Whole Dog Journal Reviews Tapes that Teach Massage
Videotapes teach a variety of canine massage techniques and styles.
The thought of massaging a dog used to seem – well, weird. Then holistic veterinarians and pet lovers tried it and liked it. More importantly, so did their dogs. Now canine massage is widely accepted as both a primary and support therapy for all dogs, from puppies to active athletes and the elderly or infirm.
The health benefits of massage have been known for thousands of years. When done correctly, massage improves the circulation of blood, lymph, and “chi,” the energy that flows through the body’s meridians. It increases flexibility, boosts immunity, and can even improve behavior. Best of all, if you learn to do it yourself, it’s fully portable, available 24/7, and costs nothing.
To answer the growing demand for “how to” massage instruction, a number of canine massage therapists have produced instructional videotapes. Now anyone with a dog and a VCR can watch, listen, and practice whenever it’s convenient. The only problem is how to choose which product would be “best” for you!
In an effort to help our readers select the “best” tapes, we initially tried to figure out a way to rate the tapes we viewed; then we gave up. What some of the tapes lack in production value, they more than make up in content. And all of them have very different things to offer.
Really, the differences are in the presenters’ approach. Some are metaphysical, some are not. Some are more oriented toward working athletes. Some are more geared to the everyday pet owner. Some are “intuitive,” some are point-by-point methodical. These differences are what we have tried to emphasize.
For example, people who prefer a spiritual approach (grounding one’s self, asking permission of the dog, aura cleansing, transcendental experiences) will be interested in the videos by Vaughan and Jones, Capps, or Dr. Craft. Someone who wants to boost an agility dog’s performance time will benefit from any of the first five tapes we discuss below. Someone who wants only to help Fido feel a little more comfortable in his old age, and has no interest in seriously studying massage, may enjoy exploring Dr. Basko’s or Wills’ tapes.
To sum up, each is a five-star presentation for someone, and each might be a disappointment to someone else, depending on what they want to accomplish. Rather than rate the tapes, we’ve done our best to describe each presenter’s approach and areas of concentration.
We’ve also listed contact information and prices (rounded up to the nearest dollar) for all the videotapes. Check the presenters’ Web sites or contact them for information on sales tax, prices on workbooks, anatomy charts, study aids, home study courses, or certification programs, as well as shipping costs to other countries.
The son of a renowned Basque herbalist and healer, Jean-Pierre Hourdebaigt grew up loving dogs, horses, and the traditional healing arts. While visiting a sister in Canada, he decided to move there, and attended the Canadian College of Massage and Hydrotherapy, graduating in 1983.
Hourdebaigt became an expert in sports medicine and worked with top Olympic athletes, but his favorite clients were horses. Word spread, and soon he was teaching Massage Awareness™ seminars for horse owners. He published his first book, Equine Massage: A Practical Guide, in 1995. Canine Massage: A Practical Guide followed in 1999, and its revised edition will be published in February by DogWise.
The video demonstrates eight classes of massage movements, each of which can be performed with lighter or heavier pressure and at faster or slower speeds. Different combinations are used for different applications and techniques. “For example,” he explains, “we demonstrate how to treat swelling and muscle strains, inflammation from arthritis, and other common conditions. Our trigger point work releases lactic acid from sore muscles and injury sites, and the working of stress points relieves micro-spasms. These last techniques are important for all canine athletes.”
For a dog’s first massage, Hourdebaigt recommends the video’s long relaxation routine, which is actually a short sequence of soothing strokes. In addition to relaxing the animal without working too deeply, it provides a beneficial imprinting that helps the dog respond well to future massages. It is also recommended for dogs who have been abused, are anxious, or whose lives are unsettled. “Within two to three sessions,” he says, “they go through a significant transformation.”
Joanne Lang enrolled at the Boulder School of Massage Therapy in Colorado in the 1980s, learning on humans and applying what she learned on horses, with help from several equine chiropractors. As soon as she applied her knowledge of massage to canines, though, Lang realized that she preferred working with dogs. She has focused on dogs for five years.
As an instructor and therapist, Lang emphasizes structure. “Most people know very little about structural faults in animals,” she explains, “or even that they exist. Understanding structure helps owners support weak areas and prevent cumulative injuries.”
Massage won’t cure a structural defect, says Lang, but caregivers who study massage can help prevent injury by breaking up adhesions and scar tissue that weaken the area and by relieving microspasms.
