Shadows and shinies

Shadows and shinies

Soften your eyes to know where to focus – or if you don’t look, you are probably missing a lot.

Hold your hand in front of your face with your thumb up. Focus on your thumbnail and notice how everything behind it is out of focus. Now, lower your hand keeping your eyes focused short range, not refocusing on objects in the distance.


Use this soft focus as you begin to observe your dog. Watch him this way as he stands, walks, sits, and lies down. This is the beginning of your observation assessment which will determine the qualities of your PetMassageTM session. Train your eyes to see the areas that are very dark and very light; that is, in high contrast. Allow your attention to be drawn to the deep dark regions on the body. Allow your attention to be drawn to the light, reflective regions, as well.

The very dark and very light the shadows and shinies, are visual cues that indicate areas on your dog that need support and balancing. They may also be requesting where your dog wants you to begin your session. Not every session begins on the head, neck and spine.

Black coated dog

With a black coated dog, seek the areas that are more or less reflective compared to the normal coat sheen. More reflective areas are places where the hair is held tighter to the body. Less reflective areas are places where the hair is held a bit off the skin.

Raised hackles

Dogs have tiny muscles at the bases of each of their hairs. The muscles are flexed or relaxed based on information from the nervous system. It is all part of the Fight or Flight response. When the muscles are slightly flexed, in a slightly alert mode, it indicates some sort of apprehension, or stress from something outside of the body.

Think of the raised hackles on the back of your dog’s neck and shoulders when he is approaching a dog that could be a threat. Raised hackles tell us, and more importantly, tell the other dog that your guy is on high alert. Coat flexed off the body gives the dog a larger profile, or the energy of a larger, more formidable presence. I watched a little yapper at the Metropark puff up like a blowfish and saw our 60-pound boxers immediately pull their coats tighter to their bodies and back away.

Mark Twain famously observed, “ It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”


Shinies are overly reflective areas. These indicate areas where the coat and skin are held tighter to the body. It is the body’s way of intuitively protecting itself. The stress this suggests could be stemming from exterior or interior events. In both cases, when the coat is held tight, like a suit of armor, it is called “armoring.” Shinies appear when dog’s coat is gripped close, like your pulling your collar up and pressing it to your neck in cold weather. The armoring protects the body from any potential additional harm to the physical or emotional stressor that is inside.

Examples of shadows and shinies

Consider how the shadows move when your dog needs to protect a limb from jarring or weight bearing discomfort. What do you see when your dog holds a paw up in the air? With a lifted forepaw, you will see creases (shadows) in the axilla, the elbow, the hock, and the shadow under the paw. With a lifted hind paw, you will see creases (shadows) in the fold of the flank, the stifle, and a darkened fold along the hock.

You’ll see more reflective zones (shinies) where the skin is stretched.

Consider the movement of the shadows when your dog is protecting his neck and spine? When the neck and spine are stiff, immobile, the shadows and shinies don’t shift as they would when the neck and spine are flexible.

Consider how the shadows and shinies move when your dog curls into a ball; when he buries his nose in a tangle of elbows and stifles.

Body language of Shadows and shinies

Shadows and shinies are noticeable when your dog is in any position. They shift when your dog moves or changes position. You now have a means of understanding what the “body language” is saying whether your dog is standing or sitting. From deep down in the valley or high up on the cliffs, your dog’s body is calling out to you, “Hey. Here. Don’t focus too hard, and check this out!”

In the shadows and shinies, you may not feel the lumps or bumps you are used to finding. You may not feel the dramatic heat or coolness events. You may not feel any of the other tactile cues of density, puffiness, or roughness that you’ve been trained to observe.

You will discover areas that are opportunities for ready access.

Your hands know where to go

Shadows and shinies show your hands where to go. Shadows and shinies are essential for the quality of bodywork that will enhance your dog’s quality of life.

With softened focus you’ll discover areas on your dog’s body you may not have thought needed directed and focused attention.

Then, as your dog shifts and moves, shifting shadows and shinies, you will find even more places on his body that are desperate for your touch. Areas calling out to you in contrasting darks and lights, so they can respond with myofascial releases.

If you don’t look, you are probably missing a lot.


  1. Johnna White on December 9, 2015 at 4:36 PM

    This is such a well written, clear piece about noticing the subtle energies circulating in and around our dogs’ bodies. Yes, the reference to fur being shiny, or dark, is applicable to dogs. But it is also useful to remember that all beings are reflecting or absorbing in other, less obvious ways. We can learn a lot about ourselves by way of helping animals. Thank you for writing this!

  2. 1slighting on January 12, 2022 at 6:15 PM


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