Rub-a-Dog-Dog: Four Sources for Canine Massage

(Sora Devore)
By Amanda Long
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, September 30, 2007

Phebe Brown would never take her dog, Tucker, to a spa. She doesn't put him in sweaters or spice up his Purina diet with dog bakery fare.

"I love my dog, but I know that's what he is: a dog," the Alexandria resident says of her 12-year-old golden retriever. "I have grandkids; I have a life. He's a dog; he has a dog's life."

Ah, but here's the rub: Tucker's life includes a regular massage. Despite Brown's determination to keep her pooch unpampered, every six weeks she takes Tucker for a $50-an-hour massage at Tails of Olde Towne in Alexandria. "I go for purely medical reasons, not froufrou reasons," says Brown, 65.

Pet massage therapy is increasingly available as more vets and pet experts

embrace a holistic approach to dog care. And though such practices have no doubt benefited from owners who contribute to the $40 billion spent on pets each year by splurging on Swarovski collars, L.L. Bean dog beds and Paris Hilton puppy pj's, practitioners insist holistic care is not just another luxury. It can do plenty of good for the frill-free dogs out there by improving circulation, promoting lymphatic drainage, increasing range of motion, shortening post-surgery recovery time and calming even the yappiest of recipients.

If you're inclined to pamper your pup with a healthy rubdown, expect to pay $40 to $70 for a 45- to 60-minute visit, depending on the size of the dog and the frequency of visits. (The International Association of Animal Massage and Bodywork has a list of practitioners by state at http://www.iaamb.org.) Most work is done on the floor, so wear something comfortable, because you'll be down there, too. And like most things involving a human telling an animal what to do, be patient. Some dogs take some time to warm up to a stranger, and therapists don't typically use muzzles.

Canine Fitness Center

Dogs are really spoiled at this 4,300-square-foot facility, where a day in the country could mean a dip in one of two heated pools or a visit with the staff acupuncturist or canine massage specialist. Co-owner Maury Chaput is quick to share his massage-as-miracle story with anyone who questions its healing power: Three years ago, a paralyzed dachshund named Scooter started a regimen of pool work and massage. He now walks and hot-dogs it up, albeit a little stiff-leggedly, thanks to weekly visits to the center. Although Chaput says Scooter "hates the pool," he scoots as fast as he can out of the water and into the therapy room.

Dogs are treated on the floor, with owners at their sides. Classical music plays in the background, although the stainless-steel table (for smaller dogs) in the middle of the 10-by-10-foot space keeps the no-nonsense vibe intact. Massages cost $39 ($49 for the initial visit) and usually take 30 minutes to an hour.

1353 Generals Hwy., Crownsville, 888-711-7947, http://www.caninefitnesscenter.com.

Hands on Hounds

Courtney Molino, a certified equine massage therapist, left a career in marketing in 2003 to open Hands on Horses and recently began applying her techniques to somewhat smaller four-legged friends. "A lot of my horse clients have dogs, too, and after seeing the results with the horses, wanted their dogs to enjoy the same," Molino says.

Though her practice is one of house (and stable) calls, Molino also works a couple of days a week with clients of Veterinary Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Group (10270 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City), specialists in canine orthopedic surgery and rehabilitation. She'll also treat dogs at the Coventry School for Dogs and Their People (7165 A-F Oakland Mills Rd., Columbia).

Molino charges $60 to $70 an hour for house calls and gives homework to humans. And slackers will be sniffed out. "There's a huge difference," she says, between dogs whose humans keep them loose between appointments and those whose humans don't.


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