As a dog parent myself, I adore stroking and cuddling my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Milo.
And a lot of my clients say how much their dogs love to be stroked and massaged. They even demand it! Pawing at their human, lifting our arms and hands onto their bodies, backing themselves into us.
However, speaking as a Dog Behaviourist as well as a dog mum, these adorable traits from our dogs do not always mean what we think…
I have noticed a pattern of behaviour emerging amongst my clients. Dog clients who I am called in to treat because they are suffering from separation anxiety, excessive barking, chronic whining, pacing etc. And, I notice that at the same time it is these dogs who are also the ones who are pawing at their humans, licking them, sitting on top of them as soon as they perch their bums down on the couch and demanding strokes.
And so we stroke them, feeding this need that we pick up from them, until their behaviour gets to a point where you call a Dog Behaviourist in to treat them for anxiety issues.
When I call in for a consultation with these dogs and connect in with them and listen to their side of the story. I find a very different tale indeed…
Many of my dog clients tell me that “it is the parents (the humans) who are the ones suffering from anxiety, stress, depression or chronic illness”. And that the pawing and licking and demands for attention are the way that the dog uses to try and tell their parent that something is wrong. Not wrong with the dog, wrong with the human!
It does make me chuckle when I encounter this type of description from a dog, because I know from my own experience that as humans we like to project our story onto others. And who better than our faithful, ever listening dogs. It brings warmth to my heart that dog parents worry about their dogs’ issues and invest money into calling me in to help their loved ones. When it is often the humans themselves that need the most help!
We often do not realise that our dogs are actually reflecting back to us the issues we are unable to cope with. Stresses from the day, financial worries, health issues, pain, depression, anxiety etc.
There is a very important if subtle difference between “projecting” and “reflecting”.
And once the dog parent realises the impact that their energy is having on their dog and take steps to better care for their own needs, the transformation in their dogs often follows instantaneously. There are exceptions of course and like us, dogs do hold their stress, tension and trauma in their physical bodies which can sometimes manifest not only as muscular/skeletal issues but also as health concerns, allergies and disease.
I am passionate about writing and talking about this special bond between humans and dogs. How they mirror our emotions back to us. Because I would like to share with people how they can create more equilibrium in their relationship with their dog. How we can give back the healing and unconditional love that they provide to us.
And massage is an amazing way to do this…
Laying on of hands
Our hands are incredible healing tools. We have chakra / energy centres sitting within our hands – in the finger tips and palms. Rubbing the palms and fingers of our hands together is a simple way of warming these energy centres up and readying ourselves to give our dogs healing. After rubbing them together for 30 seconds or so, you will likely feel a tingling sensation afterwards and if you hold your palms upwards, you may even feel a heaviness in your hands or warmth from the energy resting in them. The expression “laying on of hands” recognises this ability that we have to heal others and especially our dogs.
Giving our dogs massage helps to release tension, negative energy and emotional stress out from their bodies and it helps our dogs to calm and chill out…
Resetting your dog’s nervous system
There are two branches to a human’s and a dog’s autonomic nervous system, that control functions in the body. The parasympathetic and the sympathetic branches. These two systems are complementary: when one is switched on the other is less so. The sympathetic branch is our “fight or flight” branch, triggered by stress and anxiety. And the parasympathetic branch is our healing part of the nervous system. So you can guess which needs to be switched on most of the time…
When the parasympathetic nervous system is switched on, our dogs receive a healing and nourishing state from their body. Blood flows easily to the organs and tissues to help repair, eliminate and heal.
If our sympathetic nervous system is switched on, our “fight or flight” branch, the one useful back in caveman days when we had wild animals and dinosaurs to flee from, it means that our healing branch is in effect switched off. In our modern day lives, the threat of meeting the occasional dinosaur has been replaced with constant stresses and worries, feelings of anger and frustration, a disconnection even from our bodies. All of which switch on our sympathetic nervous system. This sends blood flow to our heart to raise our blood pressure and to our extremities and muscles to flea or fight. Taking the blood flow away from our organs and healing needs.
If like most humans we live in a state of chronic stress then it is likely our bodies are feeling a lack of healing attention. And if we live in this chronic state of stress then yes, you guessed it, so will our dogs absorb this energy from us. Dogs are sponges for our energy, both negative and positive. They absorb energy from us as well as from the energy we leave behind in the house. You will know if this branch of the nervous system is switched on in your dogs because they will likely be displaying symptoms of over-excitement, anxiety, OCD tendencies, maybe they are constantly carrying a ball or toy, whining, barking at everything and nothing etc.
How to help our dogs
So to help our dogs, I will share a very simple but effective massage technique to reset their nervous system and switch on this parasympathetic branch. This technique has been learned from Dr Edward Bassingthwaighte, Holistic Home Vet.
Starting at the head of your dog, slowly run the tips of your fingers gently from the top of their head down to the base of the tail, along their spine. This is an extremely gentle motion, do it with a feather to understand just how light your touch needs to be. Repeat several times and take your time to slowly enjoy this very powerful technique.
Now, with a second but similar technique, apply deeper pressure with your hands, you want to use the whole surface of your hand on your dogs’ body – your dog will tell you if you are being too firm. Be careful not to apply direct pressure to any boney landmarks. It is the muscles either side of the skeleton that we are targeting. If your dog moves away or indicates discomfort, respond immediately by decreasing the pressure or stopping for a moment. For some dogs it is simply that they are not used to this new form of massage, that you are not petting them in the way they are asking for. The common mistake that my students make is to apply this technique too quickly to their dog. We are sliding our hand very slowly from head to tail. If you think you are going slowly enough, move half as fast as this.
With dogs that are hyper excited and cannot stand still for this massage technique. Get your dog standing, holding gently by the collar with your non-dominant hand, head to one side of you, tail to the other. Apply this technique with your other hand.
The more often and consistently you apply this technique to your dog, the stronger the benefits. Your dog will start to get used to this massage and the effects will be cumulative. You can also use this technique during times that trigger anxiety for your dog, for example, loud noises, fireworks, vet visits, certain places or after a scuffle with another dog.
How you will know it is working?
Getting sleepy, very sleepy…. You will often notice your dogs eyes starting to droop and close, their heads will lower, yawns and sighs are also signals of the body releasing tension and negative energy, sometimes their nose will water, their breathing will slow…
Dog’s may also shake themselves off after the massage technique which is an excellent sign of releasing and leaving behind any negative energy.
Try this technique with your dog to give back to them the love that they so freely give to you. And to create more equilibrium in your relationship and exchange of energy between you and your loved one. Ideally at least five minutes once or twice daily for two to four weeks. You may need to apply this for longer with dogs who have severe anxiety and hyper-activity.
For more information on how to learn dog massage from anywhere in the world (over Skype), other massage techniques, nutritional advice and behaviour advice please visit my website www.chilledoutdogs.com
Nicky Crowe is a Dog Therapist, specialising in sensitive Dog Behaviour Training as well as nutritional therapy for dogs, dog massage, animal communication and energy healing. She offers Skype consultations worldwide, 1-1 home visits locally in the UK and educational workshops for dog parents.