Lang’s favorite success stories involve dogs that could not walk when she and her partner, Terri Coulter, first met them. Thanks to Lang System™ massage, these dogs are leading active lives. “Cases like that are exciting,” she says, “but it’s important for someone who is new to massage to have realistic expectations. If you want dramatic results for serious problems, you’re talking about a year of training and at least five years of practice. Fortunately, you don’t have to be an expert to improve your dog’s health and life, for even gentle massage can make a big difference.”
In the 1980s, massage therapist Mary Schreiber began applying the techniques she used on humans to horses, dogs, and other animals. To help others learn her techniques, Schreiber developed an equine massage course called Equissage™. Five years ago Schreiber produced her first canine massage video, which was revised and updated when she introduced a canine massage home study course in 2000.
Schreiber designed a sequence of massage strokes for horses that she adapted for canine use, and the owners of sled dogs, racing dogs, hunting dogs, and other canine athletes are her most enthusiastic students. “I use the same basic sequence for dogs and horses,” she says, “but I added some new sports massage strokes for dogs. While this muscle therapy was designed for all dogs, it’s especially well suited to dogs whose muscles are overused and overworked.”
Most of Schreiber’s strokes involve three applications: gentle, medium, and firm or deep. Some strokes, such as direct pressure, which is used to release muscle spasms, are held for 10 seconds (gentle) to 20 seconds (firm or deep pressure), with a brief release between applications. As she explains, “This sequence prepares the muscles so they stretch without being damaged and without causing pain.”
For more than 20 years, Patricia Whalen-Shaw has been riding horses and massaging large and small animals. In 1992, after becoming a licensed massage therapist for humans, she cofounded Optissage, Inc., and began holding animal (horses, dogs, and cats) massage clinics.
As Whalen-Shaw added to her program, it became Integrated Touch Therapy™, Inc., which combines Swedish and sports massage with other techniques in a logical, progressive system. “My method is designed to do no harm and cause no pain,” she says. “It’s soft, and requires patience. That doesn’t mean it isn’t deep or that it isn’t effective. It just doesn’t overwhelm the animal.”
Whalen-Shaw’s video is an introduction for the public and a review for those who take her training. She emphasizes proper positioning, so that the person is as comfortable as the dog. “This is important because I want everyone who learns the techniques to use them for a long time,” she says.
Her approach involves considerable waiting. “We never force muscles to do anything,” she says. “We stay within the animal’s comfort zone and wait for the tissues to soften and for the protective contracture, or tensing of muscles, to stop.”
Whalen-Shaw uses massage industry terminology to facilitate the training of massage therapists, veterinary technicians, and those who work in orthopedic animal rehabilitation. “If a stroke or procedure already has a widely used name,” she says, “I keep it. My program is logical and methodical, and anyone can do it. As long as you stay within your dog’s comfort zone, you’ll do no harm and the dog will benefit.”
Jonathan Rudinger is a registered nurse, a licensed massage therapist for humans since 1996, and a canine massage therapist since 1997. “I started with horses in 1982,” he says. “It’s something I wasn’t really trained to do; I just picked it up. I finally went to massage school in the 1990s, and discovered that what I’d been doing with horses was totally appropriate. I then incorporated conventional massage techniques into my practice.”
During a TV program that featured Rudinger, the interviewer brought out an elderly Golden Retriever and announced, “Dogs get stiff necks, too. What can you do to help?”
A minute later, the dog melted into Rudinger’s hands. “That was the turning point,” he says. “I knew at that instant that I had skills and techniques that I could share with people to bring comfort to their animals.” Four years ago, he founded the PetMassage™ Training and Research Institute in Toledo, Ohio.
In his videos, Rudinger demonstrates hand positions and conventional massage strokes. To these he adds thumb-walking on the face and along the spine and clasped hands, which gently lift the chest and abdomen. His head-to-tail massage includes the eyes, mouth, and gums.
“My focus in the videos, in the home study course, and in everything we do here at our training school,” he says, “is on building the connection between the person and the dog and increasing the person’s confidence. If you work with your dog’s permission and follow the instructions, you can’t make a mistake.”
