April 6, 2022
Chat with the spawcialist: why you should get your puppy a professional massage

It doesn't take much to get their tail wagging: a few belly rubs will do the trick - and you can even do it with the tips of your toes, because that's how low maintenance they are. But even though dogs don't ask for much, they sure deserve so, and a professional massage should be part of their regular grooming regimen.

A proper massage will improve your best friend's life quality, something that both science and the DogSniffer crew believe in.

In 2018, case notes from 527 dogs were shared with a self-selected group of 65 practitioners as part of a one-of-a-kind study. It looked at the number and intensity of complaints from the owner and practitioners for five pain indicators (gait, posture, daily activity, behavior, and performance), as well as the quality of life score.

Over the course of treatment, significant reductions in reported pain severity ratings were observed for all pain indicators, with each massage session providing a further significant reduction in pain severity. In keeping with a group presenting with degenerative disease and persistent pain, the number of pain markers recorded across subsequent therapy sessions remained constant. All of the dogs and diagnostic variables reacted in the same way. A dog's positive quality of life was much higher after treatment.

With that in mind, we reached out to our friend Gene Rukavina, the owner and "showrunner" of Dancing Dog Massage. Gene has been seeing clients all across the greater Los Angeles area since 2015 and is well-equipped to address any queries you may have, just like he did with ours.

- Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how/when you became a dog massage therapist?

My earliest childhood memory is in the company of a dog, and I have loved dogs ever since. Dogs are my favorite animal and it was my love for dogs that inspired me to get in the field of veterinary medicine. I decided to take that love to the next level when I launched Dancing Dog Massage in 2015. I am a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) as well as a Certified Canine Massage Therapist (CCMT).

-  How has your therapy/work evolved over time? Tell us a little bit about how a session with you goes.

Excellent question. Before I launched DDM, I did an entire month where I worked on the dogs of friends and family or anyone that was willing to have me massage their dog for free. This helped me gain confidence while also learning some of the potential pitfalls that could occur. Over time, I have also added to the various techniques I had to learn to get my CCMT. I am always looking for new ways to approach a canine massage session (discovering various pressure points for example), and have even taken some techniques I have experienced while getting my own massages and applied them to my canine clients. I am always striving to learn new techniques and expand my knowledge for the benefit of the dogs I work with.

- Some individuals consider dog massage to be a "waste of money," believing it to be only a relaxing activity. What would you say to those people?

While it is certainly true that massage (for humans or dogs) reduces stress and relaxes the body, there is so much more to it than that. Some of the other benefits include:

  • Improves blood circulation 
  • Increases the flexibility of soft tissue
  • Reduces discomfort from arthritis
  • Aids in the elimination of bodily waste products and toxins
  • Helps to maintain good posture and body balance
  • Helps injured muscle heal faster
  • Improves athletic performance
  • Loosens and softens scar tissue
  • Prevents atrophy in inactive muscles
  • Releases endorphins
  • Improves muscle tone and range of motion
  • Reduces stiffness and provides comfort for elderly dogs

- When should you start looking for a dog massage therapist?

Sadly, I have found that many dog owners wait until they see visible signs of trauma or aging. I like to point out the fact that young professional athletes incorporate some form of massage into their daily routine, not just to help with recovery, but to help prevent problems in the future. I encourage people to watch their dog and how it moves during the course of a typical day. Dogs are amazing athletes - the things that they use their bodies for (jumping, running, twisting and turning, stopping and starting), would make most of us very sore the next day!

- How can I tell whether the massage is helping my puppy?

My clients have told me that they notice benefits almost immediately, if not the next day. They notice various improvements, such as the way they walk, that they are more aligned/balanced, they sleep better, their appetite increases, their spirits improve, and their stress is reduced (calmer and more at ease). These are a few of the reasons why most of my clients want me to massage their dog once a week.

- Is each breed's massage different?

No. Breed really has nothing to do with it. A dog's musculature is the same, whether it is a Chihuahua or a Great Dane. What varies is the time length of the massage itself. A small dog only needs a 30-minute session, while an extra large dog requires a 60-minute session. It's all based on weight classes. I have 4 categories: small, medium, large, and extra large.

- Should individuals try it at home by watching videos on YouTube?

Yes. I tell my clients that there is no harm in massaging their dogs themselves. As long as you don't massage a bone directly and pay attention to the dog's reactions to your touch in a particular area, it can be a wonderful way to bond with your dog! But be warned, once your dog learns how much they enjoy you massaging them, they will start asking for it!

- How often and for how many sessions do you need to see results?

In most cases, improvement can be seen immediately after the session, and can be seen for days afterwards. Depending on the dog, it may have issues that simply cannot be fixed in just a few sessions. Dogs can build up all sorts of things over time, just like humans do. Whether it's a pesky cluster of knots in their shoulders, back spasms, or chronic arthritis, consistent massage may be required to help reduce those issues over time and then maintain that improved body condition in the future. I have found that weekly massage sessions for a dog are ideal.

- What can owners do at home to enhance the massage's benefits?

I am still surprised when I learn that a dog owner is still walking their dog with a leash attached to their neck collar. Research has shown that this can be bad for their sensitive necks, while also leading to poor body balance. I recommend using a harness, where the leash attaches at the center of the shoulders or upper back. This helps prevent body imbalance over time. Prior to the session it is important not to give the dog too much food and to ensure they have gone to the bathroom beforehand. Some of my clients give their dog a dose of CBD prior to the session. Afterwards, it is very important to encourage the dog to drink plenty of water, and to understand that the elimination of bodily waste products and toxins will be enhanced and that they will need to go to the bathroom sooner than might be considered normal otherwise.

- Is there a story or a particular client who holds a special place in your heart for any reason? Tell us about it!

I love this question! One of my favorite canine clients is a big black lab named Parker. From the moment I first met him, he has always greeted me with a toy in his mouth. Every week he greets me with a different toy from his vast and ever changing collection of toys. Knowing his love for toys, I gave him a dog toy as a present one week. The following week I was amazed when he greeted me with the toy I had given him the week prior! His owners told me he had selected this toy on his own, without their prompting. It was like he was thanking me for giving him that toy the week before. It was a very special and heartwarming moment that I will never forget.

Do you have any more questions for Gene? You can send him a direct email on gene@dancingdogmassage.com. More information about his work and company is available on his website: www.dancingdogmassage.com

Long time dog lover, our PUPlicist Eloá uses her "journalist nose" to sniff out the best original content for DogSniffer.  If you have a topic that she should write about please reach out to her at eloa@dogsniffer.com

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