Simple tips for improving Circulation and Mobility:
Dogs need exercise and exercise creates strain on muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments. For this post I wanted to focus on some simple ideas that anyone can use to help keep their dogs healthy. Although larger dogs have more risk of injury to the musculoskeletal system (muscles and joints), smaller dogs, high energy dogs, those involved in canine (or other) sports regularly, and dogs that are getting older can really benefit from massage and stretches. Of course Mini Schnauzers would benefit from this!!
Let’s start with Massage:
Calming the Nervous Dog
Massage therapists (and some Naturopathic Doctors!) use a stroke similar to petting to relax the nervous system. This can be used during an anxious response to thunder, lightning, Vet-visits, or any other upset for your dog. Lightly rest the flat palm of your hand on top of your dog’s head or neck. Make long, sweeping passes along the length of the spine and down the tail. Repeat this several times slowly. You can gradually increase your pressure if your dog likes it. Do not press straight down on the lower part of the back. To finish, allow one hand to rest at the base of your pet’s head and the other hand to rest over the area of the pelvis (the high point over your dog’s hips). These two areas correspond to the part of the spinal cord that controls the rest and relaxation responses of the body (for example, sleep, digestion, and tissue repair). This technique is useful any time your dog is nervous or fearful, such as during nail trimming or vaccinations, or when he is hyperactive or restless.
Warm-Up Massage for Active Dogs
Active dogs that compete, run, hike with their owners, or just play hard also deserve a good warm-up, and this may even prevent injury – I will often use massage before a major-hike-day with Caesar right after his morning stretches. Start with several minutes of petting strokes over your dog’s entire body. Briskly rub the large muscles (neck, shoulders, buttocks, and thighs) with the heel of your hand. Gently lift and squeeze the muscles. The technique is a lot like kneading bread dough. Wrap your fingers around each lower leg and squeeze gently. Relax your grip and move up the leg gradually, squeezing as you go. Finish with more petting over the entire body to stimulate the nerves.
Relieving Joint Stiffness and Soreness
Recent exertion, aging, or inactivity can lead to soreness and stiffness in joints and muscles. To help, start by petting the area around the joint to warm the tissue. Then place your hand(s) over the area and apply gentle compressions over the area. You can use your breathing or count slowly to establish a rhythm as you press and release the muscles. The pumping motion moves fluids through the muscles and takes tension off the tendons surrounding the joint. Never use sudden or direct force over a bone. Finish with more petting over the area to soothe the nerves. Keep in mind that regular massage throughout the life of your pet may help prevent the stiffness and pain that contributes to arthritis. Readers should note that massage is not a substitute for veterinary care. Severe conditions require diagnosis and treatment by your veterinarian.
Now, Let’s Look at Stretches
Simple, Gentle Stretches You Can Complete in Minutes a Day
There are three areas of your dog’s body for which stretching is especially beneficial – the hips, the shoulders and the back.
The following stretches, done slowly and gently, are well tolerated by most dogs. However, if you don’t feel confident in your ability to do the stretches, consider asking your Vet or a small animal Chiropractor, Naturopathic Doctor, or Massage Therapist to demonstrate the stretches for you so you can do them at home.
Instructions for most of these stretches have your dog standing, but you can also do them with your dog lying on his/her side, or in the case of the chest stretch, on his/her back (which is the position that Caesar finds most comfortable for his stretches most of the time). Some dogs are very uncomfortable in this position, so if yours is, don’t force the issue.
Needless to say, if your pet shows any sign of pain during stretching, discontinue the movement and have him/her seen by your Vet as soon as possible.
Stretching the hip flexors. The hip flexors are muscles that enable your dog to move his legs and hips while walking, trotting or running. To stretch the hip flexors, ask or get your dog to stand or lie down, and gently hold a back leg above the knee. Gently and slowly move the leg back straight out behind your dog’s body. When you reach a point of resistance, where further extension will require applying pressure, hold the leg in position for 10 to 30 seconds. Repeat this stretch 2 or 3 times with each back leg.
Benefits your dog will receive from this stretch include increased movement and flexibility in the hips and spine, improved conditioning of the lower back, hip and leg muscles, and a reduction in arthritis-related discomfort and pain.
Stretching the shoulder flexors. Shoulder flexors are muscles that allow fluid movement and proper use of your dog’s front legs. To stretch the shoulder flexors, with your dog standing or lying down, grasp a front leg above the elbow, place your other hand under the elbow to stabilize it, and gently move the leg forward. At the point of resistance, hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds and repeat 2 or 3 times for each front leg.
Not only does this stretch improve the integrity of shoulder structure, it also benefits the wrists and elbows, and increases your dog’s breathing capacity by loosening his/her chest muscles that are around the lungs.
Stretching the chest area. The muscles of your dog’s chest endure a great deal of strain. This is an abduction stretch, meaning a stretch away from center. With your dog on his back, grasp both front legs near the elbows (some say wrists but near the elbows is a sturdier location and will likely be more comfortable for your dog) and gently open them out to the side. Hold for several seconds, release and repeat.
Since your dog may expect a chest or tummy rub (he/she is on their back, after all), you can relax them further by giving him/her a gentle chest massage using light pressure and circular strokes.
After you’ve stretched your dog’s back, he/she will really enjoy a sacrum and back rub. The sacrum is the area in front of the base of the tail, between the hip bones. Using light pressure and circular movements massage the hard flat surface of the sacrum. Move your hands slowly up your dog’s spine and back using gentle massage strokes.
Regular sacrum and back rubs decrease anxiety, increase the flow of spinal fluid, enhance mobility in the hips and spine, and help bring your dog’s body into good balance.
I hope you and your dog(s) will find these tips helpful! Do you think these ideas will take too much time in your day? Then remember these words (for both you and your dog!):
“For fast-acting relief, try slowing down” ~ Lily Tomlin – hahaha!! funny but true too!