Article from Bucks Free Press by Rachel Sixsmith

It's A Dog's Life

Dog massage is booming in the States, now the trend has crossed the Atlantic. Susan Davies, one of the first dog masseuses in the UK , talks to Rachel Sixsmith as she gives Monty a treatment……

"Would you like him naked?" asks Suzie Morrison as she confers with the uniformed masseuse who has just walked through her door

The masseuse, Susan Davies, is visiting Suzie's home in Beaconsfield to give Suzie's dear friend Monty one of the most relaxing 45 minutes of his life.

And Monty is well aware of the fact that he is about to be pampered, for his hazel-coloured eyes are ablaze with anticipation.

Suzie gazes back into his twinkling eyes affectionately, for she and Monty have shared four happy years together, and she is more than willing to treat her loyal companion.

And as his tail wags with excitement, masseuse Susan agrees to strip him naked by proceeding to take off his collar.

Monty is Suzie's four-year-old Labrador retriever.

Far from being bashful at the thought of being in the nude, he eagerly nuzzles himself onto Susan's lap as she sits on the floor and prepares to give him a massage.

"Dogs are very intuitive," smiles Susan, a specialist in canine remedial massage therapy. "They know when I am going to help them, they are so keen to get involved, they end jumping all over me.

"But you can't mind getting covered in dog hair. Luckily, that doesn't bother me."

There are no massage oils used as Susan begins to give the dog some long, deep strokes into his furry neck and back.

"This frees up any tension," she says.

And as she kneads into the dog's neck she explains that remedial therapy is the use of massage and physiotherapy techniques to ease musculoskeletal problems, such as chronic osteoarthritis and muscle or tendon strains.

Dogs benefit from remedial massage in much the same way that humans do, for their anatomy is very similar to ours.

"A dog's' skeleton is really similar to a human's. The only real difference is that dogs do not have a collar bone, just shoulder blades."

In the same way that a sports massage can help relieve tightness in humans, canine massage relieves pain and tension in the muscle fibres.

One of Susan's clients is Winston, a Rottweiler, who was suffering from bicept tendonitis. His condition caused him to limp and he was very sore,and there was a possibility he could need an operation. Susan gave him a massage twice a week for six weeks.

"Now he is as sound as anything and doesn't need surgery," she says.

But not all the canines Susan has treated have been as lucky as Winston. Heidi, a miniature dachshund, had spinal surgery and was paralysed in her back legs for some time after her operation. With Susan's massage, her recovery was quick and the little dog regained the use of her back legs. The massage stimulates the nerves, helping to tell the brain how to walk again.

"It's quite good to give dogs who have had surgery some rehabilitation. But you cannot be too hard on them."

Susan is careful to only treat a dog after surgery if it is well enough.

"If a dog is in too much pain it's not going to get the benefits."

"They soon tell you if they do not like something. If it hurts they look round at me, but usually I have felt the sore spot by then too."

Susan explains massage also helps prevent too much scar tissue from forming and can even help to detect any unknown injuries.

"If I find anything, I work on it."

All kinds of dogs can benefit from massage. It has helped police dogs, show dogs and working dogs.

Although Monty is young and active, he has weak hips: a condition known as hip dysplasia that is common to many Labradors.

The massage helps keep Monty in a more supple condition, mobilising his joints and enabling him to move his limbs more freely.

And after one of his regular walks in the Chilterns, the massage therapy can also help dispense of waste products such as lactic acid a common cause of post-exercise cramp.

Just as massage relaxes humans, by releasing the feel-good hormones endorphins, it is very relaxing for dogs too.

"After he's had a massage, he usually sleeps for hours," laughs Suzie.

"It acts as a bit of a pacifier," adds Susan, who has seen the treatment used in the build-up to Bonfire Night, for dogs frightened of fireworks.

As Monty is being massaged, he is clearly in dog's seventh heaven as he pants in front of his watchful owner while his masseuse Susan begins searching for tight spots in the vertebrae of his spine. She works on his tail which is an extension of his spine.

After the tail come the hips and the hamstrings in his hind legs.

"I've found some tension in his left hind leg," exclaims Susan.

As she watches Susan work on Monty's tense hamstring by gently stretching out his leg in different directions, Suzie believes she is lucky to have found Susan.

"People often regard their pets as if they're their children and some spend a fortune on them. But up until recently massage has not been available."

While it is still a growing phenomenon in this country, canine massage is already widely available in the United States.

"In the north east of America there are as many dog boutiques with massage as there are beauty salons for humans," laughs Suzie.

Before qualifying in canine remedial massage therapy last summer, Susan worked as a sports massage therapist with a private practice at Beaconsfield Squash Club.

"It was hard work. My shoulders and hands got very sore from all the pressure I used to exert on people."

So after five years, Susan knew it was time to give her sore hands a break.

"It was quite hard to find a course where I could study the treatment because it's something that's still in its infancy in this country," says Susan.

For 18 months she studied at the Institute of Complementary Animal Therapies in Devon, qualifying last summer amid a lot of practising on her ten-year-old Cavalier Rupert.

A former amateur flat-race jockey, Susan has always loved animals, so going from people to dogs was a natural transition for her to make.

"You just have to remember that there is a lot more hair to contend with."

Now, Susan has her own business named HandsOnHounds, where animals and their owners can either visit her in her home in Beaconsfield or, more often, be visited by her in their home.

"Its preferable to see the dog in its own environment because it is more likely to be relaxed. I usually spend the first session ensuring the animal is feeling calm, trying not to take my hands off the dog so that it feels safe."

Susan says its important to get the dogs relaxed however long it may take so that the healing process can take place.

And as the lump in his leg is now gone, Monty is feeling extremely relaxed.

That is, until Susan rolls him onto his back, holds his hind legs together and stretches out his tail.

Monty barks contentedly as he wriggles on the floor.

"He thinks he's playing a game," explains Suzie, before masseuse Susan calms him down, stands him up and begins to work on his front legs and shoulder muscles.

"This is where a dog puts on most of its weight," says Susan as Monty's treat comes to an end.

After the tension is eased out of his front legs, the massage is completed.

Susan bids her farewell to Monty and Suzie and, as Monty's puppy dog eyes stare at her lovingly, Monty reminds them that it clearly is a dog's life as he gets ready to have a quick nap before dinner.