Schutzhund USA Magazine, May/June 2009
Caring for the K9 Athlete:
Who doesn't love a good massage? the dimmed lights, flickering candles and soft music - what could be better for stress relief and relaxation. Let's face it, after a grueling day of training, what helper couldn't use a massage? And we all must have pent up tension from the stress of trial day. Not to mention all of the sore muscles, aches and pains we all get from falling on field, getting pulled around playing with our dogs, or bending over on a track. There isn't one of us that wouldn't benefit from a massage, right?
What about our dogs though? We put our dogs through mental and physical stress during normal training and conditioning. They jump the hurdle and A-frame with significant impact on their joints. During protection work, our dogs excessively utilize the muscles along their spine, including their neck.
These muscles absorb a great deal of impact and stress and are some of the most important muscles to focus on during massage. Triceps and biceps in the forelimbs and the hamstrings, gluteal muscles, sartorius and tensor fascia lata muscles in the rear limbs endure great stress through many of the most common Schutzhund exercises, including running and jumping.
We can leave out the dimmed lights, scented oils, candles and soft rock, unless you prefer it, of course. But don't our dogs deserve a massage too? They, too, can benefit from a good massage as much as we can. Besides the overwhelming sense of calm and relaxation, a massage can increase circulation, which helps speed the healing of small muscle injuries as well as release chemicals in the body to relieve muscle pain, spasms and stiffness.
A dog the size of an average German Shepherd Dog or Malinois will benefit from approximately 30 minues of deep massage, no more than every other day. Soreness can actually be caused by deep massage performed too frequently or for greater than the mentioned amount of time. In contrast, a dog the size of a Rat Terrier should not exceed 15 minutes of deep massage every other day, and an English Mastiff could easily take 45 to 60 minutes of deep massage. Light warm up and cool down massages are beneficial at every training and exercise session.
While massaging your dog, it is imperative to use the correct amount of pressure. Too little pressure and you will not receive the desired results; too much pressure can be damaging, or cause pain and soreness. The correct amount for a typical GSD is aobut 12-18 oz of pressure along the spine where the muscle is thick, 8-12 oz along the limbs where there is muscle, and 3-4 oz from the wrist/carpus and hock/tarsus down.
An easy way to understand what this feels like for the person doing the massage is to use a small kitchen scale. Place your fingertips or the palm of your hand on the tray of the scale and gently apply pressure until the scale reads in ounces the amount of pressure you are trying to apply. Practice this multiple times at each different pressure level until you are confident you can feel the correct amount of pressure needed. While performing massage on your dog, it can be beneficial to place the scale on the floor near you so that you can check periodically throughout the process that you are delivering the correct amount of pressure.
If you are using excessive pressure, your dog will show you specific signals. If, during a massage, your dog's eyes open after having been closed and relaxed, he gives a sideways glance, moves away from you, incessantly licks, or has a change in his breathing pattern, these are signs that indicate you're using too much pressure.
Body language can also signal that the dog is relaxed and that the amount of pressure is correct. Ways to identify positive pressure are sighing, yawning, licking lips, passing gas and burping.
A variety of techniques
There are several different techniques and strokes that can be utilized during massage, including effleurage, petrissage, tapotement, vibration and friction.
Effleurage comes from the French word meaning "to touch lightly on" and is a Swedish massage stroke. It is used to warm the muscles up prior ot beginning deep tissue strokes. The padded parts of the fingertips or the palmar surface of the hands are used for this soothing stroke, which can be firm or light. Effleurage will warm the tissue and increase circulation. Other benefits include venous and lymphatic return.
Petrissage often follows effleurage and is a deeper tissue technique. Fingers, thumbs or the padded palmar surface of the hand are used to apply deep pressure to compress the underlying muscles. Other movements are kneading and knuckling, which should be slow and rhythmical. These techniques can mechanically relax the muscles. Pettrisage can act as a chemical analgesia, reduce swelling and loosening up adhesions. Other benefits of petrissage are increased circulation and stimulation of the nervous system.
Tapotement is a stroke specific to Swedish massage and comes from the French word "Tapoter", meaning "to tap or to drum". Tapotement is a rhythmnic percussion utlilizing the outer edge of the palms or tips of the fingers and is also known as hacking. Short sessions of tapotement can stimulate nerve endings while longer sessions can have a mild sedative effect. Life effleurage and petrissage, tapotement will increase circulation. This is a deep tissue technique that can loosen phlegm (otherwise known as coupage), tone muscles, and relieve pain.
Vibration is a technique used on muscle knots. It is a gentle, trembling motion of the tissues. This can be performed in a fine, gentle manner known as vibration or a large, vigorous manner known as shaking. In vibration, either the palmar surface of he hands or the fingertips are placed on the muscle to be treated and "vibrate" the muscle. When performed along the courses of a nerve, it can restore and maintain the function of the nerve and the muscle supplied by the nerve. Vibration is especially valuable when flexibility is restricted due to muscle tension and works best when followed by friction.
Friction requires deeper pressure. This is a technique that primarily uses the ball of the thumb, although fingertips, knuckles and elbows can also be used. During a friction massage, press directly on the muscle knot or along either side of the spine and work in small circular motions. Stand directly over the part of the body being worked on, and use your body weight to assist in administering pressure to the deeper tissues. However, do not start with deep pressure as the muscles tend to be sore. Instead, gradually increase pressure, keeping well within your dog's pain tolerance. On the same token, do not use too little pressure, or you won't be treating the muscle. The key is to make sure you are moving not just the skin but also the tissue underneath the skin. Friction can assist in eliminating accumulated waste products and toxins that have tuilt up in the muscles and will help break down fatty deposits and adhesions. Friction can increase your dog's temperature by increasing cellular activity and bringing an increased flow of blood to an area, which can provide a temporary analgesic effect.
When to massage, and when not to...
As beneficial as massage can be, it is not always appropriate. Thhere are times when massage should be avoided. If your dog has a fever or contagious skin disease, it is best not to massage them until the condition has been remedied. Tumors, cysts and wounds should also be avoided during massage. And, of course, actue injuries and inflamed veins should not be massaged.
There are times when massage is beneficial, but should be handled with extra precaution. If you have a bitch in whelp or a dog with a hernia or diarrhea, massage should be delicate. Tissue with decreased sensation and inflammatory arthritis are two other conditions that warrant careful massage.
Nerves, large vessels, bony prominences and organs should never be massaged. Massage is reserved for soft tissue and muscle.
There are many books available with in-depth information explaining how to perform massage. Massage: Practice and Principles by Salvo is a book on human massage that has a great deal of good information, and Dr. Michael's Fox's Massage Program for Cats and Dogs is an excellent resource that focuses on animal massage. If you're interested in learning how to perform massage on your dog, it is recommended to locate a holistic vet or veterinary rehabilitaiton center where you can take a lesson in how to perform canine massage.
Though the amount of information available can be confusing, remember one simple princple: any time your hands are on your dog, if you are not hurting him, then you are helping him.
Don't be afraid to touch and massage your dog. If you watch your dog's reactions, you will easily be able to tell whether the amount of pressure you are delivering is too much or just enough. If you know that yoru dog is sore, it isn't necessary to avoid massage. This is when massage can be most beneficial; longer softer strokes should be used to work out the sore spots. Always stay withing your dog's comfort level, and you and your dog will enjoy all the many benefits of massage.
Jody Turcotte is an active member of Indian Creek Schutzhund Club in IL. Her dog Gabe vom Geistwasser earned his SchH1 in the fall of 2008 and is in training for his SchH2 and SchH3. Jody and her husband both share a passion for dogs, training and the sport of Schutzhund. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Special thanks to Dr. McCauley of TOPS Veterinary Rehabilitation Center in Grayslake, IL, for her assistance with this article. More information on Dr. McCauley and TOPS Vet Rehab can be found at www.tops-vet-rehab.com or by calling (847) 548-9470.