We’ve all wondered whether agility and working dogs perform better with a massage. Does therapeutic canine massage affect performance levels? And are agility and working dogs similar to human athletes in that they benefit from massage?
The American Association of Rehabilitation Veterinarians (AARV) states that “therapeutic massage increases circulation to improve healing, decreases pain, and reduces swelling. Therapeutic massage can be used for acute or chronic problems, but the pressure and intensity of the massage will vary with the pain level of the patient.
Therapeutic massage increases blood flow- which improves oxygen delivery to tissues and breaks down scar tissue. Therapeutic massage also promotes mental and physical relaxation.” via AARP.
Agility and working dogs work harder than other dogs. Think about all the jumping involved, combined with balancing, control, and the speed at which your agility dog navigates a course, and you’ll soon realize that frequent massage can only help to improve performance. Massage therapy also helps to improve mental focus, muscular health, and the overall well-being of your canine athlete year-round.
Because dogs carry more than half of their body weight on their front legs, their shoulders are subjected to much more stress than the rest of their bodies. Many agilities and working dogs suffer from sore shoulder muscles and tight necks after zipping around a course. This can be helped with regular canine massage therapy
Dr. Marcie Fallek, DVM, CVA, NY explains that “After the extreme exercise of agility work, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) sets in peaking in one to three days. DOMS is characterized not only by severe muscle tenderness but also by reduced range of motion and loss of strength. DOMS is caused by the excessive muscle contraction necessary for such strenuous exercise.”
For agility dogs that have slowed down in their performance, or perhaps may have developed a tendency to knock down jumps, due to a shortening of the hamstring muscles and tightness of the quadriceps and gluteal from the continuous muscle contractions from jumping obstacles, research shows that massage therapy can be very beneficial in increasing the flexibility of all muscles.
“Extreme muscle inflammation following agility work is actually the body’s attempt to heal itself. Anti-inflammatory drugs may seem to work in the short run, but the net effect is a negative one, as the pharmaceuticals reduce the muscle’s ability to reduce the damage in the weeks that follow,” adds Dr. Fallek.
Athletes use massage for the relief of stiffness, and also to help with muscle spasms. Agility and working dogs can benefit in the same way as sports massage therapy.
“Sports massage therapy, whether in humans or in canines, has been shown to have only hugely beneficial effects. Massage can actually prevent or relieve DOMS. Massage works with the body, increasing circulation, both of the blood and of the lymph fluid in order to speed up healing and reduce toxic waste products which may cause cramping.
Additionally, massage works out the knots and tension found in the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and other connective tissue, relieving the stagnation of energy that can cause disease. During a massage, the pituitary and hypothalamus secrete neurotransmitters, called endorphins, which are the body’s natural pain relievers. Endorphins also decrease anxiety, improve the mood, and give a feeling of well-being, which increases confidence, thereby helping future agility work,” explains Dr. Fallek via Claudia Bensimoun, USDAA.