Lynn Vaughan, Deborah Jones
Although they live on opposite sides of the country, Lynn Vaughan and Deborah Jones have been teaching partners since they worked at a holistic veterinary clinic in California in the 1980s. Vaughan graduated in 1989 from the Swedish Institute of New York City. Jones graduated from the Massage School of Santa Monica, California, in 1986.
“As veterinary technicians, we used acupressure and massage with the animals,” says Vaughan. “The results were so inspiring that we decided to pursue practices in bodywork, especially the teaching aspect of including the animal’s person in the circle of healing.”
Vaughan and Jones work with dogs who have musculoskeletal issues, degenerative conditions, emotional and physical stress, sports injuries, behavioral problems, aftereffects of surgery, and factors related to service work. They also develop programs for companion dogs, athletes, working dogs, and animals in rescue and rehabilitation. They have prepared dog/handler teams for multi-sport training with techniques that address the physical, spiritual, and relationship aspects of competition.
“Our videos emphasize the ingredients of Intuitive Touch,” they explain. “These include centering breathwork, visualization, using a listening touch, nonverbal communication, and loving intention, with a synergistic combination of massage and acupressure. This guides people into developing a deeper understanding of listening and giving, which enhances mutual healing and relationship. Intuitive Touch creates a common ground for connecting, communicating, and exploring the powerful healing potential in the human/animal relationship.”
Dr. Ihor Basko
A veterinarian since 1971, Ihor Basko studied Japanese acupressure at San Francisco Medical Hospital in San Francisco in 1974, then worked with the late Sebastian Reyes, M.D., who was one of California’s first licensed acupuncturists and OMDs (Oriental Medical Doctors), from 1978 to 1982.
“Dr. Reyes was a miracle worker who saved my own back and neck from paralysis,” says Dr. Basko. “He trained me to work on people. First he would massage his patients, then he would use acupuncture, moxibustion, and manipulation therapy to heal his patients. I could not have asked for a better instructor.”
In the last 28 years, Dr. Basko has studied with nearly a dozen human bodyworkers, learning about Rolfing, acupressure, acupuncture, Shiatsu, Trager therapy, Structure Integration, and more. In every case, he applied what he learned to animals.
Dr. Basko encourages his clients to massage their dogs at every opportunity, including bath time. “Hydrotherapy can transform a routine chore into a healing ritual,” he says.
Dr. Basko emphasizes the importance of one’s frame of mind and emotion. “If your head is spinning with too many thoughts, worries, or stress, or if your heart is sad, mad, or feeling hopeless,” he says, “do not try to treat anyone. You need to be healed first. Your energy, good or bad, passes from your psyche into your hands and into your pet. You can make an animal worse if your emotions and mind are out of balance.”
In his video and accompanying manual, Dr. Basko reminds us that the most direct way of influencing an animal’s health is through touch. “The magic of touch can do more for a sick animal than any medications,” he says. “With your hands you transfer energy from your body and being to your dog’s body and being. Massage is like a dance in which energy is exchanged. It works best when you have learned the basic techniques and then stop thinking, start feeling, and blend with your dog, yourself, nature, and your higher spirit guides.”
Angela Wills has been a licensed massage therapist for people since 1991. In 1995, she studied Optissage™ (now called Integrated Touch) with Patricia Whalen-Shaw. Wills has massaged hundreds of dogs in the last seven years, both in her Florida practice and at agility trials.
Not all dogs take to massage right away, Wills warns. “It is more than just petting,” she explains. “Massage moves muscle tissue in a way that it may have never been moved before. Some dogs like it immediately, and others take a while to accept it. If you keep sessions short, your dog will tell you what he or she needs. Eventually, the dog will start to ask for massage by coming up and leaning on you or by just accepting it more and more.”
In her video, Wills demonstrates a full-body relaxation massage. “You will always get faster and better results by working with the dog’s whole body rather than just the part that shows symptoms,” she says. “Any postural changes, even minor ones, throw other parts of the body out of alignment. Work gently in areas that are weak or painful, like sore hips; work more deeply in areas that are bulky or overdeveloped, like the shoulders of a dog with sore hips; and work with all the other parts to restore proper alignment.”
Wills describes her target audience as anyone who wants to do the best for his or her dog. “You don’t have to be a trainer, veterinarian, or massage therapist to apply these techniques,” she says. “Be open to the benefits of massage. Listen and watch your dog while massaging. Your dog will tell you how it feels and what needs to be done.”
