The Many Faces of Canine Massage

When I started providing canine massage 18 years ago, along with a sprinkling of feline massage, I never dreamed that the power of touch could be used for so many different purposes in the pet care industry. Having come from a clinical background, I thought I would be applying my knowledge and skill set to dogs and cats in the same way that I provided to the majority of my human clients.  However, I have learned over the years that, while many of the benefits of massage for humans are the same for animals, the scope of this work with animals is vastly different and remarkably diverse.  Because of this diversity, calling ourselves "canine massage therapists" feels rather limited, and the title may be inadvertently doing us a disservice.  There is so much more involved with this work than massage alone.  Yes, we utilize and incorporate various forms of touch and massage techniques adopted from the world of human massage therapy, but the way that we use touch with animals is much more wide-ranging.

Many of the therapists who take CSCM’s programs do so because, in addition to learning about touch and massage, they want to learn about the physical dog, canine behavior and communication, trust building, and low-stress handling. CSCM graduates prove through their subsequent work experiences that there are many ways to use the power of touch, intent, and soft tissue manipulation to help our animal companions.

Whether starting from scratch or incorporating their newly acquired skills and experience into an existing business or profession, CSCM’s highly trained canine massage therapists can work effectively and successfully in any of the following areas:

  • Private practice
  • Behavior and training
  • Dog walking
  • Day care and pet sitting
  • Shelter and rescue community
  • Grooming community
  • Physical rehabilitation
  • Veterinary community
  • Sports massage

I recently reached out to some of CSCM’s graduates to get an idea of what they are doing with the knowledge and skill learned at CSCM and the careers they have built.  Here are just a few examples:

Debby Barron

After thirty plus years as an executive with a large global bank, Debby retired from corporate life and found her calling in animal massage therapy.  Since graduating from CSCM, Debby started her own practice, 4 Paws Massage Therapy, where she has the opportunity to deliver massage services alongside more traditional medical practices at Oak Park Animal Hospital.

When Debby first began working as a massage therapist at Oak Park Animal Hospital, there was only one veterinarian who referred cases to her. Now, Debby receives referrals not only from satisfied clients but also from all the veterinarians at Oak Park Animal Hospital and Ambassador Animal Hospital. "The vets have been converted into supporters because they have witnessed the positive effects of massage on their patients. The types of cases I work on have expanded because the vets have experienced successes I've had with working dog bites, surgical amputees, chronic diarrhea cases, arthritis, and aging mobility issues." Working with the veterinary community, Debby has had the opportunity to use all of the tools she learned in class, including lymphatic drainage, edema management, trigger point therapy, energy work, general relaxation massage, and much more. She operates her business from either the veterinary hospital or in-home – clients choose the most comfortable location for their pet.

Helen Morphew

Helen flew all the way from Auckland, New Zealand to learn canine massage at CSCM.  According to Helen, canine massage is fairly new in New Zealand, so she has spent much time “spreading the word” through television, radio, magazine articles, posters, flyers, and information left at veterinary offices.  Through her private practice, Auckland Canine Massage, Helen works with individual clients, teaches pet parent massage classes, and attends canine events on a regular basis.  She is currently in discussion with a veterinary practice and a well-established dog daycare facility about offering massage on a regular basis at their locations.  She tirelessly networks and educates varied audiences about the benefits of canine massage, which has helped her grow a very successful practice.

“For so many years, humans have benefited from massage therapy, and over the years I personally have benefited enormously. Being able to now offer this to dogs is so rewarding.  The feedback from clients makes it so worthwhile - the benefits are real and tangible, and that is why I love doing this.”

Sara May

Sara’s career in canine massage began with a single pet parent class at CSCM.  Initially, her only goal was to learn a few massage techniques so she could help her dog feel better.  However, one pet parent class turned into a full certification program, and Sara went from knowing very little about dogs to becoming nationally certified in canine massage therapy and joining the teaching staff at CSCM.  “As a former college English instructor, I am a strong advocate for education.  One of the favorite parts of my work is teaching massage classes.  Through education, I believe that the value and importance of canine massage can be understood, shared, and appreciated by an ever-increasing audience.”

In addition to teaching potential therapists this amazing work, Sara opened her own private practice in Illinois and then again in Virginia when her family moved in the summer of 2014.  Sara still teaches for CSCM when she can, enjoys a growing and thriving canine massage clientele in Virginia, and is currently learning Small Animal Acupressure.

Nancy Reyes

Nancy, an exceptional dog trainer and owner of For Your K9 in Melrose Park, Illinois, became certified as a Canine Massage Therapist through CSCM in 2013, and she says it has enhanced and improved the work that they do at the training facility.  “Understanding the physical dog is key to developing training strategies and resolving behavior issues – a number of behavior problems have underlying physical problems. The training that the Chicago School of Canine Massage provides is second to none. After completing the course I was able to better identify physical problems or challenges for the dog. It has taken our training to a whole new level.”

