Prospective dog owners who do their research will consistently find recommendations for things like dog training (obedience, walking on leash, etc.) and regular veterinary care.
However, in my experience there are 2 essential life skills that some dogs are missing.
- handling on a table
- touching of the paws
As a canine massage therapist, I was trained to work with dogs on a table. It’s good professional practice. It helps me have a better view and leverage for working on dogs and it also is good health and safety for me because it preserves my posture and the health of my knees.
When a dog is injured or infirm, or so large that even the efforts of the owner and I are not enough to get them onto the table, then I will work with them on the floor.
However, I meet dogs that won’t tolerate handling on a table and in some (not all) cases this is because they just were never taught to accept it. Since I don’t want to be bitten, I have to go to Plan B – which is the floor.
Abbie is a 12 1/2 year old Labrador Retriever cross. She’s been a client for over a year. Abbie needs to be lifted onto my table but is otherwise an easy client to have. Food treats helped her accept the table over successive sessions.
One reason why I recommend massage for puppies is that it teaches them to accept table work at a young age. My table is a cushioned and friendly table – not a cold stainless steel one that you will find in veterinary practice.
All of my canine clients get a treat at the end of their session- so my techniques are reward-based.
And I’ve done sufficient professional training in behavior that I can work to reinforce a timid, shy or scared dog so they get become more accustomed to table work.
Dogs can also be paw sensitive, but through positive training techniques, there is no reason to think that 99.9% of them can’t be trained to accept touching of their feet. When a dog has mobility issues, I want to massage their toes and work acupoints in the feet and legs. That’s hard to do if they are growling, snarling or too scared to let me touch them.
Dog groomers and vets will agree with me – it’s no fun having to muzzle a dog because they need their nails clipped, for example. We’re just reinforcing bad experiences if we do.
In the 8 years I have been practising, I have never used a muzzle.
If you are a dog parent reading this – ask yourself how your dog reacts to being on a table or having their paws touched. If they are reluctant or worse, I’d say it’s time to review your training and schedule in a course of massage therapy.
Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand