We humans sign up for fitness training and massages in an effort to keep our bodies in great shape – a benefit that is trickling into the world of dogs.
As more of us are looking to give our four-legged friend a boost in the health department, there has been a number of fitness and massage practices created for dogs to help reduce the risk of injury, improve the healing process and feel younger.
For San Franciscans, local business Happy Hounds Massage and Fitness uses the power of touch and the benefits of targeted exercise to help canines thrive.
Owned by Shelah Barr, a small animal massage practitioner and certified canine fitness trainer, massages can be a lifesaver for some owners, as dogs don’t express their discomfort as straightforwardly as humans.
When dogs are excited, their pain is significantly dulled, and they can be as vivacious as ever.
“When their body and mind calm down is when you’ll see the limp, restlessness, or unwillingness to do a normal activity,” says Barr. “But then they’ll go tearing down the stairs and jump into the car and run at the beach for an hour, so it can be confusing to us and difficult to understand that they might have a serious injury.”
It therefore becomes even more important to proactively keep your dog in top shape. Fitness and massage can be a great part of the solution.
When a normally active dog shows signs of pain, she adds, “you can be pretty sure that it’s significant and needs attention.” Massage is “an easy and effective way to detect imbalances and help the body stabilize,” she adds. “It can also stimulate the immune system, which would stimulate the healing response, shortening down time.”
At Happy Hounds, Barr focuses on three different types of massages to address issues. The maintenance massage can help dogs at most stages of life to stay active and injury free. Performance massage is designed for the pup athlete, catering to the unique physical needs of highly active dogs. Post-surgical and injury massage are tailored for dogs healing from physical trauma, whether injury, surgery, or illness. Initial sessions are $90, with follow-ups costing $75. (If a dog is not a candidate for massages, Barr will always refer them to veterinary care.)
She also offers customized fitness training to support cardio fitness, strength, balance and core work, flexibility, mental agility, and overall body awareness. Along with an hour of supervised on-site doggy gym time weekly, Barr gives pet parents techniques to maintain an at-home training schedule.
“I don’t expect people to have all the equipment we use in the studio, but I want the dog to get the same benefits when they’re working out at home,” Barr says. Individual sessions are $55.
Each day brings opportunity for rewarding moments. Like watching a dog who had initially struggled just getting out of a car run full speed, in the rain, to receive massage. Or the pooch who, immediately post-massage, was able to grip a chew toy in his paws for the first time in six months. Both massage and fitness training can also have great post-surgical benefits (Barr never provides services to post-op pups without getting clearance from a veterinarian).
Returning dogs to friskiness and mobility gives Barr great professional satisfaction.
“Just the thought of all the dogs I’ve worked with and the ones I’ll meet in the future makes me incredibly happy!” she says. “They’re such unique beings, full of personality and life and really honest about who they are.”