At For Your K9, they now incorporate canine massage in many of their classes.  In puppy classes, for example, massage helps puppies accept handling at a young age, and that skill stays with them for life. For excitable and reactive dogs, teaching canine massage helps teach relaxation thus lowers arousal for these types of dogs. Nancy explains that “dog training is 3 dimensional: mind (behavior/learning), spirit (emotional health) and body (physical dog).”

Johannah Roth

Johannah has been a groomer for 10 years. Although she has always worked on her own and with patience, she realized how much more there was she could do to provide a relaxing positive experience when grooming dogs. She initially took the CSCM program to learn another service to provide along with her grooming, but she realized quickly that, with this education, she would be doing much more than just adding a service.

"Being a groomer can put dogs in very aversive situations. After going through CSCM’s program, I am now able to guide dogs and teach them that the grooming experience can be a good thing.  I provide them comfort and guidance to overcome any fears in the process. And by being able to read their calming signals and communication, I am able to give them a voice in the process. I have become so interested in canine behavior because of my CSCM training that I have quit my corporate job and am now training through CanineLink to become a dog trainer and specialize in working with dogs who are anxious, fearful, and have difficulty trusting. It has opened up an entirely new world to me and I am able to help give these animals a voice in the process!”
Johannah's Sealed with a Kiss -

Valerie Nelson

A Certified Veterinary Technician since 1997, Valerie decided in 2005 to follow her other passion, and she earned licensure in human massage therapy from the State of Illinois. “I love working in these two great professions and decided to take it a step further by pursuing an education in canine massage therapy.” After the completion of the 200 hour canine massage career training program at the Chicago School of Canine Massage, she became Nationally Certified in 2013.

“The Chicago School of Canine Massage introduced new skills to me. Most importantly, it emphasized a need to provide comfort touch, which has become very important in my daily work as an ICU, critical care and emergency nurse at Veterinary Specialty Center in Buffalo Grove.  For the well-being of our patients, it’s immensely important to keep their stress levels down, but it’s often hard to do. Imagine being in an unfamiliar environment, away from your family members, and not feeling well – that is the kind of stress our patients face each day. I found comfort touch, being mindful, present and making the patient feel safe is super important for their recovery.” 

This year at Veterinary Specialty Center’s Chicagoland Continuing Education Event, Valerie introduced massage therapy and the importance of touch to fellow veterinary nurses. She teaches that “basically, the bottom line, and key take home point is touch can change…so let it happen.”

Debbie Ferguson

Debbie, Board Chair of RedRover, knows firsthand how powerful this work can be in the rescue community. Debbie retired from a corporate career and decided to finally do what she loves…work with animals. In addition to having an active canine massage practice, Debbie spends her time working in animal rescue.  “CSCM taught me not only massage techniques, but how to read and understand canine behavior.  I volunteer for RedRover, a national non-profit organization whose mission is to bring animals out of crisis and to improve the human/animal bond.  We care for animals rescued from puppy mills, hoarding situations, dog fighting busts, cruelty situations, and natural disasters. The dogs we rescue from these situations tend to be ‘shut down’ when they arrive at our temporary shelter.  My new skills have helped me to get these dogs to open up and accept, and even enjoy, being touched, thereby making them more adoptable much earlier."

Erin Kowalski

Like Debbie, Erin came into the CSCM program with a strong background in animal rescue.  “As a foster parent to 75 dogs over 8 years, I knew that canine massage would benefit rescue animals enormously.”  Since graduating from CSCM, she’s had an active canine massage practice, and she continues to educate herself in additional alternative modalities.  She is a Reiki Master Practitioner and Pet Tech Certified in Pet First Aid & CPR.

Erin's experience fostering and caring for paralyzed dogs prompted the founding of Bialy's Wellness Foundation which has given her a wealth of knowledge working with canines living with neurological conditions and mobility challenges. It is Erin's goal to help as many dogs possible optimize their quality of life with the products, services and recommendations provided through AURA Natural Pet and Bialy’s Wellness Foundation. and 

Kristina Dodge


Kristina entered CSCM’s canine massage program as a professional dog groomer.  “Attending CSCM has helped me become a better groomer. Canine massage has taught me low stress handling grooming techniques. In the grooming industry, I see very sore and arthritic pets. Preventable injuries are brought to my attention before I groom a client’s dog on a regular basis.  Knowing how best to move and not move a pet keeps them happy and comfortable.” 

