Canine Foundation Massage Skills


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Welcome to this Canine Massage Course. Each week I will be posting the relevant information you will be learning here, so read through the notes and make sure you have completed each week’s work by checking the list of tasks included at the end of each week. Please do post questions here and I will respond as soon as I can. You are also welcome to post videos to illustrate where you need more help and advice but please keep videos short, preferably 2mins or so. So let’s get started……


It is important to recognise that there are legal restrictions affecting the massage of animals. The Veterinary Act 1966 states that therapies which include massage may only be applied by a third person ie not the owner of the animal or the vet, if the vet responsible for the animal gives their consent or refers the animal to an alternative therapist.

What does this mean for you?

It means you can massage your own dogs, following this course material, but that to apply massage to your friends’ dogs or to provide massage as a service you must have each dogs’ vet’s permission. This legislation was brought in to protect animals’ health and well being and if you are ever in any doubt as to whether massage is appropriate, you should always stop and consult your vet before continuing.


There are many benefits of massage both physical and psychological. This week we are focussing on the physical changes which occur during massage. Next week we will look at the psychological and how the physical and psychological interact.

  1. Relax tense muscles

Firstly massage will relax tense muscles by encouraging the muscle fibres within each muscle to release from a contracted or shortened state and return to their normal function. Muscle fibres work properly when they can shorten to actively move a bone, or lengthen to passively allow a bone to move. As an example of this hold one upper arm with the opposite hand and notice how your biceps muscle bulges as you lift your hand to your shoulder. You should also notice it loses the bulge as you extend your hand away again.

When muscle fibres within a muscle contract and then do not relax, the muscle as a whole starts to lose its power and strength to actively move bones, and also loses its ability to stretch and allow bones to move in the opposite direction. This produces stiffness in the body when moving. Initially the muscles can compensate for this slight loss of power but as time goes on and more and more muscle fibres contract, the muscle as a whole becomes more and more fatigued trying to compensate and you can see changes in your dog’s ability to do certain movements ie jumping onto furniture or into the car.

  1. Boost circulation

Massage has been shown to boost the circulation of blood to the muscles when applied for just a short time. Increased blood supply to the muscles warms them up, reducing feelings of discomfort the dog might be experiencing, and brings extra oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. As the muscle fibres are stimulated to release from their contracted state, the increased flow of blood provides the muscle fibres with the nutrients they require to maintain a normal state rather than return to a permanently contracted state.

  1. Stimulate nerve function

Put simply this means that where your dog may be hypersensitive and touchy, massage will calm this reaction and your dog will relax to touch rather than flinch or react to touch. Similarly if there are areas of your dog’s body where he or she has become “unresponsive” to touch, then massage will stimulate the nerve function in those areas, making your dog more comfortable. Dogs are all different and while a common reaction to discomfort might be for your dog to look stiff and be generally less enthusiastic, there are also dogs who will simply override their discomfort and keep jumping about, leading their owners to believe there is nothing wrong with them. In both cases, the nerves supplying the muscles can be re-educated by massage to send signals back to the brain telling the dog to relax his or her back. The more the dog relaxes, the greater the effect on the release of those muscle fibres held in a contracted state.


It is important that your dog is in good health before you start to massage. As an example, if your dog has a virus and is not well, then massage will stimulate the circulatory system which could spread the virus further through the body, making the muscles ache and your dog unwell for longer.

Listed here are the signs of good health in your dog.

  1. “Well covered” meaning that the dog will be carrying sufficient weight, in muscle and fat, for the breed and work the dog does. There is a lot of variation in dog breeds, possibly more than with any other species.  Some breeds like the greyhound and saluki have prominent skeletal frames (if not used for racing), whereas the bull terriers are far more muscular over their skeletons.  A dog which works hard will be leaner than the family pet, although it is far more common to see overweight than underweight dogs.
  2. The dog should be alert, aware of what is going on around him/her and interested in the people/other dogs in the near vicinity.
  3. The dog should be eating and drinking normal amounts.
  4. The mucous membranes (those in the gums of the mouth and around the eyeballs) should be salmon pink.
  5. The skin and coat should be supple and shiny, not dull and staring.
  6. There should be no abnormal heat or swellings on the body or limbs.
  7. The dogs’ stools should be of a normal consistency and amount.
  8. The dog’s urine should be of a normal colour and amount. Most dogs’ urine is a pale to mid gold colour.  Quantity will vary slightly on the heat and humidity of the day or excessive workload/play (when there will be less to expel).
  9. The body temperature should be approximately 38 degrees Centigrade (101-102.5 degrees Farenheit), and the thermometer used with care.
  10. Pulse (heart rate) will vary according to the type of dog, but should be under 80 bpm for large breeds, 140 bpm for small breeds. Take your dog’s heart rate regularly, preferably when the dog is calm, to give you an idea of your dog’s regular resting heart rate.
  11. The respiration rate will again vary between the breeds, but ideally should be between 15-20 breaths per minute for larger breeds and 30-40 breaths per minute for the smallest toy breeds. Regularly monitor your dog’s resting respiratory rate.
  12. The dog should be sound on all four limbs, with no obvious lameness or injury. Check your dog has not ‘scuffed’ his/her paws at the sides or fronts, as he/she moves.
  13. There should be no discharge from the eyes, ears or nose. Most dogs will tend to have a healthy wet nose. A dry nose may be an indication that the dog is not feeling his/her best.

Signs of ill health are listed here. If in any doubt about your dog, ask your vet for advice before commencing with massage.

  1. If any part of the skeletal frame is very prominent, such as ribs, croup or backbone and the muscles are sunken away.
  2. Your dog is not truly alert and interested in his/her surroundings, but unresponsive and apathetic, not paying attention to people/other dogs in the near vicinity.
  3. Your dog is not eating or drinking normal amounts.
  4. The mucous membranes of the mouth and round the eyes are not salmon pink, but very pale (indicating anaemia and infection), yellow (indicating jaundice or liver disease) or blue (lacking in oxygen and poor blood circulation).
  5. The skin and coat are dull, staring and unhealthy.
  6. Your dog is dehydrated.
  7. There are areas of abnormal heat or swelling.
  8. The dog’s faeces are altered from normal consistency or amount.
  9. Discoloured urine.
  10. Raised or lowered temperature, pulse or respiratory rates.
  11. Lameness or unlevel steps.
  12. Thick smelly mucoid discharge from the eyes or nose.
  13. Eyes not fully open, or with the third eyelid protruding across the eye.
  14. Any abnormal behaviours.
  15. Excessively overweight.


This week we are focussing on assessing tension in the neck and shoulders of your dog. You will need to watch the accompanying video and we would advise you do this several times and take some notes as well. Do not panic if you don’t think you can feel anything to being with. It will take time for you to build up your skills and confidence. Instead concentrate on how your dog reacts to what you are doing and use this as a guide. The more often you put your hands on your dog, the more relaxed he or she should become which will help you to feel more. Just doing five minutes assessment every day this week will make a big difference to your sensitivity and your dog’s receptiveness.

Once you have started to do your own assessments, think about where you feel there may be tension in the muscles, and write down the reactions that you observed in your dog.


  1. Have a workbook or file to put your course notes in for reference and to help you with your learning.
  2. Read through all the course notes for this week, making sure you understand the information given to you.
  3. Using the lists given to you in the Health Check section, make a note of any potential health issues your dog might have. Do not worry about taking temperature or pulse if you are not confident doing so but be aware of what is normal or not.

Watch the video on assessment of the muscles in the neck and shoulders, make notes and then try doing the same on your dog. Write down the reactions he or she gives you.