August 14, 2012
Rover-Time loves Beloved Canine Massage & Bodywork. As a lover of touch and a believer in the healing qualities of massage, canine bodywork never seemed odd to me as it does to a few others. Most folks are becoming more accustomed and open to animal massage as an excellent preventative and rehabilitative tool for their pets’ overall health and happiness.
Aimee Schneider took so much care in answering the questions I had for her. I felt like she shared a gift with me while reading her responses. I hope you enjoy her responses as much as I did.
1) How did you become involved with animal massage? Tell me the story of how your company came to be.
I completed my training to be a licensed massage therapist for humans in 2009. During this time, my own two dogs, Ethel and Lucy, glorious senior pugs, began to experience changes in their mobility. At times they appeared to be in pain and the undiagnosed neurological issues that they had were causing muscle spasms, locked up joints, skin issues, digestive issues, you name it. Ultimately they both lost the use of their hind limbs. At the time we really didn’t know what we were doing – we just knew that we wanted to do everything possible to help them be comfortable. To be honest, there are far too few people in the world who really understand the needs of differently-abled pets. We were told Lucy would likely only live a few months after she stopped walking and that chronic urinary tract infections would ultimately be her doom. Luckily, we didn’t listen to that practitioner. We knew our dogs still had a lot of years left in them and we could not see how not being able to walk should have any impact on their quality of life if we did our job right. At times it wasn’t easy, and I think we often felt that we were making up the rules as we went along. As a pet owner, you never expect your dog to stop walking and then when she does, your options can feel limited, but I think people are starting to see that loss of mobility does not automatically have to mean euthanasia and that is an exciting shift in society.
Lucy and Ethel went through a series of veterinary rehabilitation sessions and we saw some improvements there and learned some exercises that we could do at home to slow down muscle atrophy and provide enrichment. At home, I applied some human massage techniques very carefully, but after attending a pet parent massage class, I enrolled in a 200-hour training program to really transfer my human massage practice to a canine one. What started mostly as an effort to help relieve my own dogs’ pain and improve their mobility has grown into so much more and I’m really thrilled. I have seen my own dogs thrive as a result of massage, essential oils and Reiki and I want to make these therapeutic options available to other senior and differently-abled dogs.
2) Although you may apply many of the same techniques….are there different approaches you use for small verses large dogs?
I try to use a different approach for every dog I work with. And, truthfully, each session with a dog might look a little different depending on how they are feeling physically and emotionally. Developing a relationship with each dog is very important. I try to use a lot of techniques that feel really good so that dogs develop a positive opinion of the massage process. If I came to your house to give you a massage and then proceeded to poke and prod all of your most painful muscles, you probably wouldn’t want to schedule another session with me. Dogs don’t tolerate that kind of mindless bodywork.
Every dog is different and each day is different for each dog. I work on some big dogs that need very gentle techniques and that respond best to more energetic work and slow, long strokes. I once spent 20 minutes just sitting on the floor in the same room with a dog before he finally sat next to me and allowed me to touch him. I work with a 90 pound dog that likes to climb into my lap and I’ve worked with some very small dogs that will only sit still for their massage if mom holds a chew toy filled with peanut butter.
The first session is always unpredictable and I never want a dog restrained or forced to receive a massage. That’s a universal rule I apply to all the dogs I work with. If they don’t want it, I won’t force it. If a dog is touch reactive, massage can be very helpful, but I have to be thoughtful about how I start the relationship. I’m there to become a friend to the dog, gather some information about the dog and hopefully facilitate some healing.
3) In what ways can animal massage be used for rehabilitation for dogs?
Massage is critical for people and animals in recovery or rehabilitation after an injury, surgery or illness! Massage addresses the soft tissue (muscles, fascia, tendons and ligaments) but it also promotes healthy function of all the body systems. If a dog has been through a surgical intervention, his body has experienced trauma. As tissue regenerates, scarring and adhesions form, the body loses range of motion, compensation begins and the effects can be lifelong. Massage, when combined with rehabilitation therapy and ongoing veterinary care, can speed up the recovery process and help the body to become stronger. Massage helps relieve pain and reduces inflammation. Massage also promotes the swift spread of medications and supplements in the blood stream.
4) In addition to rehabilitation, how can canine massage be used as a preventative?
Massage promotes balance throughout the body. When our bodies are balanced, they are better able to prevent or recuperate from illness or injury. In the human body, studies have shown that massage increases the presence of lymphocytes (cells that help the immune system fight illness) throughout the body and decreases the presence of cortisol (a stress hormone). There is no reason to believe these changes do not also happen in the canine body.
From a musculoskeletal standpoint, tissue that is massaged on a regular basis is more elastic and resilient. Massage before and after athletic activity helps prevent injury and stave off muscle soreness.
