’s how he walked.
From the back of his skull to his tail, his spine was rigid and inflexible. His top line appeared stuck.
I placed my hands on either side of his spine just behind his shoulder blades. Stabilizing one side with my palm, I gently stretched the other side forward toward the neck, held it for a moment and released it back to its original position. Then, still stabilizing the same side, reversed the stretch, pulling it back toward the tail. Held a moment and released. This was repeated on this side and then on the other side. As the tissues warmed and became more pliable, I worked both sides together; pushing and pulling, pulling and pushing. I then pushed and pulled them toward each other, bunching the skin into the spine and away from it.
We were releasing the restrictions, enhancing the flexibility, of the muscles all along the top line. We softened the traumatized muscles that had been restraining the spine. The good news quickly spread throughout the body. When the spine is allowed to move, the whole body feels, and is, vitalized. The central nervous system functions better. Lymph nodes between vertebrae get expressed, and the immune system is enhanced. Ribs are released at their vertebral attachment sites. The dog breathes deeper and more easily.
The effect was heartwarming.
I placed the dog on the floor and watched him. First he shook so completely his little paws flew off the floor. He took a couple of steps forward. His spine rolled a little bit with each step. His little waist sashayed as his stifles flexed and extended. His tail swayed comfortably as he walked. His neck bounced easily as his front paws carried and released weight. This little dog felt better and stronger. He looked stronger and better. He was better and stronger.
He no longer needed that cumbersome protective armoring he’d been carrying. He paused, turned and looked back at me and ambled over to his teary-eyed owner.
Waves tracing patterns in the sand: what could be more inspirational! There’s an organic sensibility to water and wind flowing along a sandy shore. It aligns perfectly with the nonverbal flow of canine massage.
Whenever I stroll along a beach I pause, and empathically experience the ebbs and flows of encroaching waves. Mysterious ancient salty memories emerge from the deep and complete their migrations on the shore.
I watch. I close my eyes and listen. The breeze whips at my clothing. I smell the vast sea. I open my hands and breathe into the grand immensity. I’m sure that there are messages there. If only I could decode them.
Sitting on the dock of the bay watching the tide roll away … has all the elements of great political drama. There’s encroachment, control, and retreat.
All the phases of life are represented: inception, youth, maturity, old age, and death; each with their naïveté, hubris, wisdom, despair, and rebirth. The mundane and the extraordinary; it’s all there in the water.
And there’s always another wave. Always hope vested in the next oncoming wave. Hope that it revises, supersedes, and improves everything that has come before.
I scheduled 2 massages, back to back. First with the owner, then his dog. While applying Myofascial Release to my human client’s back, I imagined I was flowing with the movements of waves on a sandy beach.
My hands became part of each ebb and flow. They drifted up, paused, held the skin they covered, and receded. In my mind, they left silhouettes of lacy sea foam. Tiny bubbles expand, thin to translucent, and disintegrate. They de-gas and discharge their contents: memories that they’ve collected and have been carrying for millennia.
Another wave rolls over them, flowing high up onto the sand. It too pauses, does what it needs to do, eviscerates its bubbles, and recedes.
Each wave unloads its cargo and retreats, marking the sand with a residual and very individual impression. Each wave has been there!
The movement is:
- Slide forward
- Hold, slowly releasing pressure
- Tap with your fingertips to pop the energetic bubbles
- While you tap, the next wave rolls over your wrists
- Allow it to carry your hands with it
- Repeat the sequence
I can never be sure what my clients are feeling. I trust that the massage form I’m applying is the right one for him in this moment. These were my thoughts when he sighed, and exclaimed “My pain just disappeared. Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.” So I did.
When his massage was complete, he was asleep; and I felt radiant! Invigorated! It was as if I had just spent an hour at the shore. I skipped to the canine massage room where his dog was waiting.
I soon found myself flowing with “the wave” again. I slid my hands into the dog’s undercoat over his lumbar region and raked up his spine to his shoulderblades. There, I held, and slowly releasing the pressure, tapped the skin with my fingertips.
The next wave dragged my hands back toward me. I lifted them as they moved, smoothing the surface hair with my palms. I felt the tug, and my fingers dove back into the undercoat and flowed back toward the shoulders. They again paused, released, tapped, and receded.
Slide, hold, release, tap, retreat. Slide, hold, release, tap, retreat. It has a pleasant rhythm. Up, pause, tap, and back. Under, over, and through.
I checked in on my monitors.
- How is the dog responding? He’s calm.
- How does it feel in my body? Warm and comfortable.
- Does it feel right? Absolutely.
This dog normally maintains a continuous anxious pant. He swallowed, closed his mouth, rested his chin on his paws, and released a great sigh. He expressed his contentment. His body said “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.” So I did.
When you try out, or repeat a new sequence, consciously observe everything that’s happening.
- How is the dog responding?
- How does that make you feel?
- Do you feel more present?
- Has your eyesight become clearer and sharper?
- Is your heart rate slower?
- Does your saliva taste sweet?
These are the keys to understanding how well your canine massage is working; and how your PetMassage practice is evolving.
Learn professional level canine massage in our PetMassage.com Programs: Foundation, Advanced, and Canine Aquatic Massage. As your practice deepens, we’ll continue to mentor you with encouragement, advice, and the support you need to create a successful career.
As you can tell, PetMassage skills are rooted in traditional massage and embellished with a developed sense of intuition and self-trust.
