Canine Massage for the Head

Posted on November 6, 2011

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While we usually think of massage for the arms, legs, and back muscles, it also has many applications for the head. This part of the body contains a brain, eyes, muscles, glands, nerves, blood vessels, gums, teeth, a sinus cavity and ears.  That’s actually a lot to work on right there!

In my practice, I actually begin at the neck and make my way through the rest of the body, all the way to the tail, and then end at the head.  Sounds backwards huh, but I have learned that putting your hands on a dog’s face right away is usually met with resistance.  Giving them time to relax into the massage, and gain trust in my touch, makes the face massage much more welcomed.

Chanel enjoying gentle, circular movements with my fingertips (not nails scratching) on the top of her head.

Light massage on the head with the fingertips is a nice way to stimulate the brain, blood circulation, natural oils in the skin, and will aid relaxation.  I follow this up with tapotement – a light tapping technique that will also stimulate the brain and blood circulation.

Chanel gets a light ear pull

Once muscles on the head are relaxed, I move to the ears. The photo above demonstrates an ear pull (lightly).  All dogs benefit from this technique, but breeds with large ears like hounds benefit greatly since they are more prone to ear infections.  Massage on the ear flaps, technically referred to as the pinna (the ear skin flap), stimulates blood circulation and acupressure points. Ear rotations open up the inner ear canal which promotes fresh air in the ear cavity, blood circulation, and inner ear health. This is done by cupping the base of the ear with your hands, and gently moving the base of the ears and ear flaps, in a circular motion on the head.  Rotating in a forward direction, then reverse. Finish by massaging and gliding the thumbs and fingertips across each ear flap (inside and outer sides), ending with a gentle pull and pressure on the tips of the ears (with your pointer finger and your thumb) – an acupressure “shock point” applied to aid dogs suffering from trauma or to keep them from going into shock, but it can also be used as a finishing, cleansing touch to stabilize and center energy.

Moving your thumbs, with light pressure, across the bridge of the nose and in between the eyes, to the top of the head, helps to open up the sinus cavity.  This is particularly helpful for Bulldogs, Pekingese, Pugs, Boston Terriers, Shitz tzu or any dogs with a shorter or pushed in type of snout, called a brachycephalic head. Opening up the sinus cavity helps to bring fresh air to the brain, heart, lungs, and all muscle tissue and cells of the body. Moving your hands slowly, in synchronization with your breath, will create a more relaxed touch and affect.

You can also do light massage on the gums to improve blood circulation and help oral health.  Gentle strokes with your fingertips along the muzzle and flew of the mouth, to the back of the jaw where the masticatory muscles are (muscles used for chewing), is another step in promoting blood circulation in the head and releasing any muscle tension in the jaw.

Remember that a major artery called the external jugular is located in the neck, just below the ears, so be aware of where your hands are, and keep your pressure light.  A little goes a long way!  Pay attention to your dog’s response and adjust your pressure and touch accordingly.  Be patient, and never force it on them.

Last but not least, wash your hands before putting them on your dog’s face.  They aren’t going to enjoy perfume smelling lotion, or hands that smell of cigarettes, and they will be distracted if they smell of turkey! Unwashed hands can also spread infection to their eyes, and to their body through the mouth.

We haven’t even touched upon the glands, nerves, and acupressure for the eyes, but I think this is enough info for one day – so we’ll save that for another time!

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Posted in: Canine Massage