Massage is a powerful prevention tool over the long-term, too. Osteoarthritis is a very common condition among pets and humans and it can be prevented. Researchers now believe that maintaining flexibility through regular exercise and massage, along with keeping a healthy weight, is a significant way to prevent arthritis or slow down degeneration associated with arthritis.
5) Many rescue dogs benefit from massage. Can you suggest a few ways people with rescue dogs can calm them by using massage techniques?
When working with any dog that might need calming, the first thing a pet parent should do is breathe deeply and center himself or herself. Mindfulness is key. Slow down your tempo – rest your hands gently on your dogs’ shoulders or place one hand on the shoulders and one on the chest. Now imagine that you are sending healing energy through your hands and into your dog. It might sound funny to say, but visualizing that kind of calming, healing energy makes a big difference. Slowly glide your hands down your dog’s body, moving along the direction of the fur. Make sure to breathe deeply and slowly – your dog will likely respond in kind.
Rubbing and massaging around the base of the ears is calming for many dogs. And some dogs become calmer when you rub between their eyes. Whatever touch you apply to your dog, the most important thing is to keep calm, slow down and breathe. Intention is very powerful.
6) From experience, I know how valuable animal massage can be for senior dogs. Talk about the senior dogs you’ve massaged and how it helped them.
Massage is really key for senior dogs. First, frequent massage for an aging pup can often help identify and monitor changes in the body that might go unnoticed without massage. Second, the saying “move it or lose it” is really as true for dogs as it is for humans. Massage can help keep a senior dog limber, promote productive circulation to the extremities, and reduce pain associated with arthritis or other degenerative conditions. Another reason canine massage is so critical for our older dogs is that it allows for relationship building, bonding and special moments of tender loving care. I can’t think of a better way to thank a dog for the many years of joy he or she has given you and your family.
If I had to guess, the average age of my canine clientele is probably 12 years old. One 16-year old I work with eats and drinks much better following her massages. I get reports from many pet parents that their dogs are better able to transition from a reclining position to standing or move up and down stairs as a result of massage. Most often I hear that dogs appear more comfortable and content after massage.
Massage can provide restorative relaxation. I work with an elder pug who drifts off into a deep sleep immediately following our massage sessions. These changes happen for the dog’s family, too. I love the moments when I look around the living room and realize the entire family has moved into a state of relaxation. I might arrive to total household chaos, the dog is panting and agitated, the family is stressed out by the dog’s agitation and then, after some deep breaths and quality time together, everyone – the parents, the kids, the dog – have been transformed.
Massage is also really important for dogs at the end of life. I experienced this with our own Lucy when she died earlier this year. Our daily ritual with her, I believe, helped her be more comfortable and more alert. Massage for hospice dogs is not about “fixing” the situation or “curing” the dog’s illness. It is about providing comforting, therapeutic touch. As her circulation slowed down, massage helped her maintain a more comfortable body temperature. Because Lucy had lost mobility in all four limbs, massage was also really important in that it got her body moving in ways that she could not initiate on her own. This meant we were able to prevent bed sores and skin infections that are common for bedridden animals and humans. We were lucky to have Lucy for as long as we did and we attribute her longevity to the massage and bodywork we provided her.
7) What relationships or partnerships are you most proud to have cultivated by the opening of Beloved Canine?
My favorite thing about the work I do is the opportunity to meet great people who care deeply about animals – Chicago is full of these people. Throughout the last year, I have developed relationships with some other canine massage practitioners. I know someone who is gifted with puppies, someone who knows greyhounds like I know pugs, someone who is also trained in canine rehabilitation. It’s important to me to be able to refer people to other highly-qualified therapists who might be more appropriate for their dog. I think collaboration between massage therapists is really important.
My relationships with my clients are really important, too. There is something really special about providing canine massage in people’s homes – it allows for a deeper connection with the dog and the family. I really value these relationships and take very seriously my commitment to my canine clients and their families.
In August I will be providing massage to about a half dozen foster pugs in Northern Illinois Pug Rescue Association’s care. NIPRA means a lot to me because we adopted Lucy and Ethel from NIPRA years ago and so many of the rescues they care for are geriatric or living with chronic health conditions. Plus I’m obsessed with pugs.
I founded Beloved Canine Massage & Bodywork in September 2011, so I have to admit that there are many relationships and partnerships I would like to establish. I would really like to meet veterinarians who believe in the power of massage and want to refer their clients to me. I think many people just aren’t aware of canine massage as a viable complement to veterinary care.
Thank you, Aimee, for your great work. I look forward to a lasting relationship with you and Beloved Canine Massage & Bodywork. Beloved Canine can be reached by way of their website, Facebook, and Twitter.