Dr. C. Joy Craft
A holistic veterinarian, C. Joy Craft is also a massage therapist who studied the art in Hawaii. She applied what she learned about humans to dogs, horses, and other animals. “As soon as I did,” she says, “my relationship with my patients changed for the better, and so did their health.”
Despite her conventional training, Dr. Craft describes her approach to medicine as primarily spiritual. “I emphasize the importance of sending healing energy from your body into the animal you’re working with,” she says. “This simple process is the key to keeping pets healthy and happy.”
In her video, which was taped at an outdoor seminar, Dr. Craft introduces dogs and their owners to a variety of holistic therapies, including aura cleansing, acupressure, aromatherapy, and color therapy. “I encourage everyone to begin every massage session with a cleansing of the animal’s aura,” she says. “It takes only one or two minutes, but its benefits are substantial. This removes layers of negative or harmful energy that dogs absorb from the people around them. I consider aura cleansing the most important thing we can do for our dogs.”
In massage, Dr. Craft focuses first on fascia, the dense connective tissue that is the muscles’ protective cover. This tissue tends to become tighter, less flexible, and more restrictive with age and injury. “Fascia is the enemy,” she says. “It restricts the nerves as well as the muscles. Massage melts the fascia and causes it to relax, which makes the animal more comfortable and flexible.”
Dr. Craft also massages around the dog’s eyes – an impressive demonstration – and offers a detailed display of a step-by-step emergency massage for injured animals that combines diagnosis and treatment.
“My goal,” she says, “is to help people understand their dogs’ bodies, recognize minor problems, and prevent them from becoming serious illnesses or injuries.”
Helen Marie Capps
In 1994, Helen Marie Capps received a pet care video by Dr. Michael Fox. In the middle of the video was a section on how to massage a dog. “I sat down with Apache, my ancient Brittany, and barely got past his ears before he fell over in a relaxed and happy heap,” Capps describes. “Then I worked on Abby, who never wanted to be touched and was generally anxious about everything. To my amazement, she relaxed, too.”
Capps read books and attended classes in human massage therapy. In 1999, she graduated from Jonathan Rudinger’s PetMassage Training and Research Institute in Ohio. Today she offers dog massage services and instruction in canine massage. Many of her clients are canine athletes, but some are dogs with serious medical conditions, like the German Shepherd whose veterinarian recommended euthanasia because the dog’s degenerative myelopathy would paralyze him within four months. With twice-weekly massages, the dog remained active and mobile for four years, going for walks until two weeks before his death at 14.
“Most of what I do is intuitive,” says Capps. “It’s hard to explain, but sometimes I just seem to know things, like where I should focus or how a dog has injured himself. My approach is as much a philosophy as it is a technique. I try to share this approach on the video. Once you stop trying to do the work and simply let go, the guidance comes. As long as you’re gentle, you’ll intuitively do the right thing.”
This video differs from all the others in that the presenter is not a professional canine massage therapist. Rather, she became an “expert” in meeting her own dog’s special needs, and then guessed (correctly) that other people whose dogs’ suffered similar problems would also benefit from what she had learned.
Deborah Kazsimer’s German Shepherd, Sheba, led a charmed life until she developed degenerative myelopathy, an incurable spinal cord illness that causes progressive paralysis. Sheba was eight when she was diagnosed in the summer of 1999. Thanks to the unstinting efforts of her human family, her life remained wonderful, for the Kazsimers found innovative ways to care for her even after she lost the use of her hind legs and, one year later, her front legs.
In her video, Deborah Kazsimer tells Sheba’s story and demonstrates the therapies that sustained the dog. The most important was massage, for without the circulation it provides, quadriplegic dogs deteriorate rapidly. Even in her final months, Sheba’s gums were pink, her eyes were clear, her skin and coat stayed healthy, and she remained alert and interested in the world around her.
Anyone with a physically disabled dog would benefit from the information in this video.
Also With This Article
Click here to view "What You Can Do."
Click here to view "The Benefits of Canine Massage."
Click here to view "Cautions and Contraindications."
Click here to view details about individual videos.
-by CJ Puotinen
A regular contributor to WDJ, CJ Puotinen is also the author of The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care, Natural Remedies for Dogs and Cats, and several books about human health including Natural Relief from Aches and Pains, published last summer. She lives in New York. For purchasing information for Puotinen’s books, see "Resources."