Sit on a stool while giving a canine massage.

Sit on a stool while giving a canine massage.

Using a stool will make your canine massage practice easier and more enjoyable. You’ll experience less fatigue and discomfort. You’ll add longevity to your practice. You’ll have more options for positioning your body vis-a-vis the dog on the table. Every canine massage you give will be a far more effective therapeutic treatment.

The purposes of using a stool are to

  1. lower your angle of approach so you can have better access to the dog’s body
  2. relieve fatigue while maintaining a prolonged hold or position
  3. reduce hand movement
  4. Improve body mechanics

Angles of Approach

In my human massage practice I have one stool at the head of the table and another at the foot. When I’m perched on a stool, I can get into a lower, level with the table position where I can anchor my forearms, and work from the angle where I’m able to relax as I apply sustained fingertip support from below.

Whether I’m massaging bipeds, tripeds, or quadrupeds, I’m on and off my stool throughout the session. I go where I need to go, to do what I need to do. It depends on how long I project I’m going to spend still-holding, and how I need to fulcrum my wrists and still be comfortable. Giving a canine massage, I’m probably sitting at least 50% of the time.

Relieving Fatigue

During a recent canine massage session, as one knot resolved, another was exposed. And then another, and another.

As soon as I recognized that this was going to be a lengthy process, I pulled a stool over to the table and slid onto it. I could sit comfortably while I was supporting the dog’s bodywork. I keep my stool within an arms length from the table. That way, I can reach over and pull it toward me without removing my other hand from the dog.

It would have been both awkward and fatiguing to be standing for the 30 minutes this dog needed to rediscover his inner puppy. Had I been standing, I would have been distracted by my discomfort; and most likely missed much of what happened.

Sometimes, when we are massaging a very small dog, there’s just not a lot of body movement. Everything is done in hand, wrists to fingertips, massaging tiny spaces. We find ourselves taking compact little breaths. There is also a tendency to hunch our shoulders and cowl forward thereby compacting the space even more. This is a time when it is advantageous to be sitting on a stool. We can relax our legs, backs and necks, and breathe. From this posture we are less likely to project the stress of any tightness or fatigue we feel through our fingers.

Finding and Maintaining Stillness

The same is true when we are focusing our attention on a particular part of the dog’s body, such as a scapula or an elbow. We can only notice movement beneath the coat when it is experienced against contrasting stillness. We need to quiet and still our hands.

Each of the movements you are expressing in your hands begins in your feet. So first, we need to quiet our feet. So, sit. Stabilize your feet on the ground. And rest your hands on the table. Now you’re ready to observe from a place of stillness.

Releases usually need time to evolve. It often takes 4 or 5 minutes for muscle knots to release and let go. That’s a very long time for dogs to stay engaged. Stressors have their own patterns. Strung out with knots and kinks, they infiltrate adjacent bundles of nerves and muscles. As I described above, when one resolves, another is exposed. And then another. And so it goes. It’s possible to stay in one area for the entire session, facilitating a series of unwindings, all stemming out from the spot you are holding.

Sitting quietly, my hands resting on the dog, I observe, and play the witness. Understanding and supportive. Against the quiet and stillness, the dog’s body dissolves streaming layers of stressful holding patterns.

Body mechanics

Body mechanics of PetMassage still apply while sitting. Your feet are still on the ground. You still move from them. You rise and fall, expand and contract, with the breath. Your back is still vertical. Your sternum and chin are lifted. Your body is still completely engaged. The differences are your knees are bent and you are shifting your balance, like a centered rider, from side to side and front to back, from one gluteus rumpus cushion to the other.

To increase pressure, you still rock into the dog’s space by leaning forward into the balls of your feet. To decrease pressure, you still rock back into your heels by pushing off from the soles of your feet. Pulling back, your hands follow (like a string of pearls) and lift away.

Stools, properties

The stools I use are cushioned bar stools that I purchased from a local restaurant supply. I shortened their legs and added rubber cane tips from Home Depot so they’d be steady and secure when I rock back and forth on them. I would not recommend stools with casters. I’ve experienced firsthand how they can skate out from under you while you are moving quickly on to, or off from them.

Make using stools part of your canine massage. It’s important to have a support system that is reliably there to prop you up. One that is helpful, comfortable, safe, and secure.

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