Hepper is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

How to Massage a Dog: 10 Expert Tips to Follow

Brooke Bundy

By Brooke Bundy

pug dog massage by owner

Massages aren’t just for spa day. While we recommend using massage techniques purely to pamper your pup, your dog may actually need a massage due to an injury, arthritis, or anxiety. A good massage can increase circulation, reduce muscle swelling, and calm your dog. All of these benefits are vital every day, but critical if your dog experiences problems with their physical or mental health. Taking your dog to physical therapy for a simple massage can be pricey, so let’s talk more about techniques and tips you can try at home.


The 10 Tips for Giving Your Dog a Good Massage

1. Determine the Reason Before You Begin

Every massage involves putting light pressure on your dog’s muscles. The process relaxes the muscles, preventing or reducing muscle cramps and helping them feel calm. However, it’s important to establish the goals of your dog’s massage before you begin their session so that you can tailor massage techniques to their needs. For example, a warm-up massage before your dog goes on a run may need to target specific muscles that you wouldn’t necessarily go for if you’re simply soothing their nerves during a thunderstorm.

saint bernard dog hugged by the female owner
Image Credit: Fotokostic, Shutterstock

2. Create the Mood

You can give your dog a relaxing massage anywhere as long as it’s flat and comfortable. In other words, you can spread out a blanket on the floor, but don’t massage them on top of a pillow mound. Massaging your dog on an uneven surface can put their joints out of place, which is definitely not what you want. If your dog likes music, you might try to play a calming playlist.

3. Start Out by Petting Your Dog

Let your dog get acclimated by giving them all of the pets, scratches, and rubs they already enjoy. Once you sense they’re relaxed, you can proceed to the real massage.

akita dog with her owner on the couch
Image Credit: Viktoriia Hnatiuk, Shutterstock

4. Graduate to Gently Rubbing Them With the Palm of Your Hand, from Head to Tail

Flattening your palm, apply gentle pressure in broad strokes from the base of your dog’s neck to their tail.

5. Respect Their Boundaries and Body Language

Some dogs will not like a massage. If your dog flinches, growls, snaps, or bites, back off. Go back to what you know they like or give them a break. If you are surprised by their reaction, you might want to monitor the spot that caused them pain to make sure they don’t have an injury. If you are giving them a massage to help a known medical reason, such as arthritis, talk to a vet about what you should do. Don’t ever force it.

border collie puppy barking
Image Credit: Julia Zavalishina, Shutterstock

6. Include Their Ears and the Base of Their Neck

Using your two thumbs, draw small circles along the base of their neck and behind their ears.

7. Be Careful With Their Tummy

Your dog’s torso houses a bunch of delicate organs. Only use light, circular motions with your fingers to massage your dog’s stomach. Take care not to poke them or apply too much pressure.

owner checking her dog
Image Credit: Nehris, Shutterstock

8. Don’t Press Straight Down on Bones or Joints

The aim of every massage should be to knead and relax the muscles. Leave the bones, joints, and organs alone as much as possible, and avoid applying direct pressure on those places.

9. Try a Tapotement Massage

A tapotement massage is when you gently drum your fingers where your pet needs to relax. For this technique, imagine you are playing the piano slowly and gently along your pet’s body. Side note: While some dogs find this method relaxing, others may feel annoyed or overstimulated. If this is the case, feel free to switch.

French Bulldog snuggling beside owner
Image Credit: Mylene2401, Pixabay

10. Include the Paws and Tail, If Allowed

Many dogs are scared of people handling their feet, but may still enjoy paw massages. Start by gradually working your way down their leg. Hold their leg between your thumb and index finger and gently massage down to their paws. If they let you, massage their paws in a like manner, being sure to work in between their paw pads.

hepper-dog-paw-divider2When You Should Leave It to the Professionals

While you can certainly try simple techniques at home, you should take your dog to a certified animal massage therapist if they’re injured. Rehabilitation helps your dog heal faster and stronger than they would on their own. You should also leave more complicated maneuvers such as deep tissue massages to a professional therapist who’s thoroughly learned canine anatomy to reduce the risk of injuring your dog further. Your therapist will also likely recommend more tips and tricks tailored to your dog that you can try at home in between professional sessions.

vet examining a border collie dog
Image Credit: antoniodiaz, Shutterstock



Whether your dog is injured or under a lot of stress, basic massage techniques can promote healing and help them feel their best. Always start slowly and listen to your dog’s body. Stop what you’re doing if they seem uncomfortable or in pain. If your dog is injured or not responding well to massage sessions, taking them to a certified massage therapist can give them what they need and help you learn different techniques that you can try at home for your dog’s specific situation.

Featured Image Credit: Chanita Chinnawong, Shutterstock

Related Articles

Further Reading

Vet Articles

Latest Vet Answers

The latest veterinarians' answers to questions from our database