Now, Kristina is part of the team at Autumn Green Animal Hospital where she sees clients on a weekly basis.  Here, she works closely with an integrative vet and veterinary chiropractor providing massage and using essential oils when necessary to promote healing.  She also provides canine and feline massage at Natural Pet Market in Wheaton several times each week.  At Natural Pet Market, she offers raindrop treatments along with massage, and she emphasizes “the importance of health and nutrition as important components to whole body wellness.” and 

Rehab Practitioners at Integrative Pet Care

Emma Widmark – Emma is a human physical therapist who changed direction to work with animals providing physical rehabilitation.  As a certified veterinary rehabilitation practitioner, Emma experiences the benefits of canine massage on a daily basis.  Massage plays an important role in veterinary rehabilitation. It is a powerful modality to help maintain healthy and comfortable tissues, improve range of motion, create trust, and facilitate recovery and comfort for the animal. Her Neurologic, Orthopedic, and Geriatric patients all benefit from massage as part of their rehabilitation program.

“When I give massage I connect to the animal through my hands.  There is a lot of energy and communication being shared between me and my patient. This, and of course the physical improvements observable in the animals mobility and comfort, is what I find the most meaningful when practicing massage.”

Julie Gupta – Julie has a doctorate in human physical therapy and has been working in canine rehab at IPC as well as instructing in the field.  Through the certification Julie received at Chicago School of Canine Massage, she has been able to help heal dogs with therapeutic massage. “The training on canine behavior, handling, and massage has been invaluable in advancing my practice as a certified canine rehabilitation therapist. I am able to provide massage in solo and combination sessions (with exercise and pain relieving modalities) to progress patients through the healing process.” 

Krista Doyle

A successful human massage therapist, Krista wanted to take her massage work to another level.  She has a very successful practice working with both humans and canines in Texas.  Krista uses her canine massage education and experience to work with dogs in several environments: agility trials, conformation shows, and private homes, where she usually sees older dogs experiencing a variety of age-related ailments.  “I love the trust they give me as I enter their ‘space.’ Their response is so honest, especially when they get in the ‘Zone.’ I know that I am giving them something unique and special, and am creating a bond of trust and respect. They will remember me and associate me with ‘good.’”  One of the greatest honors Krista experienced was to be asked to give “the last massage” to a dog with cancer, just days before he passed away.  “It is a privilege to know I am touching not only body, but mind and soul.”

Themis Regina

After working for 14 years at a car company in Brazil, Themis decided to take a risk and follow her heart.  She completed CSCM’s 300 hour canine massage mentorship program and then took her new knowledge and experiences back to Brazil where she started her own private practice, AnimaTherapy.  Themis sees private clients, conducts lectures and workshops about massage, and plays an active role reaching out and educating a wide variety of audiences using social media.  She recently reached 5,000 “likes” on her AnimaTherapy Facebook page!  Hers is the first company in Brazil to offer canine massage exclusively.

In addition to devoting herself to canine massage therapy, she recently decided to study veterinary medicine at her local university in order to enrich her knowledge and become part of the veterinary community.  She plans to offer classes next year in canine massage so that she can fulfill her mission: “to teach more people the profession of canine massage therapy so that more dogs can benefit from this wonderful work.”

Scott Grudberg

Scott is among the growing number of men who are discovering the power that canine massage and touch techniques have to help dogs feel better in body and mind.  He took his CSCM canine massage education and experiences back to Texas, where he developed his own private practice called AARRFF! Canine Massage.  He works with independent clients in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and he partners with Paradise4Paws, a boarding facility near DFW airport.

Scott also volunteers 2-3 days a week at the SPCA of Texas.  A big part of what he does is help socialize dogs so that they are more adoptable.  “Being able to see the benefits from massage and socializing dogs to become better members of their new homes/community are the most rewarding parts of my day.”

Leslie Mait

Leslie, along with many of the CSCM alumni, is pursuing a second career in the pet service industry. While working as VP of Operations at Paradise 4 Paws, Leslie wanted to enhance her understanding of canine behavior using the low stress handling techniques she learned and practiced at CSCM. She completed the 300 hour mentorship program and acknowledges that the experience was life changing by providing professional development in canine massage.

Leslie now proudly handles Business Development for FetchFind, a unique career website for pet industry professionals. “I am thrilled to spread the word to thousands of job seekers and employers that massage therapy and low stress handling techniques, taught correctly, should be part of individual career development goals and as well as integrated into employee training programs.”

Read about the amazing work that these additional canine massage therapists are doing:

Jaclyn Cecere
Sound Canine Massage  

Melissa Johnson
Midwest Canine Massage

Jackie Limosani  
Pawsitively Peaceful Canine Massage

Sarah Sofia Serrato
Heal Canine Massage

Robin Vetterick
Canine Essential Massage

Jessie Walter
Balanced Presence – Human Massage, Canine Massage, Health Coaching, Aromatherapy

Pam Kasper
Canine Massage Therapist

Bere De La Cueva
Masaje Canino Mexico