Many people, including potential therapists, ask me if it is harder to do human massage or canine massage. As a therapist who has been working full time on humans for 24 years and on canines for 14 years, I can confidently say canine massage! This answer surprises most people. Why would it be more difficult to massage dogs when they are so sweet and you don’t have to deal with people or sweaty, hairy bodies? Human clients suck your energy, and you have to deal with boundaries, draping, and more during a massage session with a human – wouldn’t all of that be more of a challenge? I laugh.
Canine massage is harder because when we work with dogs we need to be able to communicate with them. We have to learn a whole new language, a different anatomy, different drives, and, most of all, a new way of building relationships that is far different from what is required to gain trust with a human.
It’s far more difficult to gain the trust of our canine companions and to develop an understanding of who each individual canine client is than it is to build trust with any human clients. With people, we have the luxury of verbal communication. A human client makes a purposeful decision to schedule an appointment, to be on the massage table, and to pay money for massage services because he or she understands what massage and its benefits are. Dogs are different. They don’t initially understand what massage is, and most dogs are not going to let a perfect stranger come into their world and touch them. Sometimes, the very reason a pet parent brings a dog for massage is to help the dog build trust with strangers or allow a stranger to touch him. Building trust and determining why a dog may be touch-reactive is a significant part of a canine massage therapist’s work.
On a physical level, a canine massage therapist can help tremendously by relieving pain, dysfunction, soreness, and stiffness. The therapist can provide safe, nurturing care for dogs who are ill, convalescing, post surgical, and for those in transition. But, a therapist cannot provide this care without first building trust and gaining permission from the canine client. Yes, a pet parent may bring a companion animal into see a therapist for massage, but this does not in itself give the therapist permission to touch the animal. A dog should never be restrained or forced to accept physical touch. We wait until they ask for it. Some dogs offer permission quickly, but for many others, it takes time. Learning to work with different personalities and understanding how to use different methods for each individual dog are vitally important skills.
I love doing massage, both canine and human. Although human massage is easier in many ways, it doesn’t compare to the challenge, reward, and sheer joy that come from working with all types of dogs and their pet parents.