There is another application for toning; one that I thought I’d save for another of my Helpful Hint blogs. Add it to your energy work.
Charge your palms by rubbing them together. Cup them to form an energy ball. Charge the energy ball by breathing with your hands; pulling them slightly apart and feeling them draw back toward each other. Visualize the spirit of your distant or deceased animal infusing into the energy. Tone. Feel the sound absorb into the energy in your hands. Feel the response of the spirit. It’s as if it is looking up at you. It knows that you know and that you know it knows. You are connected. You share the moment.
Continue to tone, hum, and speak the words that your heart needs to share. You will know when your message is complete.
We just had Camille, our boxer, transition. She is free from a relationship with a body that was not supporting her. I’ve been toning with her spirit and it is joyous.
When I was very young while visiting my grandfather, I learned a valuable lesson. I recall being in a sunlit porch with him and a couple of his buddies. One of the men clasped his hands against my ears and faux-whispered a secret to the others that I was not supposed to hear. I heard every word he said. Very clearly.
He knew, and I knew he knew, because when I looked up at him, he winked. Then, he told me that the sounds he uttered traveled as vibrations through his arms and hands, and directly into my ears. This was more than 30 years before the first earbuds were available on Sony Walkmans.
Sound moves as vibration. Vibration moves as sound. Sound vibrations move through our hands, fingers and palms, into whatever, or whoever, we are touching.
Experience this yourself.
- Hum softly. Feel the vibration begin in your chest and expand into your inner ears.
- Holding your palms on your ears and then off your ears, hum and feel the difference in resonance.
- Next, have someone hum as they hold their hands on your ears. Your head is an amplifier.
- Then, have them hum as they hold their palm on your heart. You’ll feela direct connection.
I have a friend who greets me and others with a hug and a one note continuous hum. It’s one long exhalation. It releases stress, tension, confusion, disorientation. It’s grounding. It’s a beautiful greeting. I look forward to it whenever I see him walking toward me.
Then I have choices about how to engage:
- I can simply receive the vibration. It’s very comforting. It feels like a blessing.
- I can join him and hum the same note. I am happily joining up, following his lead, and feeling safe.
- Or, I can creatively complement the experience with a note that harmonizes. That’s the one I prefer. Together we create a new chord.
The momentary connection is hugely rewarding. When we are complete, we don’t have to say anything. We’ve just shared a moment of creativity and harmony! We smile triumphantly and turn our attentions elsewhere.
Humming like this foments a deep non-verbal connection. I now include the hum in my canine massage. The term humming doesn’t sound therapeutically significant enough for the deeply profound effect it has. “Toning” is more appropriate.
I know the dogs are feeling the vibration. They tell me with their softened eyes and floppy tail. It is another layer that we can add to their sensory experience.
I do not use it for any reason other than to create a shared experience; although I could use it as a vehicle for vibrational healing. For my purposes, connection is key to opening doors for communication, acceptance, and trust.
If you sing words, will that make a difference? Yes and no. Your words, as you think of their meanings and evoke memories of other times you heard or sang them, elicit the pheromones that support your emotional responses. The words themselves may not be understood; but the scents of your emotions are a different kettle of fish. Dogs respond to these smells.
Is it as effective if you whistle? No. The resonance needs to come from the hollow of your throat.
So you can sing. You can chant. You can hum a single note or an entire melody. Make it loud and there’s music playing. Hum it soft, and it’s really like praying.
Or, you can remain silent.
Outward silence is another elegant tool. Inner silence is a concept that eludes me. Too many monkeys jumping on the bed!
When I place my hands on the dog, hold them still, and softly hum, maintaining the same note, it’s very powerful.
It sounds like this: hummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
Think of the calming effects of a purring cat. Or an old Chevy in idle.
- Add toning to your next canine massage.
- Add it while you’re grooming.
It is effective with people too.
- MTs, include toning in your people massage.
- Nurses, Physicians, Therapists and caregivers, add toning to your touch during patient care.
Let me know what you feel and the effects toning has on your dogs and client..
One minute of relaxed uncontrived sitting is better than an hour of forced “no thought” posturing. It is natural for thoughts and feelings to arise. Let them pass without feeling the need to follow. Clouds pass on their own.
When we are massaging dogs, our ideal state is to be completely present and available for them. Thoughts that have nothing to do with them do arise. It happens. That’s what humans do.
When we participate in our thought’s narrative instead of observing, we become the story. We express all the emotions of the circumstances.
Our dogs can smell what we are experiencing in our breath and perspiration. And, that’s okay. They forgive and love us anyway. That’s what dogs do.
When thoughts arise, simply acknowledge them, let them pass, and return your total awareness to the dog.
Sometimes, the act of noticing that we have been seduced by a random thought, is the trigger we need to become even more aware of our level of presence. That’s a real benefit.
Let’s be kind to ourselves. We are doing the best we can. The aware breath is our entry back to the flow of the session. Always return to the breath.
Conscious breath-work is fundamental to the practice of PetMassage. Learn more about how it is applied with the book, Canine Massage for Passionate Dog People https://petmassage.com/store/canine-massage-for-passionate-dog-people/ and the video stream, Confident Dog Handling for The Canine Massage Practitioner https://petmassage.com/store/confident-dog-handling-for-the-canine-massage-practitioner-petmassage-streaming-video-and-download/